The curry tree, Murraya koenigii or Bergera koenigii, is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae, and is native to Asia. The plant is also sometimes called sweet neem, though M. koenigii is in a different family to neem, Azadirachta indica, which is in the related family Meliaceae.
The tree is native to the Indian subcontinent. Commercial plantations have been established in India, and more recently Australia. This low-maintenance evergreen produces fragrant white flowers, which grow into small, black fruits similar to berries. This fruit is edible, but should only be consumed carefully by removing the poisonous seed first.
Table of Contents
6 - 20 feet
between 4 - 12 feet
6.4 - 6.9
Growth Nutrition of Curry Tree
Diluted curd or buttermilk is a very excellent home fertilizer for the curry leaf plant. Need to allow the soil to dry completely before watering the plant. In winter, the plant becomes very dormant, so apply less water during the time. Buttermilk is very high in Nitrogen, which the curry leaf plant needs.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of Epsom salt in 1 liter of water and feed it to your plant every 3 months. It will help your plant develop green leaves in the spring, summer, and fall.
Varieties of Curry Trees
There are three sizes of curry leaf trees commonly available, referred to botanically as “morphotypes".
Large, or standard, curry trees are the ones that are most commonly cultivated for commercial production. Large trees grow fast and have flavorful leaves.
The dwarf variety has longer leaves that are slightly lighter in color than those of the full-size plant. These grow to be about 12 to 24 inches tall and 12 inches wide at maturity.
Gamthi (miniature) varieties grow the slowest and have thick, highly fragrant leaves. The leaves are even more flavorful than those of the larger types.
Planting Curry Tree
We can also grow curry leaf plants entirely indoors if have a sunny spot.
Curry leaf plants require plenty of sunlight to thrive and prefer heat to cool conditions, but young plants should be kept out of direct sunlight to prevent the burning of leaves.
Plant the curry leaf plant in an area with well-draining soil. Aim for a pH between 6.4-6.9. Enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting.
When to Start
If planting indoors, timing doesn’t matter much.
If planning on growing curry outdoors, start plants indoors 7-8 weeks before the last frost date. Then, transplant them outdoors 1-2 weeks after the last frost.
Be sure to harden them off for 1-2 weeks before planting.
Starting Curry Plants
We can start curry leaf plants from seed, but the easier way is to propagate a plant through cuttings.
Grab a stem from a friend with an established plant and strip the stem of its lower leaves. Then, stick the stripped part of the stem into your growing medium. Ensure the soil is kept moist, and the plant is not exposed to frigid temperatures and wait.
With proper attention and care, the plant should take root within a few weeks.
Growing curry from seed is infinitely more challenging—a lot like growing avocado—as seeds (really the pit of the plant’s fruit) need to be kept consistently moist and at a consistent temperature of around 68°F for success.
Seeds often fail to germinate, though, even when they’re fresh.
To plant seeds, remove the hard outer shell. Plant them 1-inch deep and plant lots of seeds because they have a low germination rate. Make sure seeds are fresh by purchasing from reputable sources.
These plants need plenty of room. If growing curry directly in the soil, plant them 8-16 inches apart.
It’s easy to keep a curry plant in containers, either indoor or out. This is a good option for people who live in areas with a pronounced frost period.
Plant curry leaf plant in a container so that it’s easy to move the plant indoors when the weather cools down.
One plant per container is sufficient. Small curry leaf plants don’t require unusually large containers, but over time it need to upgrade the plant’s pot to accommodate its growing root system.
Older, larger plants should be placed in containers that hold at least 30 gallons of soil.
Care for Curry Tree
Once your plant has rooted or sprouted, the care required is relatively minimal. Curry leaf plants are fairly low-maintenance and easy to care for.
Watering: Curry leaf plants don’t require a lot of water and are partially tolerant of drought conditions. Overwatering is a likely death sentence for a curry leaf plant. Allow the soil to dry out completely between watering.
Weeding: You shouldn’t have to weed your plant often if it’s in a container and inside your home. Outside, keep weeds away to prevent disease.
Fertilizing: Regular feedings with an organic fertilizer will ensure your plant thrives throughout the year. In the summer, feed more often. Give a high nitrogen fertilizer every 5 to 6 weeks.
Pruning: Pinch off the tips of branches to encourage a bushier plant and denser growth. Pruning is done through harvest. Harvest leaves throughout the year to ensure the plant continues to produce foliage. Remove any flowers you see, so the plant doesn’t put its energy into fruit and flower production.
The harvesting of curry leaves is easy and improves the future growth of the plant. Once it has grown you can pluck off the leaves. You can use these fresh aromatic leaves to flavor delicious stews and soups.
Problems and Solutions
While the disease is rare, there are a few that can ravage the curry leaf plant, including powdery mildew and curry leaf spot.
There are a few pests that may attack your plants, including scale, aphids, mealybugs, and citrus psyllid. Insects that are likely to attack your lemon and orange trees are also capable of infesting your curry leaf plant since curry leaf plants belong to the citrus family.
Aphids and Scale
Scale insects and aphids both harm plants by sucking fluid from plants. As the little bugs feed on foliage and sap your plant of life, leaves yellow, wilt, and fall off.
Neem oil is a helpful tool for combatting both scale and aphids. Introduce predator insects (e.g., ladybugs) to help control pest populations.
Citrus psyllids are another potential curry leaf plant pest. They munch on leaves and stems of plants.
To deal with psyllids, you’ll need to be heavy-handed. An infestation is tough to combat with traditional pest control methods. Sprays and pesticides won’t do much good, so you’re better off focusing on prevention with this particular pest.
Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects usually surrounded by a fuzzy material where they hang out on plants, which is usually on the stems.
The first step is to wash your plants to rinse away the pests. Then, use an insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill them off. Introducing and encouraging natural predators is the best way to prevent a mealybug infestation.
Leaf spot is usually a symptom of pest infestation. As the name implies, it looks like spots on the leaves of plants, caused by bacteria or fungus, often carried by pests like aphids. These spots can grow together and cause leaves to die off.
You can spray plants with a 1:10 combination of baking soda and water. You can also apply neem oil. Apply fungicides at the first sign of the disease. This won’t cure it, but it will prevent the spores from germinating.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that primarily affects the foliage of a plant, producing white spots with a powdery appearance. Use fungicides to attempt to rid your plant of the fungus.
If this is not effective, you may have to destroy the plant entirely as the disease can readily spread to other plants and, in time, is likely to kill the host plant anyhow.
Benefits of Curry Tree
It also offers many health benefits, mainly because of its potent plant compounds.
May Help Reduce the Risk factor for Heart Diseases
Helpful to Control Blood Sugar Levels
Contains Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
Provides Anti-Bacterial Properties
Helps in Relieving Pain
Contains Neuroprotective Components
It also protects the liver from diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis.
Curry leaves are also very good for improving the vocal cords.
It also enhances beauty.
The curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) can be confused with the plant called "curry" (Helichrysum italicum, sometimes listed as H. angustifolium), which is popular in many nurseries and garden centers. While it does have a warm fragrance akin to curry, it tastes bitter. Be sure to ask sellers if the plant is edible. Helichrysum italicum is actually best served in potpourris and wreaths, but not for food.
On the other hand, the curry leaf tree described in this guide can be used in many ways. Limbolee oil, which can be used in scenting soap, comes from the fresh leaves. Wood from the tree is used for fuel in Southeast Asia. Leaves are roasted and added to the Cambodian soup called maju krueng and also used in Java in gulai or lamb stew.
Curry leaves have the most flavor when fresh, so continuously growing more leaves on a tree indoors or outdoors allows for a constant supply. They actually offer a citrus-like flavor. Welcome the fresh leaves into soups, sauces and stews. Add to vegetables, seafood and chutneys. Similar to how you would use a bay leaf, steep the leaves in the food as its cooking and then fish it out. Another option is to dry the leaves and crush them. Store in a jar in the dark and take them back out in a couple of months.