Many kitchens have jars of ground cinnamon or raw sticks, which are commonly used for crafting. If you've ever handled a cinnamon stick, you've had a peek at the dried bark of a cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) plant. There are hundreds of species within the Cinnamomum genus that are native to tropical and subtropical regions. They vary somewhat in appearance, with some being tall trees and others growing in a smaller shrub shape.
Cinnamon plant foliage is generally a glossy green to yellow-green, and they produce small flowers. Both the bark and leaves are aromatic thanks to their oils. And it's the inner bark of various species that is used to make the spice. Cinnamon species generally have a slow to moderate growth rate and can be planted in the spring or early fall.
|Botanical Name||Cinnamomum spp.|
|Common Names||Cinnamon, cassia|
|Plant Type||Tree, shrub|
|Mature Size||3–60 feet tall, 2–20 ft. wide (depends on variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic to neutral (6.2–7.2)|
|Flower Color||White, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
How to Plant Cinnamon
When planting, make sure to leave enough space for the mature size of your species. Choose a site several feet away from other trees and shrubs, so your cinnamon plant will get enough light. Most gardeners start with young nursery plants rather than seeds. Dig a hole to the size of your plant's root ball, and amend the soil with compost. Plant the cinnamon, gently press down the soil, and water it well.
Full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, is best for cinnamon plants. However, they will benefit from some afternoon shade in very hot and dry weather.
Cinnamon plants prefer a rich, well-draining soil. A sandy loam will work well. They don't do well sitting in waterlogged soils, and thus heavy clay or hardpan soils are not a recipe for success. If your soil is not fit for cinnamon, consider container growth.
These species like the regular rainfall they receive in the tropics, so you should try to replicate this with irrigation when rain is scarce. Water whenever the top 2 inches of soil have dried out, and use mulch to keep the roots cool and maintain soil moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
Cinnamon plants love a warm and humid climate. In their native habitat, temperatures that average 80 degrees Fahrenheit promote healthy growth. They don't do well when temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or in very dry conditions.
Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the planting hole to get your cinnamon plant started. Then, fertilize every spring, following label instructions.
There are many species of cinnamon including these varieties:
- Cinnamomum verum is often referred to as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, and it's known for its superior flavor.
- Cinnamomum cassia is commonly known as Chinese cassia, and it's often the typical cinnamon variety sold in grocery stores.
- Cinnamomum loureirii is known as Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon. This species has a strong flavor and aroma and comes at a premium price.
You can first harvest your cinnamon two to three years after planting and then every two years after that. Cut off individual branches, or cut the entire tree at the trunk. (Trees growing in the ground often produce new shoots that will become a new tree.) Scrape away the outer bark until you see the yellowish-orange layer beneath, which is the cinnamon. Peel strips of this cinnamon layer with a sharp knife or paint scraper, stopping when you see the lighter core.
Let the pieces dry indoors in a single layer for about a week. They will curl into the typical shape you see in cinnamon sticks. Then, you can grind them or leave them in stick form. Store your cinnamon in a sealed container in a cool, dry place, and it should keep for a couple of years.
How to Grow Cinnamon in Pots
Gardeners outside of cinnamon's growing zones often grow their plants in containers and keep them indoors or in a greenhouse during cold weather. Cinnamon species generally don't reach their full size in containers, but they can still yield their fragrant cinnamon bark after a few years.
Start with a large container that's at least 18 inches across and 20 inches deep to give your cinnamon plant room to grow and mature. The container also should have ample drainage holes. Use a loose, well-draining potting mix, and water whenever the top inch of soil dries out. Bring the plant outdoors during the summer to give its growth a boost in the sunlight. Indoors, a south-facing window is ideal. Mist your plant to boost humidity as needed. And fertilize during the growing season (spring to fall) with a liquid fertilizer, following label instructions.
You can make new cinnamon plants from stem cuttings. Take a cutting roughly 6 inches long, and strip off the lower half of the leaves. Plant the cutting in moist potting mix, and keep it warm ideally on a sunny windowsill. Cuttings are often slow to form roots and might not be ready to plant outdoors for several months.
Cinnamon plants don't need much pruning. But you should prune off any dead, damaged, or diseased branches as they arise to prevent them from affecting the overall health of the plant.
How to Grow Cinnamon From Seeds
Birds relish the fruits of cinnamon plants. But if you're able to save some, you can start new plants from seed. Clean the pulp of the berries away from the seeds, and dry them thoroughly. Plant the seeds while they're fresh, as they lose viability quickly. Plant them about an inch deep in pots filled with a sterile seed-starting mix. Keep them moist and warm at around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination should occur in about three weeks.
Common Pests and Diseases
Fungal diseases can affect cinnamon plants growing under stress in excessively wet or shady conditions. Many of the insect pests that impact cinnamon plants, such as the cinnamon butterfly and cinnamon gall mite, are not present outside of the tropics. Leafminers can also affect cinnamon plants and cause leaf drop, and mealybugs can cause foliage damage. Apply an organic insecticide if the infestation is severe.