Gardening is such an exciting prospect, filled with possibilities. I’ve spent my life doing it, for joy and for work, but once in a while a plant comes along that ticks so many boxes it’s almost hard to believe.
The fast-growing curry tree is one such plant. Not only does the curry tree produce edible leaves, which have been used in Asian cooking for centuries, and Western cooking for decades, but it boasts edible berries and gorgeous flowers too.
And on top of that, it’s easy to grow, fast to establish, and provides both ornamental and practical benefits to your garden.
Curry tree, Sweet neem
6m (H) x 6m (W)
Summer and fall
Edible berries in late summer or fall (discard toxic seeds)
Poisonous for Pets:
Non-toxic to cats and dogs (other than seeds in autumn)
What is a Curry Tree?
Murraya koengii, better known as curry tree, or curry leaf tree, is a truly special garden plant. Its leaves are edible and can be harvested for most of the year, and its summer flowers, and autumn berries add something different to your culinary pallet.
Growing to just under 20 ft tall after about ten years, it’s a fast growing tree, but it’s also compact, and easy to prune to maintain the height and shape you want. Even from seed, you’ll have a reasonably substantial shrub after just five years.
Murraya koengii’s Natural Habitat
Curry trees are native to, and widespread across, Asia. Their unique flavor is rich, fragrant, and earthy, and is best described by its effects on food, rather than by itself.
If you’ve ever had a truly authentic curry, this is that flavor. The background note that makes Indian and Southeast Asian cooking so memorable.
In its native climate, it loves bright, warm, humid conditions, where it has learned to cope with intense droughts and intense rainfall in alternating patterns. That makes it a very tough plant, but it also means it can cope with most conditions in our gardens too.
How to Grow Curry Leaves
Just because curry leaf plants are fast-growing, doesn’t mean you can’t control them. Many growers in cooler northern climates keep pruned curry leaf trees indoors, or in greenhouses to protect them from frost and provide warmer summer conditions.
Below, we’ve detailed just how to grow these stunning plants, regardless of the space, conditions, or climate where you are.
Growing Curry Leaf Tree Outdoors
The best place to grow your curry leaf tree is out in the garden, in full sun, on moisture-retentive soil, that drains reasonably well, but doesn’t get waterlogged.
Any nutrient-rich, loamy soil will work perfectly, but if you’ve got sandy soil, improve it with plenty of organic matter like rotted horse manure.
If you’re burdened with heavy clay, add plenty of grit to the ground. The clay will be rich enough that you shouldn’t need to add much to it, other than some compost in the base of the planting hole.
- To plant your curry tree, start by digging a hole that’s 2-3 times the size of the root ball, and make sure the soil is rich, drains well, but holds some moisture before filling back in around the root ball.
- After that, firm the tree in gently, leaving a shallow donut shape around the root ball so you can water it heavily once a week for its first summer.
- In windy conditions, provide a stake to any tree taller than 4 ft to protect against wind damage and rocking (remove the stake after three years).
- Feed it well once a month with an organic liquid feed like liquid seaweed, or tomato fertilizer while its roots establish.
Growing Curry Leaves Indoors
To grow curry leaves indoors, you’ll need a good-sized pot, some good pruning shears, and most importantly, a bright, sunny window that opens to provide ventilation in summer.
When your curry tree is ready to plant out (either from the garden center, or from seeds you’ve grown yourself) add broken terracotta, or gravel to the base of a pot, and then simply place it in a pot that’s twice the size of its current pot, and fill around the root ball with compost.
Check out our in-depth guide on how to make compost for more info.
Water it well, and then water when the surface layer of soil is dry. Leave it somewhere bright, well-ventilated, and with about 4-6 hours of full sun per day.
When it shows signs of new growth, feed it once a month with any organic liquid feed.
How to Propagate a Curry Tree
You can propagate curry leaf trees from seed, but they germinate very infrequently and are picky about their conditions, so we’d recommend starting your curry leaf plant from cuttings instead.
Propagating Curry Tree from Cuttings
To grow a curry tree from cuttings, you’ll need some sharp, clean, bypass secateurs, coir compost, and perlite.
- Start by filling a pot with a 50:50 mix of perlite and coir compost (two inert substrates to provide a balance of moisture and drainage.
- Next, take a cutting, ideally in mid-spring, when new shoots are around about 3-4” long. Cut back 3-4” of the stem, to just above an old node, where the tree will regenerate, and trim the cutting to below the lowest node.
- Cuttings take easily, so there’s no need for rooting hormone. Insert the cutting into the pot, water it well, and cover it with a plastic bag to conserve moisture. Then just leave the cutting somewhere bright and warm, but out of any direct sunlight.
- After 3-4 weeks, the cutting should have taken root and can be potted up into a bigger container.
Curry Leaf Plant Care Guide
Curry trees are easy to grow, but they are quite hungry plants, as demonstrated by their fast growth. In basic terms, the more you feed it, the better it will grow.
Follow the steps below for a simple guide on how to care for your curry leaf plant as it develops, and once it has matured.
Curry trees love an annual mulch of any organic matter you can give them, but avoid leaving their own leaves around the base of the tree, as any fungal infection on the leaves can spread to the roots.
Use rotted leaf litter (leaf mold), or a humus-rich compost, which will help to retain moisture and gently feed the tree right through the season. You can apply these mulches in winter to protect the roots from marginal frosts, or in spring to feed it ahead of summer, but not both.
What fertilizer to use
I use liquid seaweed as my go-to fertilizer for most shrubby plants, but any nitrogen-rich liquid feed is great for curry leaf plants.
For a dry feed that you can apply annually to outdoor curry trees, try chicken manure pellets (a small handful is enough) to enrich the soil if you don’t want to or can’t mulch for any reason.
Pruning curry leaf plant
Outdoor curry trees need two types of pruning; buds and disease. Removing buds and flowers for the first two years helps to force energy into the roots and leaves, developing a larger tree faster, and making sure it establishes faster in the soil.
Removing any diseased branches, or damaged stems protects the overall health of the tree and should be done every time you notice damage for the rest of the tree’s life.
For indoor curry trees, or to limit the size of a curry tree, you can cut right back to a joint between two branches, or anywhere there is an active node, or shoot.
This will encourage fresh new growth, and if you do it right from the first year, you can maintain a healthy curry tree in a container that is limited to about 1 m tall and wide.
Caring for your curry tree over winter
Curry trees are warm-climate plants, and should be treated with extreme care in cooler climates. If you have more than one week of frost over winter, you’ll need to move your curry tree indoors, or into a greenhouse over winter, where it will go dormant until spring (similar to growing citrus trees).
In marginal climates, where you may get frost, but the temperature doesn’t drop lower than 23°F, wrapping your curry tree in horticultural fleece, and mulching the base with bark mulch, or compost should protect it.
Harvesting and Storing Curry Leaves
After planting your curry tree, leave any harvests for at least a year while it establishes. Unnecessary pruning will reduce photosynthesis, and therefore limit the energy put back into growing.
After the first few years, you can pick leaves in small bunches, or one at a time, as and when you need them. In late summer, pick a large batch of curry leaves and dry them so you’ve got a good stock of flavor to add to cooking right through winter.
How to Pick Curry Leaves
You can pick a single leaf, but it’s better to pick a full stem at a time. This encourages new growth, and will also slow down the drying time, meaning more flavor is preserved.
Just like pruning your curry leaf plant, make sure to use clean scissors or secateurs when harvesting curry leaves.
How to Dry Curry Leaves
There are two ways to dry curry leaves. One is fast and convenient, and the other is much, much, much more effective at preserving flavor.
For both methods, start by thoroughly washing the fresh leaves in water, and then patting them down between two sheets of kitchen towel.
The quick method:
- Remove your curry leaves from their stem, wash and rinse them, then dry them on a kitchen towel.
- Air dry until there is no moisture left from washing.
- Place a cooling rack over a baking tray, and set the oven or air fryer to its lowest setting.
- Dry your curry leaves in the oven for about 2-3 minutes, then leave the door open for them to cool slowly.
- Once cooled, add to a dry, air-tight jar, and store in a cool, dark place (the fridge, or a cool cupboard both work well).
The slow method:
- For better flavor, wash your curry leaves still on their stems.
- Peg them to a string, with some space between each stem.
- Hang the string somewhere warm and bright, with good ventilation and full sun.
- After 2-3 days, the leaves should have crisped up well and will crumble to the touch.
- Gently remove them from their stems and add them whole to an airtight jar. These leaves will last for years in storage but should be used within two months of opening the jar.
Curry Tree Pests and Diseases to Look Out For
Despite one of its common names being ‘Sweet Neem’, the curry tree does not share the same insecticidal properties as its namesake, and is not related.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as this edible tree provides plenty of tasty dining opportunities for most garden pests, as well as being responsible for the import of several invasive species.
As a result, it is also quite susceptible to fungal infection, and one or two insect-spread bacterial infections too.
The most common curry tree pests are, unsurprisingly, common aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites, which are the most common pests in any garden. Still, they also suffer from tortoise beetles, citrus butterflies, and most other citrus focussed pest groups.
Thankfully, these pests can be treated the same way, and while they all look different, their effects on curry trees are largely the same: graying leaves, sometimes with small gray spots, with yellow or orange rings around them.
The insect damage usually causes some sort of fungal infection if an infestation is particularly bad, so treating the problem with neem oil will help to resolve both issues, by drying out fungal infection and killing the pests on contact.
Leaf spot root rot, and verticillium wilt, as well as bacterial cankers, can affect curry trees, but thankfully they are quite resilient to fungal problems, even root fungus, and can be treated with neem oil, or copper soil additives to boost root resilience.
Bacterial infections are harder to resolve, and when spotted, you should cut out any damaged section to prevent spread.
Curry Tree Frequently Asked Questions
Can you grow a curry tree in the US?
You can grow a curry leaf plant wherever you are in the US. In warmer climates, they will be happy both indoors and outdoors, but in cooler northern climates they will need to be planted in a greenhouse or in a pot as a houseplant.
Is a curry plant the same as a curry tree?
Curry trees (Murraya koenigii) are a very specific plant, and the only authentic source of curry leaves, but they are also, confusingly called curry plants (Helichrysum italicum); a name shared with the curry leaf herb, a low-growing, wiry-leaved herb, with a potent curry fragrance that is also used in cooking.
What is the best soil type for a curry tree?
Curry trees need slightly acidic soil (5.5 to 6.0 pH), so adjust your soil if it is very acidic, or at all alkaline. In terms of soil structure, they like to have drainage but rich soil.
What is the best homemade fertilizer for curry trees?
Curry trees need calcium and potassium as well as the simple carbon and nitrogen they will get from compost, so adding banana peels and crushed egg shells to any mulch can help to improve their conditions.
Wrapping Up Our Curry Tree Growing and Care Guide
Curry trees really are spectacular garden plants, with flowing canopies, providing dappled shade in the garden, as well as a gorgeously mouth-watering fragrance.
Whether you choose to grow your curry leaf plant indoors or outdoors, it will provide years and years of beautiful foliage, and flowers, as well as berries for birds in winter, and food for you all year round.
Learning how to grow a curry tree isn’t just about food though. These stunning trees are just as useful as ornamental trees as they are as a food crop, and are unusual enough to become a talking point in your garden too.