How to Grow Clove Trees

Clove tree (close-up)

Davor Lovincic/Getty Images

With a small, reddish-brown flower bud, the clove tree (syzygium aromaticum) is a slow-growing but long-lived tree—it can easily survive to its 100th birthday and beyond. The clove tree trunk is known for its smooth bark and either green or grayish-yellow aromatic foliage. The pungent clove spice that's used in an array of meals, drinks, and desserts is a result of harvesting the tree's dried, unopened flower buds. 

Clove trees are native to the Spice Islands and the Moluccas, and their name is believed to be derived from either the Latin word "clavus" or French word "cloud." Today, the clove tree is typically grown in India, Jamaica, the West Indies, Brazil, Sumatra, and other tropical climates.

The clove tree can grow to 15 to 30 feet tall and has long leaves and white flowers.

Common Name Clove, Clovos, Caryophyllus, lavangam
Botanical Name Syzygium Aromaticum
Family Myrtaceae (myrtle)
Plant Type  Spice, Tree
Mature Size 15-30 ft.
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Soil Type Rich, Loamy
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 11-12, USA
Native Area Spice Islands/Moluccas (Indonesia)

Clove Tree Care

After planting, the clove tree will begin blossoming within six to 10 years and will reach full maturity (and produce the best harvest) at the age of 15 to 20. Since these trees require moist soil, you can improve soil conditions by covering the freshly-planted seeds with a plastic sheet after planting.

Cloves are quite delicate and will grow fairly slowly; the seed germination process will take about six weeks. It will take about four to six months to harvest the crop from the buds (when they're less than two centimeters). The optimal harvesting time is when the clove buds change from a green to slightly pink color. Harvesting is a very delicate process, as the quality of yield can be destroyed if branches are tilted or broken.

Light

Clove trees will grow best in full sun to partial shade.

Soil

As long as your soil has good drainage, the clove plant will thrive in rich, loamy soil (preferably with organic matter).

Water

These plants require continuous water. Some gardeners opt for a drip irrigation system for best results, particularly during the summer months when the plants may require additional watering. Just be sure that the soil doesn't become waterlogged or too soggy, as these conditions can lead to root rot. The clove tree will require the most frequent watering in its first three to four years of growth.

Temperature and Humidity

The clove plant prefers slightly cooler temperatures with ample rain, which will help its flowers grow and produce the highest yield. However, they do require either humid subtropical or tropical climates to grow, and the temperature must remain above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Cloves will grow and produce best when provided with regular fertilization. Organic manure can be applied from May through June. In the early fall months, fertilizer can be applied in shallow trenches dug around the plant.

Pruning

The clove tree will not require extensive pruning, though its branches can be cut back to the desired height after harvesting. Dead or damaged branches, as well as dead leaves, should be removed.

Propagating Clove Trees

Clove trees can be propagated by using cuttings, however, the much-preferred method is to propagate via seeds.

How to Grow Clove Trees From Seed

It's best to attempt propagation via seeds in the middle of the summer. Seeds should be planted immediately after harvesting. After fruits are allowed to ripen on the tree, they will naturally fall and their seeds can either be soaked in water overnight or sown directly into the soil.

Recently harvested seeds will grow best, as if they become dried out they are less likely to germinate. If you are not able to plant clove seeds immediately, it's best to keep them in soil until the time is right.

Growing in Containers

Clove plants can be grown in containers, though they will not grow as tall as when planted outdoors. Containers should be at least 18 inches in diameter and have a proper drainage system.

The pot or container can be filled about two-thirds full with moist (but not soggy) soil, and seeds can be placed directly on top of the soil. If a clove seed is already rooted, then it can be gently planted below the surface of the soil.

The container should be kept in a bright spot with access to indirect sunlight, preferably in a room with a temperature that remains consistently between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

There are several diseases and pests that can plague clove trees. Perhaps the most serious is Sumatra disease, a bacterial infection that causes the trees to begin to die from the top down. While there is no cure for the disease, its progression can be slowed by an injection of the antibiotic oxytetracycline. If the disease shows up around your clove tree, you may want to use an insecticide that fights insects in the Hindola species, which are thought to be the cause of the issue.

Clove trees may also suffer from eucalyptus canker, which happens when a fungus enters a wound on a tree. The best step here is prevention. Try to avoid nicking the tree with tools or equipment and if the bark is punctured or if branches are pruned, treat them with an antifungal paste.

In terms of pests, clove trees can be visited by coconut scale bugs, which are flat and oval and resemble a scale. If you witness pale yellow spots on leaves, or entire leaves going yellow and brown and dropping too early, this could be the cause. They can also fall prey to the Oriental fruit fly, soft scale bugs, and nematodes. Treatments include, respectively: bagging the tree's fruits when they emerge; using horticultural oil; and solarizing the soil.

Common Problems With Clove Trees

Aside from the issues mentioned above, there are few other problems that affect clove trees. Just be careful to keep the soil consistently moist without drowning the trees, as too much water could lead to root rot.

FAQ
  • How much space should I leave between clove trees?

    Initially, two inches between plants would be sufficient. As the trees mature, however, you'll want to transplant them so that there is about 10 to 20 feet between each tree.

  • When should I harvest cloves?

    Once the tree starts producing fruit, you will want to harvest the cloves, which are the flower buds, just before the flower opens, as they are turning from green to pink. They should be dried in the sun until they turn brown.

  • What should I plant with clove trees?

    When clove trees are young, they can benefit from shade, so planting them below banana plants is a good strategy. By the time they grow taller than the banana trees, they will be able to tolerate full sun. Planting them among jacaranda and mango trees as well as with legumes can also help clove trees thrive.