As fresh curry leaves can be hard to come by, this is the perfect herb to grow at home!
Curry leaf (Murraya Koenigii) sometimes called sweet neem, kariveppilai, karipatta or karhi-pat is used in many different ways in India, where it is native as a semi-tropical tree. Due to it’s compact size this tree is actually very easily grown in the UK as an indoor plant, in USDA zones 9-11 it will enjoy a sunny spot outdoors.
How To Grow A Curry Leaf Plant In The UK
The curry leaf plant is from a sub-tropical region and therefore will thrive if looked after indoors correctly in the UK and colder regions, USDA zones 8 and below. You will need a sunny spot, free of draughts and away from the radiator. Making sure that the temperature does not drop below 12 degrees Celsius ideally.
Growing Curry Leaf Plants From Seed
- This is actually a good idea as there is often a waiting list on more mature curry leaf plants. You can buy from specialist nurseries via Amazon here. It can be harder to come across more niche herbs and their seeds, so some nurseries without their own online presence do sell via larger market places.
- Freshly harvested seeds work best, however unless you have a mature curry leaf shrub you wont get flowers. With the fresh seeds, clean them off and they will still have that almost slimy texture to the outside. When you buy dried seeds you will need to soak them in warm water overnight. Then you will get the slimy feeling. This is very similar to citrus trees and we will see in a moment that the care is also similar.
- Use potting soil and sow two-three curry leaf tree seeds per pot. Moisten the soil first and press the seeds in, covering with a layer of soil.
- Keep warm and damp but not wet. We use a heated propagator to ensure a constant temperature of over 68F or 20C. Germination is a gardener’s nightmare as curry leaf seeds should start to pop out of the soil between 6-8 weeks. Do not despair until 3 months have passed as the seeds sometimes take longer to put out roots before shoots.
- From germination to harvesting you are looking at 2 years minimum for your curry leaf plant. This can be longer without adequate hours of sunlight.
Propagating Curry Leaf Plants From Cuttings
- Cuttings from your curry leaf plant will be best taken in the start of the growing season, April onwards in the UK.
- Take around a 3 inch stem cutting, one with plenty of leaves on. Remove the bottom few leaves. You need your curry leaf stem to have those little wounds on it where you have removed the leaves. This is where the new roots will emerge.
- Use a pot with adequate drainage and fill with vermiculite or another suitable growing medium that is soilless. You can propagate in a hydroponics set that you would otherwise use as kitchen worktop type.
- Put your cuttings in and mist well. You can use a lose fitting, clear plastic bag to cover your cuttings, but if you are using a hydroponics set you will have adequate water at all times, as well as adequate light. Set your light to 8 hours only.
- In around three weeks you will be able to apply the tug test to your curry leaf plant cutting and you will get a little bit of resistance. Not much, so go carefully! This means that a root system has developed.
- Leave in your potting medium for a further few weeks, if you are using a hydroponic set up use a suitable liquid feed.
- Once the curry leaf cutting has taken fully pot on to a small container with general purpose potting soil.
We would recommend propagation of your curry leaf plant by taking cuttings. In all honesty though, for getting started seeds are tricky but achievable. Once your plant is a few years old, do start to propagate and gift give to friends!
Caring For Curry Leaf Plants
- Once your curry leaf plant is around 6 months old it will be time to repot into a larger container. Do not jump to it’s ‘forever’ pot as it will prioritize roots before leaves and this is your main crop.
- In the UK do not plant your curry leaf tree out, instead keep it in a pot with sunlight for between 6-8 hours a day. In Winter months a dedicated light lamp may be needed. If you are growing other tropical plants like Kaffir Lime then you will have experience of the dormant months. You can but a growing lamp with intensity settings and timer settings here. It is important to stick to the 6-8 hours and even reduce the light intensity over Winter.
- Over Winter reduce the watering and stop feeding until Spring time. You curry leaf plant will need to be watered once the top surface has become dry, but in Winter bring this timing down to every fortnight or 10 days. In Summer and Spring months stay on top of this, but also add a liquid feed. Anything suitable for a citrus plant works well with a curry leaf plant, however Epsom salts can also be a lifesaver when it comes to verdent foliage.
- You can use a foliar spray to keep the leaves from drying off in Summer. In Winter allowing them to dry and fall is not anything to worry about.
- If you have a patio and want the curry leaf tree to become part of this display in Summer months, be sure to protect it from harsh drying winds. These can be surprisingly abrasive to the leaves and cause scorching if you have been using a foliar spray. It is also important to stick to 6-8 hours of sunlight and not try to give it more. Curry leaf trees do not thank you for too much of a good thing.
- In the first year to two years of growth the curry leaves will be smaller than you would expect. To really help them grow faster, add Epsom salts to your foliar spray and apply weekly. Do this once the height of the midday sun has finished.
- Harvesting your leaves will need a bit of patience and after two years you will be able to take as many as required for most dishes. If you intend to propagate from them, you may wish to wait for the third year to ensure minimal damage to the mother plant. Curry leaf plants will grow to between 4-6 feet in height and 2-3 feet in spread. You need to have a plan for this! Somewhere warm and sunny for Winter months is essential, however if they are moved to somewhere with little sunlight in Winter it is not the end of their world.
- Keep roots free from rot by not allowing your curry leaf plant to sit in water. This is harder when planting out, so dig through plenty of well rotted organic matter to allow for adequate drainage. If planting in a pot keep the soil moist but not wet. Often you will need to water and wait, then return a few hours later and empty the drip tray below your pot.
Uses For Curry Leaf Plant
You may be more familiar with it as used by it’s name of neem. Neem oil is a very widely used essential oil in many Ayurvedic medicines and cosmetics.
- As a flavor enhancer in many dishes
- massage oils
- bath oils and soaks
- To treat infections
- To treat the effects of heart disease
- As a treatment for inflammations
Where To Buy Curry Leaf Plant UK
Why Are Curry Leaves Banned As Imports US and UK
This is a main driver for many people to grow their own curry leaf plants. U.S. Customs and Border Protection have a lot to say about people trying to bring curry leaves into the States. It is also banned as an import to the UK, unless grown with the EU.
Curry leaves carry with them pests as well as a strong chance to carry the citrus greening disease. This level of control is put in place to try and limit the spread of diseases that could possibly wipe out our more native plants and flora.
So , yes you can grow a curry leaf plant in the UK and in fact this is the best way to get hold of fresh leaves! However you cannot import from countries such as Ghana, Kenya and the Dominican Republic.
You may be interested in more exotic herbs to grow indoors at home and so we have an article here on correct care for Sub-Tropical and Tropical houseplants.
I also wanted to say a nod to the confusion that sometimes occurs between a curry plant and a curry leaf plant. Although as soon as you see the two side by side all confusion would go!.
In conclusion a curry leaf plant is a tree and as such will take a longer time to reach harvest, however it is a promised way of getting fresh, organic curry leaves.