Cardamom thrives in tropical climates and grows prolifically in India. Meaning this is a bit of a stretch in the UK, so here are my tips to get the most out of this endearing evergreen perennial.
Cardamom will establish itself in a loam based soil in the UK with plenty of dappled sunshine. It will require moisture in the air and a Tropical climate to produce fruit and reach its full potential. Achieving a height of 1.5-2m and a spread of 1.5-2 metres it can be a useful ground cover for many South facing gardens.
There is a lot to like about the foliage of cardamom, mainly that it is not susceptible to many pests or diseases.
How To Grow Cardamom
From the Zingiberaceae Family and Elettaria Genus, Cardamom grow shoots from long rhizomes. These are very similar to ginger and similarly can be grown initially from seed and then from division. In the UK it will be difficult to recreate the tropical conditions required for flowering without a heated greenhouse.
How To Grow Cardamom From Seed
We first saw cardamom growing wild when we went out to Tanzania, growing in the partial shade of larger trees, however we always wanted to know if we could grow it in pots in the UK. The two main ways to get started are by buying specialist seeds – can you grow cardamom from supermarket seeds? No, they are not suitable as they may have been sprayed with suppressant if they are designated to be eaten, organic seeds will still not offer you the yield you may want.
- You will need to prepare your cardamom seeds 24 hours before planting out. If you are planting outside you will need to wait until 6-8 weeks before fear of frosts has passed.
- Some people swear by placing your cardamom seeds in 2.5% nitric acid solution for a few minutes, before rinsing and soaking in water overnight. We have seen success without using the acid mix first. Simply place your seeds in lukewarm water and let them soak overnight.
- In the morning you will see that the cardamom seed kernel has engorged and the germ will have been awaken. If you are planting outside plant each seed between 1/2 an inch to an inch apart. 1/8 inch deep in prepared hummus rich soil. Choose a dappled area, under a tree canopy is ideal as cardamom flourish in partial shade. If you are planting in pots keep to at least 1 inch apart to allow for thinning out once germination has occurred.
- Cardamom seeds take anywhere between 20-40 days to germinate. This can be frustrating as some will go quickly, making you think you have only a low percentage germination. Patience will pay off and keep the soil moist and consistently warm for best results. We use a heated propagator in the UK.
- Once the seedlings have emerged you can spritz with warm water to recreate the humid conditions of its native environment of Southern India. Keep the soil moist at all times. A good mulch or green manure prior to growing will really help with this process.
- When the seedlings are large enough to handle thin out the weaker ones and allow for the eventual room to grow to around 10 feet in height. This will take a few years but the ground cover comes pretty quickly with plants growing to fill about 2m space.
- When the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius bring your container grown cardamom indoors. If it is outdoors it will not require cutting back but overwintering by using straw or grass as a mulch to cover rhizomes and the base of the plant. Make sure to remove when Spring emerges and replace with new nutrient rich mulch.
- In the second year division of the rhizome will be possible and it is one way to reduce clumping around the roots. Cardamom will really respond well to division and this can reduce the chance of disease and pests taking hold too. We keep cardamom as houseplants and using division makes for an unusual gift for friends as well.
How Long Does Cardamom Take To Grow?
Germination will take place 20-40 days from planting the seeds. However, harvesting of seeds and pods will be possible in the second year of growth. Peak harvest for pods is between October – November. Even more important is that it will take between 5-10 years for the plants to reach full maturity and the eventual height of around 2 meters or 10 foot roughly.
Factor this into your garden landscaping as it will be a great plant to grow underneath younger trees to produce a carpet, but as it can exceed growth of the tree within 5 years you may need to plan ahead. It is an unusual herb to grow but a very worthwhile one.
Cardamom is an expensive spice for many of the same reasons as saffron is. The labor intense harvesting will require many hours work all within the optimal time frame in October and November. It is certainly a very useful spice and has a place in most well stocked spice racks. Unlike saffron you will find it hard to grow fruit in the UK, therefore this herb plant is more grown for its ornamental leaves and wonderful evergreen perennial properties.
The seeds from cardamom are not just used for culinary purposes and the oils are used in many different medicinal treatments as well.
In US agricultural zones 10-13 cardamom will thrive and it will be possible to grow the seed pods. If you have a hot house or orangery you will get similar results in the UK. Dappled sunlight is the key and using an LED lamp can make all the difference. As well as a water mister. The cardamom plant produces very pleasing white, pink or even orange flowers prior to pollination and the seed pods appearing.
Can You Eat Cardamom Leaves
You can eat the leaves of the cardamom plant and they can be harvested all year round. We think they taste like celery and cinnamon and therefore make a great addition to a herbal tea. We will also use them as part of a bouquet garni in stews, remember that the texture of the leaf is harsh and you would want to avoid eating it, in much the same way as you would bay leaves.
I would recommend growing cardamom plants taken as younger plants, rather than just trying from seed. Don’t worry if you are thinking ‘where can I buy cardamom plants in the UK?’ You will find that Suttons sell a 12 cm high potted plant which will grow to fill a large pot in your conservatory or you can plant out that year and then use division to fill the garden!
If you have the bug for growing exotic herbs check out some of our other specialist articles.