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Edibles

How to grow cloves

Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon

November 27, 2013

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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Katrina
Katrina
6 years ago

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.

shabazztribe
7 years ago

i like to buy cloves tree small one

Catherine Stewart
Admin
7 years ago
Reply to  shabazztribe

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

Manorma Sahay
Manorma Sahay
6 years ago

I would like to either get clove seeds or clove plant

Michael Pascall
Michael Pascall
5 years ago

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.

Sher
7 years ago

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

Marianne Cannon
7 years ago
Reply to  Sher

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

Rene
7 years ago

Thank you cloves has so many uses

Jesse
Jesse
7 years ago

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!

osita
osita
6 years ago

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

Catherine Stewart
Admin
6 years ago
Reply to  osita

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

Parbhat
Parbhat
6 years ago

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

Catherine Stewart
Admin
6 years ago
Reply to  Parbhat

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.

Samuel McCarthy
Samuel McCarthy
6 years ago

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?

Catherine Stewart
Admin
6 years ago

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
Samuel McCarthy
6 years ago

Thanks so much will keep in touch always

Samuel McCarthy
Samuel McCarthy
6 years ago

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

Katrina
Katrina
6 years ago

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

Marianne Cannon
6 years ago
Reply to  Katrina

Hello Katrina,

so glad you are able to grow Clove trees.

regards
Marianne

Sham
Sham
2 years ago
Reply to  Katrina

Hi mate
I am wondering where I can buy the clove tree or clove seeds in Australia. I am from Melbourne. Please tell me
Thank u

Johan
Johan
6 years ago

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

Catherine Stewart
Admin
6 years ago
Reply to  Johan

Hi Johan – yes, clove trees are not easy to find! I can’t find any for sale right now but you could try contacting aussiesbackyard07 via Ebay. It’s an Ebay store in FNQ that has sold clove trees earlier this year. http://stores.ebay.com.au/aussiesbackyard07

Premnath Vasu
6 years ago

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

Catherine Stewart
Admin
6 years ago
Reply to  Premnath Vasu

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.

Abu
Abu
5 years ago

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

Essa obaidi
Essa obaidi
5 years ago

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

nazrul
nazrul
5 years ago

I want a packet of clove seed for gardening. but how can get it . pls help me. l am bangladeshi

D Lee
D Lee
5 years ago

Hi. I’d like to plant clove seed for an indoor tree. Curious if I should have a pair for germination/pollination? I have heard that it is as aromatic growing as the spice? Also I really want to try the fruit .
I cannot seem to find trees or seed for sale anywhere local or on Google or Amazon. Is there some reason they are so hard to get in the U.S.? I am in Indiana.

Netta
5 years ago

I would just like to know where i can purchase this wonderful tree or seeds?

Marianne Cannon
4 years ago
Reply to  Netta

Hello Netta,

you don’t mention where you are. If you scroll up to the last paragraph of the text you’ll see this 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 .” You will be able to click on the links to find out the suppliers.

regards
Marianne

HASSAN HOUSEN
HASSAN HOUSEN
4 years ago

jaafar from madagascar :can clove tree be grafted?

Marianne Cannon
4 years ago

Hello Hassan,
there’s not reason why a clove tree can’t be grafter. The only point to remember is that the clove tree is in the family Myrtaceae, and the scientific name is Syzygium aromaticum, So that when choosing in understock, the plant has to be in the Myrtaceae family also and something suitable. I would imagine that something in the Syzygium genus would be suitable.
regards
Marianne

glrao
4 years ago

Many thanks for all the information. Clove seedlings are widely available in South Indian nurseries, particularly in Kerala. I am interested in Piper guineense (West African Cubeb) seeds or seedlings or cuttings. Can any one supply the name of a nursery which can supply planting materials?

Catherine Stewart
Admin
9 years ago

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.

Richard Graham
8 years ago

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.

Marianne Cannon
8 years ago
Reply to  Richard Graham

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

Sir les Patterson
Sir les Patterson
8 years ago

Limberlost nursery in cairns have clove trees for sale !

muttaka zayyana
muttaka zayyana
7 years ago

please how can i get this clove seed.

Catherine Stewart
Admin
7 years ago

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

Tajuddeen auwal
Tajuddeen auwal
7 years ago

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

Catherine Stewart
Admin
7 years ago

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.

Aishatu
Aishatu
5 years ago

I am very much interested in planting cloves but could not find the seed I’m also interested in establishing a home garden but have no enough land help me out please I’m a Nigerian and live in Kano

Catherine Stewart
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  Aishatu

Hello Aishatu – Many people from around Africa contact me about buying clove seed or plants. I have researched this but have not been able to find a supplier. It seems that the Tanzanian clove producers are very careful not to let fresh clove seed into other parts of Africa so they can keep the price of cloves high.