Many kitchens have jars of ground cinnamon or raw cinnamon sticks. If you've ever handled a cinnamon stick, you've had a peek at the dried bark of a cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) plant. Hundreds of species within the Cinnamomum genus are native to tropical and subtropical regions. They vary somewhat in appearance, with some being tall trees and others growing as a smaller shrub.
Cinnamon plant foliage is generally a glossy green to yellow-green, and the plants 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 to 60 feet tall, 2 to 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||10–12 (USDA)|
How to Plant Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a tropical plant, so if you garden in a warm climate, USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can grow cinnamon plants outdoors. Most gardeners start with young nursery plants rather than seeds.
When planting cinnamon outdoors, choose a location that provides enough room for the mature size of the species. Make sure the planting site is several feet away from other trees and shrubs so that your plant will receive enough sunlight. Dig a hole twice the size of your plant's root ball, and amend the soil with compost. Backfill the planting hole with soil, gently press down to remove air pockets, and water deeply.
Caring for Cinnamon Plants
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. Cinnamon plants don't do well in waterlogged soils, and thus heavy clay or hardpan soils are not a recipe for success. If your garden soil is not suitable for growing cinnamon, grow it in containers to provide the type of well-drained, sandy loam soil l it needs.
These species like the regular rainfall they receive in the tropics, so you should try to replicate this with irrigation when rain is scarce. Do not let the soil dry out completely. Water whenever the top two 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.
If you garden in a cold climate north of the plant's cold hardiness zone, you can grow cinnamon in containers in a greenhouse or keep the container outdoors during the summer months and overwinter it indoors as a houseplant.
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 the most common type of cinnamon sold in North America.
- 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 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 reveals the edible part of the plant. 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 north of cinnamon's cold hardiness 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 propagate new cinnamon plants from stem cuttings. Take a cutting roughly six 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 don't require regular pruning. But you should prune off any dead, damaged, or diseased branches 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 off the berry pulp 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 Plant 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.
“Cinnamon.” Pennsylvania State University Extension Office.