Coming in a range of flavors, sizes and styles, coffee is one of our favorite hot drinks. But did you know that you can also grow your own coffee plant? In fact it is considered one of the easiest houseplants to grow.
As well as providing ornamental interest, when fully mature the tree also produces enough beans for you to brew your own cup of coffee. Be warned, if you are planning on growing a coffee plant solely for its beans you will need to be patient. It can take up to 4 years for a houseplant to produce enough beans to make a cup of coffee.
Whether or not you are a caffeine lover, this is an attractive and resilient addition to any houseplant collection. The coffee plant is also a great choice for inexperienced gardeners. Here is your complete guide to caring for an indoor coffee plant.
Coffea arabica is an increasingly popular houseplant. Attractive, fragrant and low maintenance, the trees need not be grown just for their beans, they also provide year round ornamental interest.
All parts of the Coffea arabica plant are toxic to dogs, cats, birds, horses and other animals.
With the exception of the fruit, or bean, the coffee plant is also toxic to humans. Remember to wear gloves when handling the tree.
What is a Coffee Plant?
Coffea arabica is part of the Coffea genus in the Rubiaceae family. Originating in South Asia and tropical african countries such as Ethiopea, coffea arabica is a perennial evergreen shrub.
Coffea arabica’s dark, glossy green leaves often have an attractive ruffled edge. In the spring the distinctive foliage is complemented by the emergence of aromatic, white blooms.
At the end of the season, the flowers fade away. They are replaced by small berries. These are about half an inch in length and initially green in color. As the berries mature they transform into dark, black pods. Inside each pod you will find two seeds. When fully mature these seeds are better known as beans.
Hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11 the Coffea arabica is typically grown as a houseplant.
Fragrant and attractive, coffea arabica’s ruffled foliage and white flowers add to its ornamental appeal.
Where to buy a Coffee Plant
There are over 124 different coffee tree species. However, it is only the arabica and robusta cultivars that are harvested for their beans. Of these two cultivars it is the arabica cultivar that produces the majority of the world’s coffee beans.
Coffea arabica trees are also the most commonly sold and are pleasingly easy to grow. The Nana tree (Coffea arabica Nana) is an ideal houseplant choice. A compact specimen, it rarely exceeds 12 inches in height. This means that as well as being pleasingly robust Nana doesn’t require pruning as often as more free growing varieties.
If you want something a little stronger, try a Coffea liberica tree. These originate in west and central African regions and are known for their large beans. Liberica beans have a higher caffeine content than arabica beans.
Arabica varieties are the most commonly sold houseplant. However, with a little research you will also be able to find suitable robusta or liberica trees.
Finally, Coffea canephora trees originate in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa. A robust tree, it is also known as robusta. The beans are less flavorsome than arabica beans. However robusta beans are stronger and have a higher caffeine content.
In recent years coffee trees have become an increasingly popular houseplant. Today, most garden stores stock arabica trees. If you want something a little different you may need to purchase your coffee plant from a specialist or online nurseries.
Repotting Your Coffee Plant
Many people like to repot their houseplants soon after purchasing. You will also need to repot the tree every spring, just before new growth emerges. This helps to prevent it from becoming root bound and under-nourished.
Gradually increase the size of the container each time you repot. An increase of 1 to 2 inches each time is ideal. Don’t be tempted to plant straight into a large pot. This can cause the tree to enter shock, stunting growth and harming flower production.
Your chosen container should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. As you increase the size of the pot each year, try to choose as deep a pot as possible. As the tree grows in height and branches out, it can become top heavy. A top heavy tree is in danger of overbalancing and falling. Growing top heavy shrubs or trees in deep pots helps to prevent this.
Regular repotting helps to keep houseplants healthy. While selecting the right soil helps to nourish the tree, the right pot helps you to contain it’s spread.
If your space is limited, and you really want to contain the height and spread of the tree, allow it to sit in a pot that is just big enough. Restricting the pot size also helps to contain the growth habit. While the shrub’s growth habit is contained in a smaller pot, you may need to water it more frequently.
What Soil Should I Use?
The soil should be rich and slightly acidic. A peat based soil is ideal but these trees can also grow in a general purpose potting soil. If you are unsure of the pH level of your soil, a soil test kit is a quick and easy way to find out.
Ideally the pH level should be between 6 and 6.5, however the trees can grow in a soil pH range of 4 to 7. There are a number of easy ways, such as working in peat moss, to increase the pH level of the soil and make it more acidic.
How to Plant
Add a layer of fresh potting soil to the bottom of a pot. If you really want to ensure good drainage first add a layer of crocks or small pebbles.
Carefully remove your tree from its original pot. Gently brush away any old dirt from the rooty system. Repotting is also the ideal time to inspect the root system for signs of rot or disease. Use a sterilized garden scissors to cut away any diseased sections.
Position the tree in its new pot, it should sit at roughly the same level as in the old container. You may need to add or remove some potting soil to get the level right.
When you are happy with the position of the tree, carefully fill in the gaps around the tree with more fresh potting medium. Getly firm down the soil and water well.
Finding the Ideal Position
The coffee plant thrives when placed in a bright, indirect light position. If you are unsure what this means, simply place your houseplant close to a sunny window. Don’t place the tree directly in the window. This can lead to sunburn which causes the foliage to turn brown.
Grow lights are a great solution if your home is too dark. Correctly placed a good grow light provides a houseplant placed in even the darkest corner of a house with more than enough light.
Placing a curtain or blinds in a window allows light to enter the room while preventing houseplants from becoming sunburnt.
Avoid placing your houseplant anywhere where the temperature regularly drops below 65 ℉. While these houseplants can tolerate some exposure to cooler temperatures they will struggle if the exposure is prolonged. Ideally, the temperature should average at least 70 ℉ during the day and mid to low 60 ℉ at night.
Coffea arabica trees thrive in light, airy positions. Avoid placing the trees directly in a draft or near an air conditioning system. This is particularly important during the cooler winter months. Also avoid placing your houseplant near radiators or heating systems. These can dry the air out, drastically lowering humidity levels.
Finally, make sure that you position the coffee plant somewhere where it has enough room to grow. If allowed to, in the wild a coffee plant can reach 15 ft in height. When planted in a container growth is usually contained to about 6 ft. Regular pruning helps to further contain this growth habit however they will still appreciate a bit of room to spread out.
How to Care for Coffea Arabica
Once planted and placed in a favorable position, the coffee plant is pleasingly low maintenance.
With careful care and patience your mature Coffea arabica tree will begin to produce beans.
When to Water
Knowing how often to water houseplants can be difficult. Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. If you aren’t sure what this means, water only when the soil begins to dry out. Never allow the soil to dry out completely.
Using a watering can offers control and ease. However, many people find that the best way to fully hydrate their houseplant is by immersion.
To immerse your houseplant remove it from its regular position and place it in a basin or bucket. Pour a few inches of water into the bucket and allow the plant to sit in the water for about half an hour. During this time the soil and roots are able to absorb as much moisture as they need. Particularly thirsty specimens may absorb all the water. If this happens add more water.
After about half an hour remove the plant from the container and allow any excess water to drain away completely before returning it to its usual position.
Watering by immersion enables you to hydrate your houseplants without the danger of the soil becoming waterlogged. Overly wet or waterlogged soil can cause roots to rot and plants to fail.
During the fall and winter months your houseplant will become dormant. This is a natural part of its lifecycle. Dormant houseplants require less water, reduce your watering routine accordingly.
If you struggle to remember to water your houseplants, or simply want a low maintenance solution, try growing in self watering pots. These are a great way to keep your houseplants happy and hydrated without having to spend a lot of time watering them.
Liquid or water soluble fertilizers are easily diluted into watering cans, allowing you to keep your houseplants nourished and hydrated.
Maintaining Humidity Levels
Your coffee plant will do better if humidity levels are consistently high. Misting is an easy way to maintain humidity levels. However regularly misting houseplants can be time consuming particularly if, like coffea arabica, they require misting every day.
Placing your houseplant on a humidity tray is an easier, low maintenance solution. A humidity tray such as this Eve’s Garden Bonsai Humidity Drip Tray can be filled with pebbles and water. Then, simply place the pot on the pebbles, ensuring that it is above the water level.
Don’t allow the pot to touch the water, this can cause the soil to become waterlogged. A humidity tray is a simple and reliable way to maintain humidity. Just remember to regularly top up the water levels.
Do I Need to Fertilize my Coffee Plant?
Apply a light dose of balanced fertilizer once every ten to twelve weeks during the spring and summer months. If planted in a rich soil this is more than enough to sustain the plant’s growth.
Plants in poorer or older soil will require more frequent fertilizing to support their growth. Depending on the growth habit of the plant, you may need to fertilize as frequently as once a month during the spring and summer.
Fertilizing also encourages the coffee plant to produce beans. If you are growing a tree for its beans, you will need to fertilize it more frequently than if you are growing it purely for ornamental value. To encourage maximum bean production, fertilize once every two weeks from March to October.
A liquid fertilizer is easily incorporated into your watering routine.
There is no need to fertilize your coffee plant during the fall and winter months. During this period it is dormant and not actively growing.
How to Prune
Regularly pruning your coffee plant is vital if you need to curtail the tree’s growth habit. If allowed to, some coffee trees can reach between 6 and 15 ft in height. However, growing indoors in pots helps to contain this somewhat. Regular pruning also helps to contain the trees spread, meaning that it won’t begin to dominate your home.
The best time to prune a coffee plant is in early spring as new growth appears.
Pinching out new growth is the easiest way to curtail the tree’s growth. It also allows you to manage the spread of the houseplant, encouraging it to develop a bushier appearance.
If your coffee plant is already beginning to outgrow its position you may need to cut it back. Don’t worry about pruning too harshly. These are robust, forgiving specimens and quickly grow back after a severe pruning.
Always use sharp pruning shears. Remember to clean your tools before and after using them. This helps to prevent disease spreading between your houseplant collection.
Prune by cutting the stem at a 45 degree angle about a quarter of an inch above the axil. The axil is the point where the leaf emerges from the stem.
Focusing your pruning on the top part of the plant helps to stunt the height of the shrub. Instead of growing upwards your tree will now begin to branch out.
Remove smaller and weaker stems. Allow the largest branches to remain in place unless they are threatening to overly disrupt or distort the shape of the shrub. Pay close attention to the center of the plant. This has a tendency to become clustered, preventing air from circulating freely around the tree.
Finally, remove any suckers or dying limbs.
Young stems that are pruned away can be rooted by planting in a small pot filled with fresh soil. However coffee plant cuttings are notoriously difficult to root. If you want to attempt this your best chance is with soft or young stems. Hard or old stems are unlikely to be successful.
How to Propagate
Producing new specimens from cuttings can be difficult. The best time to take a cutting is in spring or early summer. Your chosen shoot should be soft or fresh and about 8 to 10 inches long.
Cut away all but the top pair of leaves before planting in a small pot filled with a damp, soilless potting mix. Keep the soil moist.
Cuttings are best taken from fresh, green stems. Even then they are prone to failure.
Placing your cuttings in a propagator, such as the Early Grow Domed Propagator, helps to keep humidity and temperature levels constant. Regularly check and mist the soil to ensure that it stays moist. As long as the cutting remains healthy it has a chance of rooting.
To check that roots are forming, gently pull the cutting. If you feel resistance it means that roots are present. Continue to care for the cutting as you would a larger coffee plant and allow it to grow on.
You can also grow new coffee plants from seed.
Growing from Seed
Seeds, or coffee beans should be fresh, either picked straight from the plant or purchased from a specialist supplier.
The fresher the beans, the easier they are to germinate. You may struggle to germinate beans older than 4 months. Fresh beans usually germinate within 2 and a half months. Older beans can take up to 6 months.
To test the viability of the beans place them in a bowl of water. Beans that float are not viable and should be discarded.
Soak your viable beans in warm or tepid water for 24 hours. This helps to soften the hard shell.
Fill pots with damp sand or vermiculite. Sow one bean per pot. Place in a light position and allow to germinate.
Keep a careful watch on the beans. As soon as they begin to sprout you will need to re-pot them.
Following partial germination remove the seeds from the sand or vermiculite. Re-plant the seeds flat side down in larger pots filled with a loamy, humus rich soil. To further improve the potting medium, work a dose of bone meal or rotted manure in before planting. Alternatively you can fill the pots with a lightweight porous soil.
Cover the beans with a layer of mulch about half an inch thick. A light organic mulch such as grass cuttings is perfect. This helps the soil to conserve moisture.
Water regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist. Placing the beans in a propagator helps you to maintain temperature and humidity levels. This can speed up the germination process.
Following germination you can either grow the seedlings on in these pots or transplant into new pots filled with porous soil. The soil should be acidic and have a high nitrogen content. A low, occasional dose of orchid fertilizer encourages the plant to grow, while also helping to keep the soil pH low.
Place the growing plants in a light position or under grow lights. Water and fertilize once a week, keeping the soil evenly moist.
Coffee seedlings need careful care. With the right attention, and some patience, they will slowly grow into healthy shrubs.
Continue to care for your growing cutting as you would a larger coffee plant. It can take up to 3 years for the plant to begin flowering.
Coffee Plant Pests and Problems
A pleasingly easy to care for houseplant, these trees can occasionally suffer from infestations of aphids, mites and mealybugs. Regularly check your coffee plant for signs of infestations.
An application of soapy water or neem oil wiped carefully over the leaves cures most infestations. You can also apply an insecticidal soap. Even a homemade solution can be surprisingly effective, offering an organic way to keep your plants pest free.
Root rot and most fungal issues are caused by overwatering. The most obvious sign of any of these issues is leaf drop. Should this issue present itself cease watering until the soil has dried out.
Once the soil is dry, gradually resume watering. Give the houseplant less water than previously and try to water less frequently. Wait until the soil is beginning to dry out before watering. If you are unsure when to water, a soil moisture meter is a useful way to check the moisture content of your soil. The Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter is ideal for houseplants.
Brown or burnt leaves is a sign that the plant is receiving too much direct light. Move the plant slightly back from the window during the brightest part of the day.
How to Encourage Flowering
To encourage flowering, reduce watering at the start of winter. Maintain this reduced regime for two to three months. In the spring, water well. This shocks the tree into flowering.
Attractive, reliable and surprisingly easy to care for, it is easy to see why the coffee plant is growing in popularity amongst houseplant lovers.
While caring for a coffee plant can seem daunting once you get the conditions right, this is a pleasingly easy to care for houseplant. Attractive and resilient, whether you are growing for the beans or just for its decorative appearance, the coffee plant is a pleasing addition to any houseplant collection.
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.