Did you know that cardamom is one of the most unique and expensive spices in the world? If you live in a humid, warm climate or in planting zones 10 to 12, you can grow a cardamom plant. You can plant new seeds inside and let them get a headstart for a few months so they’re above the soil. Transplant them in your yard and have a lot of patience because it takes a few years of nurturing and watering before your plant will start to produce cardamom that you can harvest and use or store.
Cardamom is a spice that is made using seeds from two different plant species in the Zingiberaceae family and the genera Amomum and Elettaria. The spice comes from seeds from the cardamom plant that grow in thin, small pods. The pods have a paper-like outer layer and a triangular cross section.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on green cardamom or Elettaria cardamom. You may have heard of white cardamom, which is the bleached variety of green cardamom, and black cardamom, which comes from Lanxang tsaoko or Amomum subulatum.
The green version of this essential spice often finds a spot on the lists of the most expensive spices in the world because it’s very labor-intensive for the commercial harvesting process. It’s a 5 to 10-foot tall plant that does well in partial shade and grows in forests.
You can grow the cardamom plant outside as a perennial in zones 10 and 11 due to the tropical nature. Hawaii, South Florida, and Puerto Rico are prime growing spots for the cardamom plant. It’s a clumping plant with erect and rigid stems that has leaves that reach up to two feet long. It’ll regrow each year using underground rhizomes.
Cardamom Plant History
This plant is native to southwest India’s mountainous regions, and it’s a staple ingredient in the food here. The use of the cardamom plant dates back over 4,000 years, and the Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks loved this spice.
The Vikings discovered this spice and brought it back with them to Scandinavia, and it became very popular for use in pastries, mulled wine, and bread. Today, the biggest commercial importers of this spice are Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Guatemala is the biggest commercial producer, followed closely by Sri Lanka and India. The unique flavor profile of this spice gives you a mint-like flavor with a very strong scent.
Cardamom Plant – Quick Growing Chart
|Plant Type:||Perennial – Upright Clumping||Foliage/Flower Color:||Multicolored with cream, yellow, and purple flowers|
|USDA Zone:||10 and 11||Soil Type:||Rich Humus|
|Season to Harvest:||Summer||Soil pH:||6.1 to 6.6 – Slightly Acidic|
|Exposure:||Full to Partial Sun||Soil Drainage:||Well|
|Spacing:||48 Inches Apart||Water Needs||Higher|
|Planting Depth:||⅛ Inch Down||Family:||Zingiberaceae|
|Spread:||Two to Four Feet||Genus:||Elettaria|
|Diseases/Pests:||Root Nematodes, Thripe, Fungi||Species:||Cardamomum|
How to Grow the Cardamom Plant Using Seeds
You want to start your cardamom plant out as seeds and start them indoors several months before you move them outside to give them a head start and ensure they’re strong enough to survive the transplanting process.
Source Your Seeds
You can collect cardamom seeds from capsules you buy at the grocery store, it’s a much better idea to source these seeds from an agricultural supply store. These seeds have a much higher chance of being free of diseases, and they’re more likely to thrive when you plant them. You can buy them online from agricultural supply companies or from your local gardening supply stores.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: If you use seeds that you get directly from your cardamom plant, the plant will have to be a minimum of five years old.
Use Loamy Soil to Fill the Containers
You want any soil you pick out to be slightly sandy to allow for gradual drainage. You can buy loamy soil from a lot of garden centers. If you’re planning on transplanting your seedlings outside, you can start them in any size container. If you’re not going to transplant the seeds and leave them in the container until the cardamom plants mature, the pot has to be at least six inches wide and a foot deep.
Plant the Seeds
The seeds should go ⅛ inch into the soil. Push a few seeds into your containers and cover them with ⅛ inch of soil. Once you have them in, you’ll water them so the soil is totally moist. You can start as many cardamom seeds as you like in a pot as long as they’re roughly an inch apart. This will give you enough room to thin them out and transplant them when they take off and grow.
Allow the Seeds to Grow
Grow your cardamom plant until it has a few leaves sprouted. It should start to germinate after 30 or 45 days. So, you should start to see the plant poke up through the soil at this stage. Keep watering your cardamom so the soil stays moist, and leave the seeds in this container until you see two leaves on each seedling. It takes roughly 90 days before your seedlings are ready to transplant outdoors and survive.
How to Grow Your Cardamom Plant Using Division
It’s stressful for your cardamom plant to dig up and cut the root ball, and the goal is to finish this process at a time that they can recover as easily and quickly as possible. The best conditions are when the air is warm and the soil is moist and cool, and this usually means autumn or spring. This will give any divisions time to settle into their new space and create a strong root system. If possible, divide your plant on a cloudy day when the following days call for light rain.
As a general rule, summer and spring bloomers like the cardamom plant are best when you divide them in the fall, and any fall-blooming perennials should get split in the spring. Spring transplants should be back in the ground a few weeks before the hot weather arrives. For fall transplants, planting can go right up to six to eight weeks before the first frost of the year. This gives your plants time to establish a root system before the extreme winter or summer temperatures set in.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: Never divide a plant when it’s flowering. You want all of the plant’s energy to get directed to the roots and leaves to create a strong foundation.
If you have to divide your cardamom plant in the summer, you want to avoid the midday heat and split them in the later afternoon or early morning. Ensure that any new holes where you put the plant’s roots are soaked before you transplant. Keep everything well-watered until they recover. This can take a few days to a few weeks.
You want to ensure that your cardamom plant’s roots are big enough to create three or four clumps before you split them. Portioning them out too early will give you plants that are on the smaller side and that tend to underperform. They may also go into a severe shock that they don’t recover from if they’re not mature enough. Any potted perennials can happily grow two or three years before you have to split and repot them, and those plants in the ground can go three to five years before you have to divide them.
Laying the Foundation
Before you dig your cardamom plants, you’ll have to put in a little prep work. First, determine where you’re going to put your new plants and get the soil ready. The new hole has to be twice as wide as the root ball, but it shouldn’t be any deeper than the original height of the root size from the base to the crown. To give your cardamom plant the best chance for growing, we suggest digging 6 to 12-inches deeper, refilling this space with amended soil, and then plant your root ball.
Double digging will help loosen up the soil below your root ball, and this allows the roots to grow straight down instead of spreading out sideways. Deep roots will stay much cooler during the summer heat, and they’ll also be able to get at deeper reserves of nutrients and moisture. In turn, you’ll have to water and fertilize less.
Amend any soil that you’ve removed by mixing in organic materials like worm castings, compost, or well-rotted manure at roughly 25% of the volume. It’s also a good idea to add in 20 to 25% more moisture-retaining materials like vermiculite, perlite, peat, or sphagnum moss. If the area gets a lot of water, mix in 20 to 25% sand to help it drain better.
Finally, add a small amount of bone meal to help new root growth. If the plants are going in containers, make sure that the planters have a layer of drainage material on the bottom with drainage holes. Then, add some of the soil mixture we outlined to the height for planting. Once the soil is ready, it’s time to remove your old cardamom plant.
Digging the Plant
You want to be careful when you dig out your cardamom plant to ensure that you get the roots as intact as possible so it survives the shock of this process. Cardamom by UnconventionalEmma / CC BY-NC 2.0
Regardless of when you split the plant, the task is much easier and faster if you have well-moistened soil. The first thing you should do is create a drip line. This is the outer reach of the cardamom plant’s foliage and flowers when it’s in full bloom from the crown’s center. The drip line is a good indication on how far the roots will spread, so it’s a good digging guideline.
In order for you to isolate the clump, step your pointed shovel deep into the soil all of the way around your drip line. Insert the shovel on a deep diagonal from the drip line right under the root ball. You’ll do four to eight equally spaced points around the drip line to keep your cardamom plant’s root system intact.
Once you loosen up the root ball, you’ll lever the shovel a few times to ensure that you release all of the roots. Position the root ball on your shovel to slowly lift it out while keeping everything intact. Gently brush or shake off any excess soil to make it easier to split.
Separate and Replant
You can separate some crowns by gently pulling them apart with your hands, but other plants will have to get cut apart. If the root system is compacted very tightly, you want to lift it a few feet in the air and drop it to help loosen up the roots to make them easier to divide. However, if the plants have brittle roots, avoid doing this.
Cut or pry apart each clump into thirds or quarters, ensuring that each new plant comes out with leaves and a healthy root network. To prevent the roots from drying out and reduce shock, replant them quickly. If your cardamom plants can’t go into the new spaces right away, heel them until they’re ready to replant.
To heel them, loosen a bit of the soil and lay your cardamom plants on the ground. Nestle the roots into the loose soil between half or three quarters of the root mass. Then, you’ll pile the soil loosely on top of the root ball to cover it. Water it gently while avoiding overhead watering. This will help keep your roots cool and prevent them from drying out until you can replant them. It also prevents accidental damage from getting knocked over.
Plant your cardamom plants to the same depth of the root ball and drop the soil in. Firm the soil around the roots to position your plant securely, but avoid hard packing it. Water it thoroughly but gently to help it settle. To finish, cover it with a two-inch layer of mulch to protect the roots and help retain moisture.
Transplanting and Caring for Cardamom
Pick a Space with Well-Draining Soil
After a heavy rain, go out and look at the soil in your yard to see the drainage. You don’t want to see deep puddles, but the soil should be moist. If the soil has too much clay, it will kill your cardamom plant. So, you have to find somewhere else in the garden or mix sand into the soil to break it up.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: The ideal soil for your cardamom plant has pH levels between 4.5 and 7 and is loamy.
Pick an Area with Partial Shade
Your cardamom plant will die if you place them in direct sunlight, so you want to pick out an area to plant them that is in partial shade. If you only have a space that is in total shade, it’ll work, but the plant will grow much slower.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: Cardamom grows natively with a canopy of trees stretching over it.
Monitor the Humidity Levels
Since cardamom plants natively grow in subtropical forests, it requires a high level of humidity to thrive in your space. To plant it outside and have it grow well, the humidity levels need to be around 75%.
- HappyDIYHomeTip: Cardamom plants prefer that the temperatures stay between 64-degrees Fahrenheit and 95-degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant the Seedlings
You’ll plant your seedlings between 1 and 1 ½-inch deep. Dig 1-inch deep holes that are roughly 6 to 18 inches apart. Put one seedling into each hole and surround it with dirt and roots. If you want to support your plants as they grow, you’ll drive a garden stake two inches into the soil away from the base of each cardamom plant. As the plant grows, you can move the support stake. If you plant them too deep, they might not get enough sun to sprout.
Consider Planting Cardamom in Containers
If your climate is one where the temperature routinely drops below 60-degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll want to plant your seedlings in big pots instead of out in the garden. This will allow you to bring your plants in when the weather cools.
- If you use a container, pick one that is as large as it can be while fitting into your chosen space so it’s easy to pick up and move in and out of the house.
- If you need to bring your cardamom plant indoors, consider putting it in the most humid, warmest room in the house, like the bathroom.
Water the Plants Regularly
Every day, feel the soil with your fingers to ensure that it stays moist. Since the soil should never be allowed to dry out, water until it’s soaked. The cardamom plants will require more water during the summer when they’re growing. You should water several times a week during the summer months.
Fertilize Twice a Month
During the growing season, add fertilizer twice a month. Pick out an organic fertilizer with a higher phosphorus content. Spread it on the soil around your cardamom plants two times a month during the summer months. You’ll also need to add compost or aged manure once a year to introduce nutrients back into the soil.
Grow Your Plant to the Correct Height
Ideally, you’ll grow your cardamom plant until it reaches 6 to 10 feet tall. Keep watering the plants regularly and fertilize them as needed. The plants will start to grow narrow, tall stalks that reach very high off the ground. It can take a few years for your cardamom plant to show a lot of growth. The stalks will eventually grow rows of bright green leaves that are two inches long.
You have to be patient as it takes two to three years before you can harvest your cardamom fruits. The plants will flower in April or May and continue through July or August. The yellow flowers are oval-shaped and small. Each flower has capsules that have between 15 and 20 seeds. Some plants can take four to five years to bloom the first time, and you should wait to start harvesting anything until October or November because this will give the cardamom time to ripen.
Hand Collect the Cardamom
Gather all of your cardamom capsules by hand. Once the fruit and capsules start to dry out a little, pull one to see if it breaks without effort. If it snaps easily, you can pull off the ripe capsules. The plant will produce more and more seeds each year.
Dry Your Harvest
Depending on how many capsules you want to dry out, you can use several different drying methods. For small-scale harvests, you can spread them in a single layer and let them dry in the sun. Commercial-size harvests usually employ kilns to dry huge harvests. Once they dry out, you can open them and crush the cardamom to bake or cook with.
How to Use the Cardamom Plant
Whether you plan to use your cardamom plant in a Scandinavian pastry or an Indian curry, it’s a slightly sweet but intense spice that introduces sweetness and warmth into your recipes. It’s very popular in the Middle East, Scandinavia, and North Africa. It’s one of the most expensive spices in the world, but the flavor is worth it.
Which Type of Cardamom Will Work Best
Cardamom is available in a few varieties, but the green and black pods are the most popular options you have available.
- Black – This menthol-like flavor is very strong, and it’s popular in savory dishes.
- Green – The citrusy, herbal, slightly sweet flavor of this cardamom plant is popular in savory and sweet dishes.
- White – This is actually just the green pods that have gone through a bleaching process, and it has a more mild flavor.
Cooking with Cardamom
You can buy cardamom powder, seeds, or pods. For the most bold flavor profile, always buy the whole pods since ground cardamom has a milder taste. If your recipe needs whole pods, lightly toast them in a pan using medium heat until they release a scent, and remove them before you serve the dish.
Other recipes need the seeds, and you break open the pods and grind them up as you need them to get the best flavor. You can use an electric spice grinder or an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. Be very careful when it comes to adding freshly ground cardamom to your food because a little goes a long way. It can quickly overpower any other ingredient in the dish.
Cardamom goes well with red meat, poultry, rice, oranges, lentils, and other warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s great for teas, curries, sausages, and baked goods.
You now know how to grow and use the cardamom plant. You can grow this plant easily if you live in a subtropical region, and you’ll get a lot of spice from a single plant. It does take a few years to produce, but the end result is well worth it.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.