by Matt Gibson
Ready to grow your own clove? The clove plant is cultivated around the globe as a spice and medicinal herb. Due to the clove plant’s popularity with gardeners from such a wide variety of cultures, it also has a list of names that is far too long for us to list here. For the purposes of this article, we will only refer to the plant as the clove plant or clove tree—or by its scientific name, Syzygium aromaticum.
The clove tree is native to Indonesia, but clove has been cultivated in many countries where the climate is especially warm, such as Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. The trees can grow as high as 40 feet tall and are easy to pick out in a crowded forest or garden due to their unique blueish-gray bark. The clove tree’s large, shiny, aromatic dark green leaves grow up to five inches long (they resemble bay leaves) and grow in pairs. From July to October and again from November to January, the boughs bear tiny, inch-long red blossoms that gather in clusters near the branch tips. The fragrance of the blooms will do more than simply adding a splash of color—they’ll also help to attract bees and other pollinators to your garden.
Clove is known in the culinary and fragrance world for its distinctive aroma and flavor, both of which are pleasing and unique. Clove has a sweet-and-spicy scent and taste that’s commonly used in holiday dishes such as wassail and in candles meant to evoke the holiday season. They have a very strong and distinctive flavor so in most cases, they are used sparingly in culinary applications. It may surprise you to learn that cloves are used in the production of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
The spice is also widely used for its versatile medicinal properties and high nutritional content. Considering them as a food, cloves contain vitamins, minerals, and water. A teaspoon of cloves has just 21 calories but comes along with one gram of fiber, one gram of carbs, 30 percent of the manganese you need daily, and small amounts of the vitamins C and K. Cloves are high in antioxidants, have antibacterial properties, and historically have been used as a treatment to soothe stomach ulcers, improve bone health, regulate blood sugar, improve liver health, fight cancer cells, and more.
Instead of taking cloves as a supplement for their benefits, try growing them fresh and see how delicious they are sprinkled into spicy curry dishes, stirred into potent chutneys and dusted over delicious desserts. You can also boil whole cloves for five to seven minutes for a warming cup of clove tea.
Growing Conditions for Cloves
Clove trees cannot be grown in cool climate areas. Is it possible to grow a clove tree outdoors where you live? Well, that really will depend mostly on the climate of your area. The real crux of the matter is whether your yard has what it will take to keep a clove tree happy. If you meet the plant’s recommended growing conditions and live in a hot, humid, and relatively wet area, such as a tropical region, or are lucky enough to make your home in a rainforest or jungle, you’re in luck.
Clove trees require a minimum of 50 to 70 inches of annual rainfall per year as well as a temperature range that never drops below 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not attempt to grow a clove tree outdoors in temperate zones.
However, you can replicate the clove tree’s natural environment indoors and grow your clove tree as a houseplant, as doing so will keep the tree sheltered from the elements during any extreme instances of heat or cold the weather may bring. (After all, unlike with a container garden, you can’t simply grab your clove tree and find a sunny spot for it indoors when the weather threatens to go outside its acceptable range.)
How to Plant Clove
The clove tree is most often grown from seed. Plant clove seeds in well drained and fertile loam and water, then feed them regularly. The soil you should use for planting clove should be similar to what you would use for orchids. Take care to place your seedlings in an area where they will be shaded by larger plants for the first couple of years of their tender young lives.
Purchase clove seeds from a reputable source, and wet the soil before planting. Make sure the seeds you purchase are pollinated (which is why simply planting a few buds from the bottle in your spice rack won’t do). Keep the soil where clove is growing wet but not waterlogged.
Place clove seeds directly on the surface of the ground. The seeds do not need to be buried under the soil to put down roots and start adjusting to their new homes. After just a bit of time has passed, you’ll see the clove tree seedlings start sprouting up like crazy. Transfer your clove seedlings into a larger pot when they have reached one inch in height.
Care of Cloves
Make sure to water your clove plants regularly, especially during periods of drought or excessive heat for your region. Clove trees prefer to grow in a rich soil that has good drainage, is loamy, and is chock-full of organic matter.
More than anything, gardeners who are considering adding clove to their gardens should be aware that clove tree cultivation is a long term project that involves its share of long term work—but it also comes along with long term rewards. Do not expect to get any usable buds from your clove tree until the branches have started producing a full array of flower clusters, which will take at least six years before the first possible harvest, starting from the time you planted the seeds.
A delicate balance must be achieved when it comes to watering your clove trees. Light watering and frequent misting are recommended treatment options to replicate the humidity of the clove plant’s native tropical conditions if your environment doesn’t quite match up.
Apply an organic fertilizer, such as compost, bone meal, or fish meal, at the beginning of any rainy season. Once the plant starts to grow, switch to using a superphosphate MOP (muriate of potash) or potassium sulfate plant food. Increase the amount of fertilizer to double when it’s used to feed a clove tree that’s more than 15 years of age. Until the harsh summer ends, apply the fertilizer in split doses by pouring it into trenches that you’ve dug outside of the plant.
The clove spice consists of the unopened flower buds of the tropical clove tree, which are collected and dried in the sun. Buds must be picked early and dried before they are technically a mature clove. The highest quality cloves are reddish brown. When pressed with a fingernail or sharp object, clove buds will exude oil.
It may take a while to get the first full harvest of cloves out of your clove tree. In fact, unless you sowed seeds with years and years to spare, you may not see a complete clove harvest any time in the near future. You’ll start to see full yields from caring from a clove tree around the twentieth year of its life. If you can wait that long to get your first complete harvest, you won’t be disappointed by its yield.
To harvest cloves, pick the unopened buds before they begin to turn pink, when they are rounded and plump and no more than two centimeters in length. Dry the clove buds in the sunlight or in an airtight Mason jar until they have lost two thirds of their weight and the color of the bud stem has turned dark brown. Dried cloves don’t have a long shelf life, unfortunately, as they tend to lose flavor very quickly. Store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight, and use or replace them within a one-year period.
Cloves are also used to make kretek cigarettes, which were popularized in Indonesia but have spread across the globe. In the United States, they are known simply as clove cigarettes. To make these, the dried clove buds are mixed with the usual tobacco leaves at a ratio of two parts tobacco to one part clove.
Garden Pests and Diseases
There are no issues for gardeners to be aware of that clove trees face when it comes to garden pests, but these trees are susceptible to a few diseases—especially when they’re kept in the wrong growing conditions. Clove plants do occasionally suffer from seedling wilt, root rot, leaf spot, bug shedding, scales and mealy bugs.
Check under the leaves of your clove tree at least twice a week for insects or signs of disease, then hit any affected areas with a big blast of water to knock any tiny pest bugs you’ve spotted off of the plant and send them flying in the other direction. This strategy may not be a permanent deterrent, but it will knock the bugs for a loop each time you do it and discourage them taking up residence near your clove trees.
Want to learn more about growing clove? See these videos.
Check out this video on clove fruit and seeds:
Check out this video on the history, benefits and how to use cloves:
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