Cardamom is used in many cultures to add a unique, difficult-to-describe flavor to dishes. The inner seeds of the plant are full of spicy, sweet, and refreshing notes that make it instantly recognizable. Guess what: growing cardamom is easier than you might think.
Many people assume that spices like cardamom are difficult to grow. After all, you don’t see the plants too often in home gardens. That’s a shame, because not only can you harvest a marvelous spice, but the plants have stunning flowers that liven up the garden.
Want to grow your own? Then let’s dig in.
Get to Know Cardamom
The cardamom spice comes from the seeds, which can be found clustered inside the pods that grow from the flowers of the plant. The pods of the Elettaria cardamomum species are green in color. However, there are other types of this spice that can be black or white.
The white type comes from the same E. cardamomum species but has been bleached to change its color. The black species is called Amomum subulatum and has a smokier flavor.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on E. cardamomum.
This wonderful spice has been used for at least 4,000 years and is native to the forests in southwest India. It’s related to ginger.
Today, cardamom is used all over the world, especially in Scandanavia and India, and has become a popular ingredient among professional chefs and home cooks alike.
If you live in USDA Growing Zones 10 and 11 then you can grow this spice at home!
Appearance of Cardamom
Cardamom has thick rhizomes from which upright shoots emerge. Long, dark-colored green leaves grow out of the stems. If you find cardamom growing in its native environment of the tropics, it can reach between 6-15 feet tall.
However, it usually stays smaller in cooler or dryer regions.
During spring and summer, you’ll also see flowers blooming on the stem of the plant. These flowers resemble orchids and are white in color with lilac veins. They look beautiful in your garden!
Eventually, pods develop in those flowers. Inside those pods are the seeds.
Here is how to grow this lovely plant and harvest the spice at home.
How to Plant Cardamom
It’s important that you buy seeds that are meant for planting and not for cooking. Once you have your seeds you can plant them in the ground or in a container. You will have to prepare your seeds overnight before planting.
The first step is to place the seeds in a jar and cover them with a 2.5% nitric acid solution. Allow the seeds to sit for around two minutes in the solution and then rinse them underwater. After they’ve been cleaned, you can put them in a bowl with lukewarm water overnight.
If you have the right growing conditions for outdoor growing then you plant the seeds 0.5-1 inch apart and 1/8 inch deep in prepared soil. However, if the weather isn’t ideal for growing cardamom outside, you can opt for growing the seeds in a pot or container inside.
The soil should be rich, loamy, and well-draining if you plant outdoors. Indoors, use a water-retentive potting soil.
Cover the seeds with mulch or cover them with a glass or plastic cloche to help keep the soil constantly moist. The seeds should germinate between 20-40 days. Just remember to keep the plant in partial shade if you plant indoors. Don’t place the seeds in a south or west-facing window.
Of course, you can always buy and plant a seedling from a local nursery and make the job easier on yourself.
Caring for Cardamom
In addition to giving cardamom partial shade and fertile soil, you also need to make sure that the temperature and humidity are ideal for this plant. These environmental aspects are especially important if you want the plant to flower (and thus produce seeds).
Place the seedlings outside when temperatures are at least 72℉. I can drop a bit cooler, but this is a good baseline to aim for. This plant prefers hot weather to cool. If you live somewhere that can drop lower than 50°F, plant in a container and bring your cardamom inside during the cooler parts of the growing season.
Besides light, you ensure your soil is rich, loamy, and fertile. It’s a good idea to add some extra granulated bark and leaf mold into the soil.
This plant doesn’t enjoy dry soil so it’s essential to keep checking the moisture levels of the soil. Stick your finger in the soil. Does it feel like a well wrung-out sponge? Don’t add moisture. Does it feel dry at all? Get watering.
Growing Cardamom in Containers
If the outdoor temperatures are not warm enough, try growing cardamom in a greenhouse or a hot bathroom with lots of humidity and sun. Even though it’s less likely to produce flowers if you grow cardamom inside, it can still make for a great house plant!
To make cardamom grow well, you need to situate it so that it receives the correct amount of light exposure. You will have to give this plant part shade to full shade. Don’t place this plant in direct sunlight and provide some form of shade during the growing process.
It can also be beneficial to the plant to mist the leaves occasionally. Cardamom likes consistency, so try to maintain the same growing environment throughout the year.
Side dress once a month with well-rotted manure or compost.
Overview of Growing Needs
To make it easier to remember, here is an overview of the conditions you need for growing cardamom:
- Fertile, rich, well-draining soil
- USDA Growing Zones 10-11 or 9 with winter protection
- Part to full sun
- Around 72℉
Look Out for These Pests and Diseases
No one wants to treat pests and diseases on their plants, but sometimes, it can happen. Knowing what to watch for when growing cardamom can help you head off trouble before it becomes too serious.
One of the most common pests that affect cardamom are nematodes like root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) and the burrowing nematode (Radopholus similis).
These microscopic pests tend to impact plants that are already stressed because of a lack of water, too much or too little sun, or disease.
Nematodes cause stunting, wilting, and yellowing of the leaves. If you notice symptoms, you’ll need to dig up the plant and solarize the soil.
Cardamom thrips (Sciothrips cardamomi) are also common in Hawaii. Our guide to identifying and dealing with thrips can help you manage an infestation.
Capsule rot is caused by oomycetes (water molds) in the Phytophthora genus. It causes lesions on the stems, water-soaked spots on the leaves, and rotting of the pods. Treat your plants with a copper fungicide to control the disease.
Damping off impacts seeds and seedlings. It’s caused by the fungi Pythium vexans and Rhizoctonia solani and results in a failure to germinate or collapsing seedlings. Our article on this common disease can help.
Once your cardamom is ready to be harvested, you can begin at the base of each steam and work your way up. Deciding the right time to pick the pods can be challenging as you need to make sure they are fully ripe.
If you have your doubts about whether or not the pods are ripe, pick a pod and check the color inside.
Ripe cardamom seeds are black, whereas immature seeds are white. You can also tell if the pods are ripe if they come off the stalks easily without too much pulling. If it seems hard to pick the pods, then you can wait a few more days or weeks until they ripen.
Preserving and Using Cardamom
Not only is cardamom used in cooking, but it is also known for helping stomach problems and has antioxidant benefits.
After you’ve harvested the seeds, you can start to think about how to use them in your kitchen. The best way to keep your cardamom fresh for as long as possible is to dry them. You will need to wash the seeds and remove any excess debris around the stems.
Drying your pods quickly is crucial as they will begin to lose their flavor if you wait too long. Dry the pods at a temperature of 120°F. Alternatively, you can dry the pods in the sunlight if you have a free windowsill.
However, drying the pods in the sunlight can ruin their original green color and turn them white, so it’s worth considering your method of drying beforehand. All that’s left is to enjoy eating your cardamom!
You can bake it into cardamom cookies, make lemonade, or use it in bread. Add it to oatmeal, to make a soothing chai, or in curry. Whatever you prefer!
Have fun planting cardamom at home and double-check this growing guide if you get stuck at any stage of the growing process.