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How to Grow a Coffee Plant: Everything You Need to Know

Coffee fruit

If you have a deep love of all things coffee, a coffee plant could be a great hobby to get started on. These beautiful, shiny-leaved trees make remarkably good houseplants that are hearty, resilient, and most importantly, can supply you with your very own, home-grown java. Talk about a dream come true!

If you want to try your hand (or thumb) growing this special plant, you have come to the right place. Our guide below will take you from the seedling to a cup of roasted coffee that you harvested yourself. We will share on the details on where to find seeds, how to care for them, what to watch out for, and much more.

If you want to enhance your home with some of nature’s most giving plants, keep reading below!

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Before You Get Started

Although we all love a good cup of joe, growing a coffee plant is not for everyone. Many people are mesmerized by the idea of an endless bean supply that they can experiment with to their heart’s content.

Unfortunately, many people also don’t do the proper research before taking on one of these plants, so they end up being disappointed in the growing process. As these trees take some looking after, you should have an understanding of their care and finer points before you take them on.

Black Coffee
Image Credit: MKDigitalArt, Pixabay

Take a look at these thought-provoking facts below so you know what you are getting into before you learn how to grow coffee beans!

  • Size: Coffee plants can grow to be 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Whether you are planting them outdoors or in, you will need to devote a certain amount of space for them to grow properly.
  • Growing Location: Besides their size, you also want to consider that unless you live in a high-elevation, tropical climate, you will likely need to have this plant situated inside your home. Of course, you can grow them in a greenhouse, as well.
  • Grow Time: One aspect of the coffee plant that many java enthusiasts are not aware of is the time it takes for them to grow. It can be upwards of four to five years before they are fully grown. Plus, it can be three to four years before they start to flower.
  • Coffee Yield: Once the plant starts to flower, it can still take another year before the cherries ripen enough to be picked. On average, a fully-grown tree will produce about 4,000 coffee beans per year. This equals about two or three pounds of coffee. In short, if you drink coffee regularly, you will need about 20 plants to sustain your yearly supply.
  • Toxicity: Except for the bean, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans. Small kids that ingest the leaves or bark can become very ill. What’s more, all parts, from the bark to the cherries, are toxic to animals. If you have a cat, dog, or other pet that is fond of chewing on the green, leafy household members, the coffee plant may not be the best idea.
  • Skill: While you don’t need a botany degree to grow this tree, the coffee plant requires some skill. Although the novice can succeed with persistence and dedication, we consider this plant a mid-green thumb level hobby.

Want to let someone else do the gardening? Try Lifeboost’s healthy, delicious coffee beans — grown at high altitude in Nicaragua!

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How to Grow a Coffee Plant: Getting Started

If you have read through the items above and are still ready to grow your coffee plant, we are excited to help you get started! The first step? Acquiring one! You have two choices to start out with. You can either purchase a young plant or you can purchase the seeds (also called cherries or green-seeds).

Choosing Seeds or a Plant

If you are not sure which way to go, we suggest going for seeds if you have some house plant experience. If you are newer to the world of gardening and botany, you may want to try a seedling or young plant to get you started. Still, it is your choice.

Unfortunately, green-seeds are not the easiest thing to come by in your local nurseries. Also, it is extremely rare to grow a coffee plant from an already roasted bean. In fact, we wouldn’t suggest you even waste your time trying.

Coffee Plant
Image Credit: danramirez, Pixabay

Luckily, though these cherries may not be easily found in your area, you do have the world wide web at your fingertips. If you are looking for a young plant, we like this one that has proven hearty and resilient.

If you want to go the green-seed route, ensure you find ones with all of their parchment layers intact, or they will not grow. For example, you can buy bags of green-beans to roast yourself, but they are typically not for potting.

Pro Tip: Whether you are buying a plant or seeds, make sure they are arabica coffee. Don’t confuse them with a Kentucky Coffee tree. They can often be confused for one another, but the latter will not produce the java you’re after.

Finding a Location

Once you have found your plant of choice, you need to set up the proper location for your tree. First, you need to decide whether it will be grown inside or outside. If you live in North America, your best bet is indoors unless you have a greenhouse. The coffee plant, although resilient, doesn’t fare well under fluctuating weather conditions. Freezing temperatures, heat-waves, frost, etc., can play havoc with your hobby.

Regardless of where you choose, it will need a spot that is getting plenty of light but is not in the direct rays of the sun. This little guy likes defused sunlight. Also remember, your tree can grow quite large. You will need to find a place that can accommodate a larger plant even though it will take some time for it to grow to that level.

Planting Your Coffee Plant

Now that you have your plant (or seeds) and have found a good location for them to grow, it’s time to plant. The first step is to gather the supplies you will need. Take a look at these items you should have on hand.

Ingredients
  • Coffee seed or plant
  • Potting Soil
Equipment
  • Water spray bottle or watering can
  • 4” pot with good drainage
  • 6” pot with good drainage

If you are starting from a seed, you want to fill your 4-inch pot ¾ of the way. Place your seed on the soil, and fill the pot the rest of the way with soil. Keep in mind, you don’t want to smoother your seed by pushing down on the soil. Keep it fluffy.

Coffee bean
Image Credit: BiniP, Pixabay

You will also want to ensure your seed is getting enough indirect sunlight, water, and nutrients. Just make sure you don’t overwater. Damp and moist soil is ideal. Also, look for rich potting soil which is easily found at most hardware stores, gardening nurseries, etc.

Pro Tip: Your Ph balance for this type of plant should be about a six. You can find this information on the bag.

Starting with a young plant is a bit different. On one hand, the hard part is over. The seed has already taken hold and developed. That being said, you will want to repot your tree right away. Most plants purchased in nurseries have already outgrown their planter. Even if it has not, the soil may have lost its nutrients.

To be on the safe side, repot it in the 6-inch pot (unless it is very small). Like the seed, make sure it’s placed in a bright area, but not directly in a window. Use good soil and keep it damp.

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Caring for Your Coffee Plant

Now that you are underway, we want to discuss caring for your plant for the long term. As we showed in the last section, here are a few things you will need to have on hand for your plant’s well-being and proper growth.

  • Potting soil
  • Water can or spray bottle
  • Pruning hand shears
  • Pot one size bigger than what you currently have
  • Pebble tray (optional)
  • Pest Control (optional)

The items above are good to have on hand, but they can also be purchased as needed.

Watering

As we mentioned above, a coffee plant thrives when its soil is damp. You don’t want it to be dry nor do you want it to be pooling with water. This is why you want to have pots with good drainage. Not only that, but a spray bottle is also recommended. It allows you to mist the soil by slow measures until it is at the right level of…wet.

You will also want to develop a watering schedule. Though it can vary depending on the time of year and climate you live in, most coffee plants do well with once a week watering. You may have to play around with the timing, however. Check the soil often for signs of dryness until you find the “sweet-spot” schedule.

watering plant
Image Credit: kaboompics, Pixabay

Signs of dehydration in your plant is also good to watch out for. Drooping and brittle leaves, dullness, and other changes can signify it needs more H20. Furthermore, make sure nothing is impeding the drainage of the pot. Overwatering can cause just as many issues.

Humidity

Another aspect of your plant you need to take care of is the humidity. The coffee tree originated in a humid climate, so you will need to keep moisture in the air for them to thrive. Many people have found success with a pebble tray under the pot.

A pebble tray is a small (typically round) shallow container with small to medium stones. You add water to the container and place your pot on top. This allows the plant to get some extra moisture, but the stones keep the pot from being submerged in the water.

Fertilizer

Giving your coffee plant some food now and again will also help in its development. As your tree grows into adulthood, you can usually get away with feeding them once a year; typically in the Spring. Keep in mind, however, this can vary depending on the plant and its environment.

The best thing to do is to check the pH balance every few months. In the pro tip above, we mentioned it should be about a six. If it dips below, you should consider giving it some fertilizer. The choice of plant-food is yours, and most brands will give you specifics on the type of plant their product is best suited for. Some potting soils are also infused with fertilizer.

Repotting

Repotting is very important for your plant. Its roots need room to grow in order for it to flourish. As a young plant, you will have to change the pot a few times. As a rule of thumb, you should repot when it hits 8 inches and again when it hits 24 inches. This should take place within the first year of growth.

After your coffee plant has reached 2 feet, you should only have to report once a year. Again, however, it can vary depending on your plant. The best time to change planters is in the Spring. Keep in mind, doing so can be somewhat traumatic for your tree. This is why giving them fresh fertilizer at the same time is recommended. Also, be sure to pay closer attention to their soil moisture.

Pro Tip: The size of the pot you choose is important for your coffee plant. If your plant is in a pot that is 10 inches or smaller, upgrade to one that is 1 or 2 inches bigger. If the existing pot is 10 inches or bigger, you will want to choose one that is 2 to 3 inches bigger.

repotting
Image Credit: manfredrichter, Pixabay

Pruning

Pruning is another important aspect of your coffee plant’s care. This is also something that should be done during the Spring. A hand pruner is typically sufficient for this job. You want to start by removing any dead leaves or branches on the tree.

You also want to check the bottom, underneath area for decaying branches, etc. As this part of the plant gets the least amount of light, it is the most likely place to suffer. Plants will exert energy into healing those areas, but that energy is better spent on strengthening the healthy parts. This is why it’s best to remove anything small, damaged, dead, or decaying.

You can also use pruning to encourage the plant’s growth in a specific direction. For example, if you want the plant to grow taller instead of wider, you can prune the tree to resemble this preference. After a time, the tree will grow in that specific direction.

Make sure you cut any branches at a 35-degree angle. Avoid taking off any good branches, and be as gentle as possible.

Pro Tip: Although you can prune any dead leaves or branches throughout the year, you want to save the majority of this work for the Spring. After the Winter hibernation, plants come back to life and begin healing itself for flowering. This is when their “healing abilities” are at their strongest. This is why all traumatic chores (like repotting, pruning, etc.) are recommended at this time of year.

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Check for Signs Of Disease or Pests

The last aspect of their care you need to handle is checking for signs of disease and pest infestation. Take a look at some of these signs that can indicate you have a problem.

  • Decay
  • Brittle or dull leaves
  • Loss of multiple leaves
  • Holes in leaves
  • Growth has stopped
  • Discolored wood

If you see any of these signs, there are a few things you can do. First, we recommend trying to slightly alter their watering and soil schedule. Just don’t do anything too dramatic as it can cause further damage. Next, you can try a non-toxic pest control. If that doesn’t work, you can go for a mildly toxic solution.

If you are truly worried about your plant, you can bring it to a nursery for care. They will have tests available that can help you determine the underlying problem.

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Harvesting Your Coffee Plant

Coffee beans raw
Image Credit: Young_n, Pixabay

As we mentioned at the beginning, it will take several years for your coffee plant to flower and produce cherries. What’s more, the first year of flowering will likely not produce any viable fruit at all. When that glorious time rolls around, though, you will see white, star-shaped flowers that are fragrant and delicate.

After the flowers comes the fruit that will start off green and eventually ripen to red and finally dark-red. Once it has reached this color, it’s time to pick the fruit. Remember though, each plant only yields about 4,000 beans which equates to about 3 or 4 pounds of coffee. Due to that, we like to encourage readers to be in it for the joy of growing and nurturing their plant. Think of harvesting coffee beans as a bonus.

That being said, it’s still an awesome bonus to have, and it gives you a great opportunity to try your hand at roasting and developing your perfect brew.

Making the Coffee

Now that you have grown your plant, it is time to gather the “fruits of your labor,” so to speak. Once you have picked the fruit, you can break them apart to extract the beans. Each cherry will have two coffee beans.

Take a look at the general process for turning the cherries into a fresh, hot cup of joe.

  • Pick the cherries
  • Extract the beans
  • Place the beans in water for one to two days
  • Remove the beans from water and allow them to dry completely
  • Remove the outer parchment layer
  • Roast the beans to your taste
  • Grinds the beans
  • Brew and enjoy

Pro Tip: Okay, this is a repeat tip, but we thought it was worth bringing up again. If you have fallen in love with this plant and plan to grow more, you can use the green beans to do so. Keep in mind, however, once the parchment layer has been removed, the seeds will no longer grow.

The outline above is just that, an outline. There are a lot of variables that come into play regarding how your coffee turns out. Things like how you roast it, how much you grind it, etc make a big difference to the taste, boldness, flavor, and so on. This is a great opportunity, however, to experiment.

Cup of coffee
Image Credit: LittleAngell, Pixabay

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Conclusion

Even if your coffee plant doesn’t give you the endless supply of coffee you were hoping for, this plant can still be a beautiful addition to your home. Indoor plants have many benefits including improving your air quality, improving your mood, and adding a touch of the outdoors into our modern living spaces.

We hope this article has given you all the information you need to purchase, start, grow, and eventually harvest your coffee plant.


Featured Image: danramirez, Pixabay

Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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