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Curry leaves are native to India and are a signature flavor in Southeast Asian cuisine. They’re a great addition for cooking especially when tempering dishes like dhal. There’re many benefits to curry leaves and are easy to grow in your garden. Let’s look at what curry leaves are and how you can grow a curry leaf plant for an endless supply of fresh curry leaves.
What are Curry Leaves?
Having a unique aroma and pungent taste, curry leaves are a part of Southeast Asian cuisine. The glossy and tear-drop-shaped leaves grow on a curry tree and can reach up to a length of one and a half inches.
Health Benefits of Curry Leaves
The curry leaves are also known not just for their unique aroma but for their health benefits.
- Help regulate cholesterol, reduce blood sugar levels, and has anti-diabetic properties.
- Help to treat anemia patients by providing iron in abundance.
- Because of their natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, these leaves can be ground up for use or boiled up for tea or a tonic.
Common Types of Curry Trees
There are three types of curry trees:
- Gamthi: These trees grow exceptionally slow, just growing to a height of 12 inches when fully mature. Suited for growing in containers, the thick leaves of these plants have an aroma stronger than the other types.
- Regular-sized: Leaves of these plants are commonly available at grocery stores since they grow faster than the other two types.
- Dwarf-type: They have a greater spread, but don’t grow very tall. The leaves are longer in size than that of regular-sized trees but have a lighter green color.
Originating from the Indian subcontinent, curry trees grow well in tropical climates. Being a hardy tree, it only withers and dies if it faces prolonged and extreme drought, infertile soil, or extremely high temperatures.
Remember to plant it in a place protected from the wind, as the tree usually has weak limbs and a weak trunk that could easily get damaged by the wind.
The curry leaf plant grows better in sunny, tropical climates. If you have cold winters, then grow the plant in containers. Put the plant outdoors in summer but protect it from cold winters by taking it inside.
1. Light Requirements
The tree produces good foliage if grown in the proper light and full sun. Choose the sunniest spot in your garden to grow curry trees.
When you plant curry leaves, water them regularly for the first couple of months. Do not overwater the plant, let the soil dry out after deep watering or heavy rain. After this period, you can continue a bit irregular watering routine. You need to water the potted plants more often, but always let the soil dry out a little between successive watering.
2. Soil Needs
Curry leaves prefer fertile, acidic, and well-drained dry soil, with a pH between 6.4 and 6.9.
3. Humidity and Temperature
Curry trees grow well in hot and humid climates. If you grow them in cold climates, they will shed their leaves and go dormant till spring comes and can only survive a mild frost.
It is good to pinch off the flower buds during the first two years so that the plant uses its energy on growth rather than on producing seeds. If you need any seeds and flowers in the later days as well, then keep pinching off the flower buds every year. To help new leaves grow, prune the dead leaves and branches regularly.
Fertilize this plant with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer a month or so after planting. When growing the tree in colder regions, it goes through a period of winter dormancy. Do not fertilize it during this time.
How to Propagate Curry Trees
There are two ways to propagate curry trees other than getting a plant from the nursery, i.e., by seeds and from stem cutting.
1. Growing Your Curry Plant from Seeds
You must be patient if you are growing curry plants from seeds, as it may take even a couple of years to be able to produce enough leaves for harvesting.
- Try to get freshly dried seeds, as older seeds have lesser chances to germinate
- Rub the seeds between your hands to remove the hard outer shell. You could also put the seeds in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crack the seeds.
- If you have fresh berries on hand, then soak them in water for 24 hours until the seed comes out. Simply take the soaked berries and gently rub the flesh and pulp off the seed.
- Seeds need a temperature of around 68F to germinate, so keep them in a warm place.
- To grow indoors, sow the seeds in a pot with an inch of moist potting soil. To create a mini greenhouse, cover the pot with plastic holes for ventilation.
- The seeds have a low germination rate, so to have more chances of getting a healthy plant, it is better to plant several seeds in one tray cell.
- You should put one seedling per cell when tiny shoots emerge.
- To grow outdoors, sow the seeds in the ground where the daytime temperature is higher than 65F.
- Plant the curry plants 4 to 5 feet apart from each other and from other structures. The seedlings should emerge in moist soil in about 2 to 3 weeks.
- Start pruning the curry plant when it grows to six months old.
The plant should be bushy with more foliage, rather than tall and straight. For this, pinch back some branches when the plant has six or more branches.
2. Growing Your Curry Plant from Cuttings
Using cuttings to propagate curry plants is the easiest way of propagation.
- To make a cutting, cut a three-inch stem from a healthy curry plant having a few leaves using a sharp knife or pruners. Tidy the lower part of the cutting by removing all leaves.
- Prepare a pot to grow the cutting. Fill a 4-inch pot with a well-drained potting medium. Bury one inch of the cutting in the medium.
- Keep the pot in a place where it gets bright, and indirect sunlight and stays moist and warm.
- Cuttings take about three weeks to form roots in moist but not wet soil. You can then transplant the cuttings to garden soil or a larger pot.
Disease and Pest Problems
The pungent aroma of curry leaves plant keeps most of the pests away from it. But growing this plant in some weather conditions may put it at risk of getting some diseases.
If you see bugs, bite marks, spots, or any other signs that show your plant is infested by pests, then shower saltwater on the plant every couple of weeks. You can also use horticulture oil or diluted neem spray to stay on the safe side.
If the leaves of your potted curry plant start to droop or wither, then it can be a sign of overwatering. To stop this problem from leading to root rot, stop watering the plant till the soil dries out a bit. Also, check whether the container has drainage holes to drain the potting mix well.
How to Preserve Curry Leaves
If you had a big harvest of curry leaves and you wish to preserve them or give them to friends and family, then here are a few tips for you:
- In the refrigerator: To store fresh curry leaves in the refrigerator, wash them and put them in a sealed bag. They will stay fresh for up to a couple of weeks.
- In the freezer: To freeze the leaves, wash and dry the leaves, remove the stems, and toss them in vegetable oil until they get coated. Put the leaves in a sealed bag, remove the air and place them in the freezer. They will lose a little flavor and color but will stay in the freezer for up to six months.
- Drying leaves: Wash the leaves and drain excess water. Then put the leaves on a tray ideally spread out without leaves stacking on top of one another. Place this tray in a safe place where they get good air circulation. Let them become dry and crisp and then store them in an airtight container. They will lose a little flavor but can be stored for a long time.
- Dehydrator: To save the leaves for up to a year, put them in a food dehydrator. Then store them in a sealed container in a dark place.
Now you know what curry leaves are and how you can grow them at home, why not get some seedlings or cutting for a new gardening adventure? Give your curry plant some love and care and it will give you aromatic and healthy curry leaves to add a unique flavor to your curry dishes. It’s worth a try!