Need help - is my aloe plant getting too crowded?

emerald_2010July 26, 2011

Hi everyone!

Well, I have a question about my aloe vera plant. I have a full spectrum bulb in the lamp next to it because it's hard to get decent sunlight in this apartment. It's growing fine, in fact maybe too fine. It was near death a few years ago, now it's sprouted 3-4 offshoots. See the pics below:

Aloe Plant 1

Aloe Plant 2

Aloe Plant 3

Aloe Plant 4

Aloe Plant 5

It's growing sideways to make room for the offshoots. I don't want it to get strangled by its own offshoots. But how in the world would I even remove such a huge twisted mass of plants without hurting the roots? Or will it be just fine if I leave it like it is?

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Howdy..funny, I have a similar pot, only shallow, plus another in red and cream/white. lol.
Your Aloe looks great.

If it was my plant, I'd leave in the pot until next spring. Especially since it's in good health.
Is it producing new leaves?
If totally rootbound, increase pot size early spring, 2012. This way, the roots will have the entire summer to grow.

The little decorations are so cute.

Off-shoots are easy to remove..just cut and root. 'in soil.'
You can either start new plants or add back with mom. Toni

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 3:59PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

EM - You can easily tell if you are missing out on growth potential by lifting the plant from the pot and observing the roots. If the root/soil mass comes out of the pot intact, it's a sure bet that you're leaving some degree of growth and vitality on the table.

Mid-summer is the best time to repot your plant, which is preferable to simply potting up. Potting up doesn't remedy the root congestion and root-related anomalies in the original root ball - it simply allows them to grow worse as time passes. Regularly repotting your plants, which includes bare-rooting, root-pruning, and correcting root problems, allows you to reset the plant's rejuvenation clock, while potting up ensures that the clock will eventually wind down as growth and vitality wane from issues associated with that practice.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 8:38PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Great looking aloe, emerald! As robust as the ones in the ground outside here. How can you resist pulling those dead leaves off?

Al, from what hopeful said, it's not possible to infer what she might have done about the roots, or what she might have assumed the OP would do with them. The explanation of what you would do and why is helpful, but I am left unsure if you are saying you think plants never need a bigger pot, or just that they should get "the root treatment" whenever they do need a bigger pot, or they should get "the root treatment" and replaced back into the same pot much more often than they need to move to a bigger pot. Your explanations are always interesting and helpful but something about tone of the phrase "issues associated with that practice" made me uncomfortable on her behalf, as if you were contradicting her. I didn't understand that because I couldn't find anything to contradict, especially since she didn't say "potting up." She just said "increase pot size." Is your specific advice about this plant to repot into the same pot or into a larger pot (with "the root treatment"?)

To me, the term "potting up" has always simply meant going into a bigger pot - without any assumption or implication about what may or may not be done to the roots in the process. Over the years, most instructions I've read about repotting include something about pruning, untangling, and/or inspection of the roots.

FWIW, I choose pot size according to how heavy the pot part needs to be to keep the plant from blowing over - the weight balance between the stems and foliage vs. the pot, with aerodynamics of the foliage figured into the equation.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 3:45PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I regularly contrast the terms potting up and repotting while drawing illustrative contrasts between the two practices, and was addressing the OPs initial concern about whether or not the plant's roots were getting "too crowded".

Potting up, unless it's undertaken before the roots/soil mass become unitized to the point the roots and soil remain intact when the plant is unpotted (which hobby growers rarely do), offers only a temporary return to 'something a little closer to the plant's genetic growth/vitality potential' and is a limiting practice over the long term, even if it offers a temporary return to a little bit better growth. What most growers interpret as a growth "spurt" after potting up is simply the plant partially rebounding from the root constriction and related issues it was suffering, and returning to that 'something a little closer to normal growth' state. Vigor is genetically encoded and you can never, under any circumstances, force a plant to grow at beyond its genetic potential; so growth "spurts" after repotting aren't really "spurts" at all.

Repotting, along with bare-rooting, root pruning, and a change of soil (preferably to a fast-draining mix that is well-aerated and durable) offers rejuvenation (literally) that returns the plant to a state where it's possible for the plant to grow at or very near it's genetic potential (within the limiting influence of other cultural factors) and to be returned to that state over and over with each repotting - indefinitely. Potting up does not offer that potential. One practice limits - the other removes limitations.

Appropriate pot size, from a physiological perspective, hinges almost entirely on the choice of soil. The more water retentive/slow-draining the soil is, the more critical the choice of pot size is because of the negative effects of the perched water table inherent in heavy soils. As the soil choice moves toward better aeration and drainage, properties directly linked to reduced volumes of perched water in soils, the less critical the choice of container size is; until finally, when the perched water table disappears entirely, there is no upper limit on what is physiologically appropriate insofar as container size is concerned. You can easily grow the tiniest seedling in a 100 gallon container when using soils that don't support perched water if you have a mind to, and enjoy the accelerated growth the large soil volume offers - with no worry about root rot issues.

If the roots of Emerald's plant are congested, stasis is the least desirable choice, followed by potting up. She can realize optimal growth (again - within the limiting influences of other cultural factors) by undertaking a full repot into a fast draining soil, the benefits of which are much more far-reaching than just the added growth potential.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 12:41AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Emerald,
One thing that wasn't mentioned, is any time you disturb the roots of a cactus or succulent, it's good to wait a few days to water it , to allow the roots to callus.

You've been given some great advice here on how to re pot a plant and why.

Also when dealing with a succulent, moving it up to a larger pot needs to be done with extreme caution if your not using a fast draining mix.

You didn't mention what type of soil it is in, but if it is peat based, you run the risk of root rot when moving it to a larger pot.

If you need further help or information for a good fast draining mix, there's lots to be found at the Cactus and Succulent forum and Container forums. I grow my Aloes, almost all my plants in a "gritty" mix.

Root pruning as Al mentioned is very important. I've grown cactus and succulents for years, and the roots do need attention from time to time just like any other plant. Any time I change the soil or move to a new pot I always tidy up and prune back the roots some.

These are amazing plants with a will to survive, and a little root pruning is not going to hurt them.
Roots die off and if left, risk of rot is there.

Mid summer as Al suggested is perfect timing to re pot it. Aloe's are whats know as "opportunistic" (think that's the word) growers. Meaning they will take advantage of the right conditions. For mine out doors they grow spring and fall and slow down a little in the summer, and winter. You really don't want to re pot it when it's in full spring growth.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 1:43PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Folks,


You said "You really don't want to re pot it when it's in full spring growth."

Hadn't heard that before, am curious about that, may I ask pls. why not?

Hi Linda,

When you asked was it too crowded, I did know whether you meant the esthetics of the plant, you know how it looked, or the health & best possible growing of the plant.

I too have wanted to see what the mix was (if fast draining, but couldn't really see it for the dried leaves & ornaments).

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 8:14PM
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From my own experience, the best time to repot an Aloe is from very late winter into early spring.

Aloes grow at different rates depending on species. I have approximately 17 varieties. Some start growing as early as Feb, others as late as Apr-May.

Jojo, is there any specific species you say should be repotted in mid-summer? And what is the reason? Toni

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 10:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's long served me well, and I've always instructed others to do full repots on non-temperate plants (plants that don't go into a dormancy due to photo-period and chill .... IOW - houseplants) in the month prior to their most robust growth period. This allows for the fastest recovery and the shortest period of stress. It also ensures that the plant has ample energy reserves to tolerate the repotting/root-pruning and that it will recover in time to have ample energy stores to help it through the winter.

Houseplants are normally at their lowest energy levels in early spring, making it the most risky time to repot and when you'd be most apt to encounter difficulties, followed backward by the winter months - Mar, Feb, Jan, Dec, Nov, Oct ..... For summer growers, early June through mid-Aug is best for repotting most houseplants, including aloe, because that timing offers fastest recovery.

Potting up is something of a stop-gap measure and not nearly as beneficial as repotting when it comes to rejuvenating the plant and keeping it growing as near as possible to its genetic potential, but can be undertaken at any time of the year with no special consideration given to anything other than the additional soil mass and how that impacts healthy watering practices.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 4:50PM
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This Aloe can grow year-around, but its best growth is in the warmer months. If you repot it / replace soil and keep it in the current pot (because, frankly, they go well together), now's a good time to do it. Just don't water it for several days afterwards, and when you do initially water it give it some go juice (Vitamin B12 in liquid form or transplant liquid) with the water, if you have it.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Cactus, exactly. IMO, it's possible Aloes continue growing at a much slower pace, in warm, dry, sunnier climates,' (Not IL,) but I haven't one that produces leaf growth from November on. Dormancy is more noticable with young Aloes, (4-6 leaves.)

However, some of my Aloes flower in mid-winter. Which brings me to another reason they shouldn't be repotted.
I don't repot Aloes or any other plant in bud or bloom. My motto, "Let Them Be."

Spring is a time of fertility: rebirth, growth.

Emerald, I'm not saying your Aloe will die if it's repotted. It won't/shouldn't, anyway. Not if it's properly watered. We haven't any control over the sun, or lack of, but there's always artificial lights.

Since your Aloe looks great, I'd let it be. What's another 6-7 months? lol. Toni

Does a flowering Aloe mean it's not dormant? I haven't the faintest.

What product contains B12 other than Superthrive? And may I ask, why B12? What's its significance?

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 2:14PM
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