Native to India, the fast-growing curry tree is a small evergreen bush or tree that can reach anywhere from six to 20 feet tall. The most widely known part of the curry tree is its aromatic, spicy foliage, comprised of many leaflets. The leaves are pinnate and form alternately on the stem. They are best harvested when fresh.
The tree produces fragrant white flowers, which develop into small, black fruits similar to berries. Unlike the leaves, they are not suitable for consumption. Curry tree is best planted in the spring.
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|Common Name||Curry tree, curry leaf tree, curry plant, sweet neem, meethi neem, kadhi patta|
|Botanical Name||Murraya koenigii|
|Mature Size||6-20 ft. tall, 4-12 ft. wide|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Hardiness Zones||9-12 (USDA)|
Curry Tree Care
The curry tree can grow in tropical climates similar to its native region on the Indian subcontinent. When searching for a place to plant it outdoors, avoid a windy spot because it has a weak trunk and weak limbs. It is a tough tree otherwise and will only wither and die from extreme drought, record high temperatures, or infertile soil.
The curry tree is an overall strong plant once established in ideal sunny, tropical conditions. In cold climates, the curry tree can only be grown in containers. Let it spend the summer outdoors and bring it indoors once the cold weather sets in. Make sure you have a suitable space indoors for overwintering the plant.
The curry tree thrives in full sun. Place in the absolute sunniest part of your garden for best results. With proper light and care, the tree will produce good foliage.
Plant in well-drained, fertile soil on the acidic side, with a pH between 6.4 and 6.9. The curry tree prefers dry soil.
Water regularly for the first two months after planting and allow the soil to dry out after a heavy rain or deep watering. After that, moderate watering is sufficient. Avoid overwatering, especially in winter. Potted plants need more frequent watering, every 2 to 4 days depending on pot size and climate. Make sure not to overwater the plant and let the soil dry out between watering.
Temperature and Humidity
The curry tree is frost tender. While it can survive a mild frost, it does not do well in areas with consistently cold winters, which will prompt it to shed its leaves and go dormant until the spring. It thrives in a hot, humid climate.
A month or so after planting, give it a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. Do not fertilize during winter dormancy, which the tree goes through in cooler parts of the world.
Types of Curry Trees
There are three types of curry leaf trees:
- Regular-size trees are the ones that grow the fastest. The leaves from this plant are commonly sold in grocery stores.
- Dwarf-type trees do not grow as tall, but they spread out more. They have light green leaves that are longer than the leaves of regular-size curry trees.
- Gamthi curry plants are even smaller than the dwarf variety, they only reach 12 inches in height when mature and grow very slowly, which makes them well-suited for container growing. Their thick leaves have the strongest aroma of all curry trees.
At least during the first two years, pinching off the flower buds prevents the plant from using its energy to produce seeds and helps it get established. If you are growing curry tree primarily for its foliage, and not for its flowers or seeds, keep removing the flower buds every year.
A curry tree also requires regular pruning of dead branches and removal of any dead leaves to encourage continual fresh foliage.
Propagating Curry Tree
Curry leaf plants can be grown from seeds or cuttings. Propagation from cuttings is the easiest:
- Using sharp pruners or a knife, take a three-inch part of a healthy stem with few leaves. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of the cutting.
- Fill a 4-inch pot with soilless potting medium and water it well. Insert the cutting into the medium so that about once inch is buried.
- Place the pot in a warm and moist location with bright light but away from direct sunlight.
- Keep the soil moist at all times but not wet. Cuttings will root in about three weeks and can then be transplanted to a larger pot or in garden soil.
Growing Curry Tree from Seeds
Curry tree seeds have a very low germination rate and trying to propagate the tree from seed is therefore not recommended. If you want to propagate a curry tree, it is best to do this from a cutting.
Potting and Repotting
Dwarf and Gamthi varieties are small enough to be grown in containers. For both types, use containers with large drainage holes and a light potting mix. Plant dwarf curry trees in a five-gallon container and when it starts to outgrow its container, repot it in the spring. Because the Gamthi curry plant grows so slowly, it might be fine in the container in which you purchased it for at least a year or so and won't need repotting. Repot it to a larger container as needed.
If grown in a suitable frost-free climate, curry trees in the landscape need no winter protection. Container-grown plants must be brought indoors before the first frost and remain inside until all danger of frost is past in the spring. They need full sun so place them in front of a sunny window.
Common Problems with Curry Tree
Droopy, withering leaves in potted curry trees is often a sign of overwatering, which can also lead to root rot. Make sure that the container has adequate drainage and the potting mix drains well. Back off on watering and only water again when the soil has dried out.
Is curry tree and curry plant the same?
The curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) can be confused with a plant called "curry" (Helichrysum italicum, sometimes listed as H. angustifolium), which is sold in many nurseries and garden centers. While it does have a warm fragrance akin to curry, it tastes bitter and it is best used in potpourris and wreaths, but not for food.
How do you use curry leaves?
The fresh leaves have a citrus-like scent that can be added to soups, sauces, and stews. Similar to how you would use a bay leaf, you can steep the leaves in the food as it's cooking and then remove it. Sauté fresh leaves in oil before adding vegetables, seafood, and chutneys. Another option is to dry the leaves and crush them for seasoning.
When should I harvest the curry leaves?
Wait at least one year, better two, until the tree is established. Once the foliage is lush and large, pluck off a few of the aromatic leaves. Regular harvesting improves the present and future growth of the plant. Curry leaves have the most flavor when fresh, so continuously letting more leaves grow on the tree indoors or outdoors provides you with a constant supply.