Marianne CannonHow to grow cloves

I hadn’t really thought about cloves being dried flower buds until researching this story. And did you know that cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, are closely related to lillypilly and eucalypts? I’m talking with spice expert, Ian Hemphill from Herbies, about the fascinating history of cloves and their part in the fortunes of the Dutch East India Company, as well as their origins in ‘The Spice Islands’ a handful of tropical Indonesian islands in the Banda Sea. 

Cloves

Cloves were as important a trading commodity in the 15th century as oil is today and the famous explorer and merchant Magellan’s company made huge profits from bringing cloves back to Europe.

[Ian’s tip when buying ground cloves is to check the powder is fine, dark brown and with a pungent aroma, or you might be buying 2nd grade cloves with added ground up stem. Ground cloves have a very long shelf life of several years]

Clove tree. Photo by MidoriThe clove tree is a 8-10m (25-33ft), tropical evergreen tree. Clove flower buds change over 5-6 months from green to pinkish-red, then are picked and sun dried for 4-5 days. The buds are quite waxy and both the flowers and leaves are very similar to an Australian gum tree, showing their Myrtaceae connection. As the buds dry, they turn brownish-black and create a volatile oil called eugenol (also found in basil), which makes it a wonderfully aromatic spice for cooking and also a strong natural anaesthetic and antiseptic.

Clove buds and flowers. Photo Yim Hafiz

Clove buds and flowers. Photo YIM Hafiz

[Ian’s recipe hint: use a pinch of cloves in your next pasta dish. It’s often a chef’s secret ingredient to make it something extra special!]

Cloves are also grown in India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Africa and many tropical countries. The islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off Tanzania on Africa’s eastern coast have large clove plantations and it’s said you can smell the cloves for kilometres out to sea.

Clove seeds Photo by Snowcatcher

Clove seeds. Photo by Snowcatcher Photos

Clove fruits are usually allowed to drop naturally from the tree and then sown straight into the growing medium. Otherwise, they need to stay moist and be sown within one week to germinate successfully, with the fruit first soaked overnight and then the fleshy pericarp removed by rubbing with sharp sand. Storing seeds in plastic bags will make them quickly rot and small seedlings are very prone to fungal attack.

Germination takes about 6 weeks and the seedlings are very delicate and slow growing. Don’t even think about potting them up until they’re about 25cm (9in) high, which may take up to 6 months! Some growers recommend letting the growing medium dry out the day before transplanting to try to keep the small, fragile root ball intact. Grow them on in the shade for another 18 months before planting in the garden. Cloves could potentially be grafted onto compatible Myrtaceae plants but this has not been commercially explored.

Although you can grow a clove tree in subtropical zones, it may not flower in cooler temperatures as it needs temperatures above 10 degrees C (50F) and consistently high humidity. You can grow it as an indoor plant or in a greenhouse if you can keep the humidity high enough – indoors you could try a terrarium-style growing environment as long as the potting mix can drain well.

412px-Cloves-penang-zanzibarClove trees need plenty of water throughout the year and protection from strong wind. Volcanic and rich loam soils with added organic matter will give the best results, although a seed-grown tree will still take about 7 years to flower. It grows compatibly with either pepper or coffee, or bananas can be used as a protective nurse plant while the seedlings establish. Clove trees are often quite twiggy, which also results in more flower-bearing flushes of growth.

Commercial clove trees are fertilised twice a year with both complete mineral fertiliser and also manures.

Clove-studded orange Photo bradleygee

Clove-studded orange Photo bradleygee

[Fun tip from Ian: make a clove studded orange. The preservative nature of the cloves can keep the orange from rotting for many years]

Clove trees can be attacked by stem borers and also mealy bugs and scale, however fungal attack is by far the most common cause of plant disease and death, usually at the seedling stage but also even in mature trees. As clove trees have a fine, hairlike root system, mature trees can also quickly collapse and die from drying out. Although the fungi that infect clove trees have been identified, the spreading vector is not yet understood.

Where to buy clove trees:

Australia – Daley’s Fruit occasionally has potted clove trees for sale.

USA – Top Tropicals sells potted clove trees, or you can buy clove seeds from Hilobeads in Hawaii and Fruit Lover’s Seed Company (Note only some USA states allow fresh seeds to be imported)

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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

33 thoughts on “How to grow cloves

  1. A clove-studded orange could potentially last for 100 years?! Wow that’s amazing info from Ian. Attempting to grow cloves sounds like a recipe for tears before bedtime so I think I’ll stick with what’s packaged but I’m glad to have Ian’s advice about how to check the quality.

  2. Thanks Marianne–my clove is coming up- don’t know what to expect- the greenhouse i built does not have good temp control. My naranjella has fruit after one year. My cherimoya tree is big but no fruit. Have large loquat trees with fruit. Not bad for this part of Ga.

    • Hello Richard,

      it’s good to have a go at growing something exotic. I hope your greenhouse stays above 50 deg F (10 deg C), otherwise you might want to put in a heater!
      When it comes time to transplant your clove plant into a bigger pot, put it in a pot or planter with rich, loamy potting soil that drains well. Clove trees like to grow in moist soil, but cannot tolerate wet, soggy soil.

      good luck.
      Marianne

  3. Sir les Patterson on said:

    Limberlost nursery in cairns have clove trees for sale !

  4. Sher on said:

    I want to grow cloves and cardmom along with black pepper
    My area is not sub tropical. We have brutal summer and dry harsh winter.
    Shall i give it a try???
    Please guide me

    • Hello Sher,

      All of those plants will require ample watering. Cerainly try Cardamom and Cloves but grow the Cardamom in as much shade as you’ve got.
      Clove trees are slow growing , so you can try it in a pot for a couple of years first before you decide on the best location in your garden. If your summers are harsh, plant it in partial shade. If you don’t have that, erect, some shade cloth on three sides of the tree to protect it.
      As for the black pepper vine (Piper nigrum), you will need to bring the vine indoors or grow it in a protected courtyard or shadehouse during Winter. Grow it in a large pot and don’t water too much over winter.
      There will be some leaf drop during winter, but it will take off again in Summer.

      Good luck
      Marianne

  5. muttaka zayyana on said:

    please how can i get this clove seed.

    • Hi Muttaka, you need to tell in which country you’re located before I can help you.

      • Tajuddeen auwal on said:

        Hi I am located in nigeria and I want to grow cloves please I want to were to get th clove seed

        • Hi Tajuddeen – I tried to find you somewhere to get clove seed but it seems that cloves are only grown commercially on the east coast of Africa in Tanzania, Madagascar and Kenya. Maybe that means that Nigeria’s climate wouldn’t be right for growing it? As clove seed needs to be sown fresh, at least within one week of the fruit being picked, I can’t see a way you could find fresh seed near you.

  6. Rene on said:

    Thank you cloves has so many uses

  7. Jesse on said:

    Very informative article. Enjoyed if from start to finish. Interesting to hear it takes about 7 years to flourish- I had read 20 years and it was very discouraging. Thanks!

    • Hi shabazztribe – we can’t help you if we don’t know where you are

  8. osita on said:

    I am osita and I am in Nigeria. Pls I need the seed in large quantity, how do I get it

    • Hi osita – I’m sorry but I’ve tried before to find a supplier of clove seed in Nigeria without success – see my answer to Tajuddeen auwal above

  9. Parbhat on said:

    I am in Toronto Canada. Would like to purchase cloves seed/plant. Could you please help me in getting locally or from USA.

    • HI Parbhat – the only place in North America that I can find that sells clove plants is Top Tropicals in Florida. I don’t know whether they ship to Canada but you can find the link to their website at the end of the blog post.

  10. Samuel McCarthy on said:

    My curiosity get me here.you guys have an interesting conversation and very important insight so.Thanks for the article.
    Samuel is my name,Im looking for cloves supplier in Tanzania or it surrounds to buy in large numbers,also is there any part of Ghana cloves will grow better?

    • Tanzania has had a Cloves Development Fund which I think was part of the Department of Agriculture which at one time was distributing clove seedlings to increase production but I don’t know if that is still happening. Cloves need rich soil and lots of water. I think only the south-west part of Ghana that gets a higher rainfall would be wet enough but I don’t know if that area also has good soil.

      • Samuel McCarthy on said:

        Thanks so much will keep in touch always

        • Samuel McCarthy on said:

          Hello Christine, this Samuel,please any contacts and email to reach you on for discussion.Thanks

  11. Katrina on said:

    Thank you for your excellent article. I bought a clove tree about 6 months ago and it is in the greenhouse. I was going to plant it this week but I might leave it where it is for another year. I live on the Sunshine Coast SEQ and my clove tree has just started to get some impressive growth. Thank you again for your information. Katrina

    • Hello Katrina,

      so glad you are able to grow Clove trees.

      regards
      Marianne

  12. Johan on said:

    Hi Catherine…where can I buy a clove tree…I am on the Sunshine Coast in QLD.

  13. Katrina on said:

    I bought my clove tree from aussiesbackyard on eBay. Excellent service and excellent product. I also use https://www.allrareherbs.com.au/product/clove-600ml-pot/ i collected my purchase from montville servo. I bought a heap of interesting plants from them: allspice, wasabi, saffron. Also daleys fruit company sells clove trees and I recently purchased a cinnamon from them as well brilliantly packaged and shipped.
    Good luck.

  14. i am planning to grow cloves, i really need to know does it really take 7 years for a clove plant to flower?? please tell me the exact time

    • Hi Premnath – unfortunately being a horticulturist doesn’t make you a clairvoyant! It depends on your growing conditions – the warmth of your climate, the fertility of the soil, and your horticultural practices. In ideal conditions I’ve read that clove trees can start producing flowers in as little as 4 years but it’s usually longer – closer to 7 or 8 years before your get much of a crop and up to 15 years before the tree is at peak flowering.

  15. Manorma Sahay on said:

    I would like to either get clove seeds or clove plant

  16. Abu on said:

    I really want to start the farming of clove but I have no idea about the place and weather to farm. And region how long dose it takes b4 harvest. Email

  17. Essa obaidi on said:

    Hello i am 4th years student of agriculture faculty and i am in horticulure department i have saminar about cloves please if u have any information about it email me ( essah.obaidi@yahoo.com

  18. Michael Pascall on said:

    I was lucky to get a seedling grown locally in Tully from a tree that was destroyed soon afterwards in cyclone Yasi. It has grown well and is now over 2m tall. Am hoping it will flower soon. Have heard that some experts have managed to strike cuttings from other trees growing around the area.

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