The curry leaf plant or Murraya koenigii is an elegant, small bush or tree commonly grown as a culinary herb. The main attraction of Murraya koenigii is the pinnate foliage which comprises of many leaflets. The leaves, at their best when fresh, emit an aromatic, spicy scent.
Adding further attraction, in addition to the pungently spicy foliage the curry leaf plant also produces small, white, tubular flowers with a citrusy aroma and black berries. While the fruit is edible, the seeds are poisonous and should be removed before use.
Native to the Indian subcontinent Murraya koenigii specimens are a common sight across India and Sri Lanka. These subtropical trees or shrubs typically reach 13 to 20 ft in height. An elegant, edible herb with both health and culinary benefits, the foliage can also be used for decorative purposes.
Ideal for growing in a range of conditions if you want to learn how to add these elegant specimens to your garden, this guide to growing the curry leaf plant has all the information that you need.
A subtropical specimen, Murraya koenigii is an attractive specimen.
Types of Curry Leaf Plant
One of the most popular subtropical culinary herbs, there are 3 different types of curry leaf plant. These are:
- Regular is the most commonly grown cultivar. This cultivar also has a quick growth habit. The foliage of the Regular cultivar is commonly sold in grocery stores. Able to be grown outside in USDA Zones 9 to 12, in the United States many Regular or standard curry leaf specimens are sold under the generic species name M. Koenigii.
- Dwarf types are shorter than Regular cultivars but produce longer leaves. Dwarf types are typically 12 to 24 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Able to spread by setting out suckers, in favorable conditions these types can become invasive. Dwarf types are best grown in a pot or pruned regularly. They are hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.
- Gamthi is the most fragrant of the three cultivars. Gamthi or Miniature also has a slower growth habit than the other cultivars. Gamthi typically produces a bushy or thick specimen with small, fragrant leaves. Rarely exceeding 8 inches in height this is an ideal container herb. Gamthi is hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11.
While they differ in size, the 3 cultivars all share similar growth habits and care needs. Whichever variety you chose to grow, the leaves are all used in the same way.
Regular cultivars are commonly sold in garden stores and nurseries. If you want one of the smaller cultivars you may need to look in specialist nurseries or online stores.
If you can’t find the cultivar that you need, you can propagate new Murraya koenigii specimens from seeds or cuttings.
How to Propagate a Curry Leaf Plant
You can grow a curry leaf plant from either seeds or cuttings.
Growing from seed is a slow process that is prone to failure. It can take 2 years to grow a productive curry leaf plant that can be harvested regularly.
Seeds develop inside the protective flesh of the berry.
To grow from seed you need to find fresh, organic fruit. The seed of the curry leaf plant, known as the pit, is contained in the fruit.
The fresher the fruit the better the germination rate. Remove the seeds from the fruit and wash away any remaining pulp. You may need to rub the hard shell away to reveal the true seed.
Soaking the berries for 24 hours encourages the seeds to emerge from the fruit. After soaking, remove any remaining flesh or pulp and gently dry with a paper towel.
You can also purchase fresh seeds, ready for germination, from specialist nurseries.
Sow the seeds a third of an inch deep in pots or trays filled with damp potting soil and place in a propagator. Murraya koenigii seeds require temperature levels to remain at around 68 ℉ to germinate. Using a Seed Starter Kit with humidity vents and heat mat enables you to maintain the ideal temperature around your germinating seeds.
Following germination continue to grow the developing seedlings on keeping them warm and moistening the soil regularly. Seedlings are prone to failing if the soil is allowed to dry out.
Once the seedlings have achieved around 6 months of steady growth you can begin to prune the leaves. At this stage the seedlings should each have at least 6 branches and several sets of developed leaves.
Use sharp garden scissors to thin out excess growth. Pinching out or pruning back growth encourages the curry leaf plant to become bushier. It also prevents the seedlings from becoming overly tall or spindly.
Propagation from Cuttings
Growing from seed, as we have already noted, is a slow process which is prone to failure. Taking cuttings from a healthy specimen is a more reliable way to produce extra specimens.
With a garden scissors remove a healthy stem roughly 3 inches long from an established curry leaf plant. Cut away any leaves from the bottom third of the stem. Some people like to remove all the leaves, but I find this is not necessary. Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone before planting in a pot filled with a light, soilless potting medium..
With a Fine Mist Spray Bottle regularly mist the soil. Keep the cutting in a warm place. Roots typically form in 3 weeks. New growth should follow soon after. To check that roots are present gently tug the cutting. If you feel resistance it is a sign that roots are present or developing.
Once new growth is visible you can start to care for your cutting in the same way that you care for a larger curry leaf plant.
If you are able to grow Murraya koenigii outside, take the time to harden them off before transplanting.
Where to Grow
With the right care, these are reliable evergreens.
A frost sensitive specimen, the curry leaf plant can be grown outside in areas that don’t experience winter freezes. Murraya koenigii is classified as hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 12. In cooler areas they are best grown undercover in a greenhouse or as a houseplant.
Murraya koenigii is best positioned somewhere where it can enjoy 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. If these specimens receive too little light they fail. If you are growing as a houseplant, grow lights can be used to top up natural light levels.
Murraya koenigii is best placed in a light filled position.
During the warmest summer months the curry leaf plant should be placed in a slight or partial shade position. Aim to protect the foliage from the intense glare of the early afternoon sun. If you are growing outside, a Cool Air Shade Cloth can be used to protect sensitive specimens. Exposure to too much sun causes the curry leaf plant to drop its leaves.
During the winter months place the curry leaf plant in as sunny a spot as possible.
Interestingly the curry leaf plant tends to grow more quickly in a pot than in the ground. Growing in a pot also enables you to move Murraya koenigii easily around your home or garden, ensuring that it gets the right amount of light and heat throughout the year. Placing the pot on a JIBOLAT Metal Plant Caddy enables you to easily move it around your home.
Make sure that you use clean pots in well draining potting soil. The pot should be as deep and wide as possible, transplanting regularly to prevent your Murraya koenigii from becoming root bound. A mature Murraya koenigii specimen, which is 10 years old, needs to sit in a pot that is at least 30 gallons in size.
How to Plant or Transplant
Whether you are planting in the ground or a container the process is the same. Ideally your soil is light or well draining and slightly acidic. With the right care, Murraya koenigii also tolerates neutral soils.
If you are planting in the ground, work in any necessary amendments around 2 to 3 weeks before transplanting. This gives the soil time to settle and balance out.
When you are ready, make a hole in the soil large enough to hold the container currently holding the curry leaf plant. If you are planting in a container add fresh potting soil to the bottom of the container and place the pot in the larger pot to check for size and height. When placed in the hole or pot your Murraya koenigii should sit at the same level as in its previous container.
When you are happy, carefully remove Murraya koenigii from its pot. When handling, take care not to damage the root system. These are sensitive specimens and too much disturbance or root damage can cause them to become stressed and drop their leaves.
Position your Murraya koenigii specimen in the center of the hole. When you are happy with the position of the plant, backfill the hole. Gently firm down the soil.
If you are planting outside apply a compost mulch. Do not let the mulch contact the bark.
Use a watering can to water well.
If you are planting outside, be careful not to plant too closely together or overcrowd them. Standard size Murraya koenigii specimens should be spaced 4 to 5 ft apart.
Caring for a Curry Leaf Plant
As long as they are receiving enough light, the curry leaf plant is an easy to care for specimen.
A self-fertile specimen, there is no need to pollinate the flowers of the curry leaf plant.
The flowers of Murraya koenigii typically mature during July and August. While ornamental specimens can be allowed to flower, if you are growing for the leaves, cut away the flowers as they develop. Flowering and fruiting Murraya koenigii specimens stop putting energy into foliage production.
When to Water
Water Murraya koenigii moderately. Let the top layer of soil dry out between waterings.
Once established the curry leaf plant is semi-drought tolerant. They typically do better in dry conditions than wet ones. This means that overwatering is far more dangerous than allowing the soil to dry out. A soil moisture sensor provides an accurate measure of how wet your soil is.
Only water the soil. Wet leaves can become a breeding ground for disease.
During the spring and fall, water your curry leaf plant once a week. In the summer you may need to water as frequently as once a day.
Depending on the growing position, during the late fall and winter the curry leaf plant may become dormant. Common signs of a Murraya koenigii entering dormancy include yellowing foliage and dropping leaves. When your Murraya koenigii is dormant you can reduce watering to a minimum.
When to Fertilize
Don’t apply strong fertilizer to young specimens. Remember these are slow growing specimens. They are not heavy feeders.
Depending on the age and how quickly the plant is growing you can apply a dose of liquid fertilizer once every 2 to 4 weeks. Mature specimens can require a weekly dose of diluted fertilizer. A seaweed fertilizer can also be used.
To boost foliage production apply 3 teaspoons of iron sulfate or 1 teaspoon of iron chelate once a month. Another option is to dissolve 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts in 1 liter of water. This can be applied once every 3 months to boost growth and foliage production during the spring, summer and fall months. Epsom salts are a useful product with a myriad of beneficial garden uses. For example they can also benefit your tomatoes. Another good homemade fertilizer for Murraya koenigii is buttermilk.
How to Prune
Pruning helps to keep the curry leaf plant healthy and productive. Murraya koenigii specimens are best pruned in the spring.
If you are regularly harvesting the foliage for culinary purposes you may not need to prune as often as specimens cultivated purely for ornamental purposes. Murraya koenigii specimens over 15 ft tall may require pruning several times a year to keep them neat and under control.
When you prune, aim to thin out dense areas. This promotes airflow around and through the plant, helping to keep it healthy and prevent fungal issues.
Pinching out the tips of branches ensures lots of new foliage to emerge.
Support Murraya koenigii
If you are able to grow outside, particularly if planting in an exposed or windy position, Murraya koenigii requires some support either from a stake or trellis.
Common Pests and Problems
The curry leaf plant is a largely problem free addition to the garden. This is partly because the strong aroma that the foliage emits tends to keep pests away.
Aphids, mites, citrus mealybugs and scale can all target Murraya koenigii, particularly if you are growing them outside. If the insects are allowed to remain on the leaves, infections may develop. White brown or black spots on the stem and leaves are signs of infection. Sticky and curly leaves can also indicate the presence of potentially harmful insects or infections.
Neem oil or an insecticidal soap can be used to treat infestations. As our guide explains, an effective insecticidal soap is easy to make at home. You can also encourage natural predators such as lacewings or lady bugs.
Murraya koenigii is prone to iron deficiency. This usually presents itself as a yellowing of the leaves. Healthy leaves should be dark green in color. Apply an iron sulfate fertilizer to correct iron level issues as soon as you notice yellowing foliage.
Leaf spot is a disease that causes spotting on leaves. If allowed to develop this weakens the plant, stressing it out and eventually causing it to die. Should this issue develop, cease watering and fertilizing immediately unless a soil test shows a nutrient deficiency. Allow the soil to dry out before you resume watering.
When you do water again, water sparingly. Spacing Murraya koenigii specimens out correctly also helps to prevent leaf spot issues. If none of these measures help apply an appropriate broad-spectrum fungicide in the spring.
Another disease which may develop is Citrus greening. This is caused by Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, it is a serious issue which is spread by psyllids. There is no current effective control for Citrus greening. Instead you can prevent the disease from developing by keeping your Murraya koenigii as healthy as possible.
Harvesting the Foliage
While these are attractive ornamental specimens, many people chose to grow the curry leaf plant for its culinarily useful foliage.
Most types of curry leaf plant don’t become fully productive until they have achieved 4 or 5 years of regular growth. In their formative years the curry leaf plant is best harvested minimally, gradually increasing the amount of leaves you take each year.
You can begin harvesting regular sized cultivars as soon as they reach 6 ft in height. Start harvesting smaller or dwarf types in their second year.
Regularly harvesting leaves encourages lots of new ones to form.
Do not take more than half the leaves at any one time. Like many leafy herbs, harvesting too many leaves deters new growth from forming.
To harvest, simply cut or pick the leaves as and when you need them. While the leaves can be stored, fresh leaves often have a stronger flavor.
Regularly harvesting encourages more leaves to form.
Best used fresh, cut leaves can be stored in a sealed bag in a refrigerator for a few weeks. Wash the leaves just before using.
For longer term storage you can also freeze the leaves, but they will lose both color and flavor. To freeze, remove the stems, before washing the foliage. Dry the leaves before tossing in some vegetable oil, lightly coating the leaves.
Place the prepared leaves in a resealable plastic bag, press air out any excess air, seal and freeze. Frozen leaves remain usable for up to 6 months.
For longer term storage you can also dry the freshly cut leaves. Dried leaves often have a milder flavor. To dry the leaves, place them in a tray in a single layer in a safe place with good air circulation until they are crisp and dry. After drying, the leaves can be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed container for up to 12 months
Fresh or dried, the leaves of the curry leaf plant can, like a bay leaf, be used in soups, sauces and stews. Meanwhile the berries, if properly prepared, are frequently used in homeopathic, Yunani and Ayurvedic medicine.
Elegant and productive, the curry leaf plant can, with the right care, become one of the most productive and attractive members of the herb or kitchen garden. Why not add one to your collection today?
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.