Growing your own curry leaf plant will mean an endless supply of fresh curry leaves on hand for your favorite dishes. And Growing a curry leaf plant is rewarding. So let’s find out how to grow a curry leaf plant, how to care for the tree and ideas for eating curry leaves.
Fristly, What is Curry Leaf Plant?
Curry leaf plant, also known as curry tree or curry bush (Murraya koenigii) comes from the Rutaceae family. It’s a small tropical to sub-tropical tree that grows 13-20 feet (4-6 meters) tall. And its trunk grows up to 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter.
The curry tree produces aromatic leaves that are pinnate and consists of 11-21 leaflets that are 3/4-1.5 Inches (2-4 cm) in length and 1/4-3/4 inches (1-2 cm) in width. It also produces small white fragrant flowers that turn into a black berry pulp fruit. The fruit is edible but the seed is not, so it’s important to remove the seed prior to use.
Curry leaves are crucial to Indian cuisine and traditional medicines. They are also used as seasoning in other Asia cusines, particularly, South and Southeast Asia.
Just keep in mind that you can’t make curry powder from the curry plant leaves. Curry powder is actually made up of a selection of spices including turmeric, ginger and coriander seeds among others. But curry powder does not actually contain any curry leaves.
Varieties of Curry Leaf Plant
There are three varieties of curry leaf plants – Regular, Dwarf, and Gamthi.
Regular Curry Leaf Plant
The regular variety of curry leaf is tall and fast-growing. The size ranges from 6-15 feet (1.8-4.5 meters) high and 4-12 feet (1.2-3.6 meters) wide. The leaves look most like those we buy in groceries stores and supermarkets.
Dwarf Curry Leaf Plant
The dwarf variety does not grow tall, it only grows from 10-12 inches (25-30cm) in height when fully matured. It is suitable as a houseplant as it can be easily moved indoors during cooler season. It is also best for the dwarf varieties to be planted in containers as they spread out when planted in gardens. Among the three varieties of curry leaf, the dwarf has the largest leaves. However, the dwarf curry leaf is more bitter in flavor and for this reason usually grown as an ornamental rather than a culinary plant.
Gamthi Curry Plant
The gamthi variety is smaller than the dwarf variety. It only grows from 6-8 inches (15-20cm) in height. The Gamthi curry leaf is slow-growing, in fact, the slowest among the three varieties. However, this variety produces the most fragrant and flavorful leaves among all the curry plants.
How to Grow Curry Leaf Plant
Ideal Climate for Curry Leaf Plants
Curry leaf plants are tropical to subtropical plants that will do best in a warm and humid climate. They won’t survive in cool, freezing temperatures. If you live in cool areas, you can still grow curry leaf plants in containers or pots, and move them indoors when the weather starts to get cold.
Soil Requirements for Curry Leaf Plants
Curry plants thrive in fertile, well-drained soil. And actually they aren’t too fussy about the soil as long as it has good drainage. So avoid getting it soaked in water as it will hinder the growth of the plant and sometimes, causes root rot.
Sunlight for Curry Leaf Plants
Curry leaf plant being a tropical to subtropical plant needs full sunlight of at least 6-8 hours a day. When curry leaf plants are very young, it’s a good idea to give them some protection from very hot sun until they are mature.
Water Requirments for Curry Leaf Plants
The plant needs to be watered at least once every week in less hot months and requires daily watering in hot summer season to avoid it from being too dry.
Curry plants doesn’t require much fertilizer to grow. However, you can apply an application of blood meal in spring followed by a liquid fertilizer every month during the spring, summer and fall growing season. A teaspoon of iron sulfate can be added to the soil once every few months also to help the growth and promote healthy foliage. Aged manure and compost are also highly beneficial for feeding the soil and the plant.
Ongoing Care for Curry Leaf Plants
Pruning keeps the curry leaf plant healthy and promotes growth. Pruning is pinching off the dead leaves and branches of the plants. Normally, it’s done once a year or when harvesting the leaves.
If the curry leaf plant is planted on a pot or container, it would be good to transfer it to a bigger container each year to promote growth.
How to Propagate Curry Leaf Plant
There are two ways to propagate curry leaf plants. It can be done through seeds or through cuttings.
Planting Through Seeds
To propagate curry plants from seeds, use the fresh seeds from the curry plant and sow them in moist potting soil. Fresh seeds have a better generation rate but generally growing through seed can be challenging. But if you have patience and you like a challenge, then give it a go! They need a warm and bright area of at least 68°F (20°C) to germinate. Germination may take from 6 to 8 weeks, to several months. Planting curry plant from seeds needs a lot of patience and it will take about 2 years for the seedlings to establish.
Propagating Curry Leaf Plants Through Cuttings
To propagate from cuttings, cut a healthy stem from a well-established plant, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and select the stem with several leaves. Remove the bottom part of leaves about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Plant the stem 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) deep and carefully push the cutting into the hole and gently firm it in. It’s best to dip the bottom part of the cutting into a rooting hormone powder to promote faster growth.
Common Pests and Diseases
Curry leaf plants have a strong natural scent that generally keeps pests away from them. However, there are a few problems that occur from time to time. Some pests like citrus butterfly and psyllid bug and scale attack the plants. Leaf spots is also a common disease of the curry leaf plant.
Using horticultural neem oil on curry leaf plants will help keep pest and diseases under control naturally.
Harvesting and Storing Curry Leaves
Curry leaves can be picked or harvested once the plant is 12-24 months old. At one year, if they plant appears strong and healthy, then go ahead and harvest a few leaves. However, if the curry leaf plant is still very immature then wait an additional 12 months to allow the tree to mature before harvesting leaves.
When harvesting, gently pull the base of the leaf stem by slightly gripping the stem and pulling it off the plant. Or you can clip the branches off once mature. This will help keep the plant trimmed at the same time.
It’s good to harvest only what you need so the curry leaves you use on dishes are fresh. Don’t harvest more than 30% of the plant’s leaves as it might not grow well in the following year.
Curry leaves can be stored in the freezer for one month. Use a resealable plastic bag, taking as much air out of the bag, then pop it in your freezer.
If there are plenty of curry leaves, they can be dried in a dehydrator (or oven) and stored in a jar to prolong its shelf life. Dried curry leaves are not as strong as the fresh leaves though, so you may need to add more to your dishes to achieve the desired flavor.
Curry Leaf Uses and Recipes
Curry leaves are used widely in Indian kitchens for recipes such as curries, rice, and snacks. Aside from its culinary uses, it is also known to have antioxidants that help keeps the body healthy. It is also said to be anti-inflammatory, helps in weight management, keeps diabetes in check, sharpens memory, improves eyesight, and has anti-microbial properties good for the skin and hair.
Curry leaves can be used in the same way you would add a bay leaf to a dish. They work well in soups, stews and sauces.
Here are some of the mouth-watering dishes that use curry leaves.
Curry leaf plants are worthwhile to have in your garden or on your patio, especially if you love dishes with curry leaves. And once established, you will enjoy curry leaves for years to come! What dishes will you cook with your curry leaves?
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