Growing cocoa plants is no easy job but the reward you get is definitely worth waiting for. Here’s a complete guide to answering all your swarmings questions before you get started.
Apart from the regular nurturing, farmers go the extra mile to keep their soils in top-notch condition. After all, there is a reason why 90% of harvesting cocoa beans is left to family-run small farmers rather than commercial plantations who can’t give the attention, care, and love that these delicious beans need.
So if you are daring enough to plant one at home, here’s an in-depth guide that covers the different types of cocoa plants you can grow, the right time to plant cocoa plants, and how to take care of these sensitive plants like a pro.
Stay tuned till the end to find out expert tips on what to consider before growing cocoa plants at home.
Let’s get started!
Overview: Cocoa Plant
The cocoa plant is known as the Food of the Gods. And it didn’t come out of anywhere. Around 5,300 years ago, the Theobroma Cacao Tree held great value among thousands of people in the era. The Mayans, Aztecs, and Olmecs cultivated and demonstrated cocoa plants extensively before they gained popularity in the 17th century.
This means almost anything you know about the cocoa plant is only the surface-level information that you can find out there.
History apart, the cocoa plant grows under 20 degrees in latitude from the equator or the hardiness zones 11 to 13 of the U.S Department of Agriculture Plant.
Simply put, these trees do well in warm outdoors places like:
- parts of Florida;
- Southern California;
- and U.S territories like Puerto Rico.
However, if you are planning to plant it anywhere else, I suggest you grow it in warm and humid areas as a houseplant.
That’s not it, as the cocoa plant works best under shade, you need to plant them under other taller plants (preferably taller than 50 feet).
This is because Cacao’s leaves can reach up to 2 feet in length with a yellow and reddish shade that eventually turns green as they age.
Where Does Cocoa Plant Originally Grow?
The Theobroma cacao tree first originated in the upper region of the Amazon basin. This is where you are likely to find countries like Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.
But, today’s picture has a completely different to tell.
The cocoa plant is now grown by 40 to 50 million people worldwide, where 90% of them are produced in small family firms and 5% in larger commercial plantations.
This means most of the cocoa you get in your house is grown organically under the supervision of family farmers.
Another interesting point to note is that as cocoa has a slow growth, it can take up to around 5 years for it to produce seed pods, containing 20 to 50 seeds each.
So while they can be a feast, you may have to put up with all the nuts and bolts of growing a cocoa plant.
What are The Different Types of Cocoa Plants You Can Grow?
You can never grow a good cocoa plant unless you are aware of the different types of plants and what resonates well with your needs.
This way, you will be able to grow and produce the finest chocolate and understand the intricacies required in each of them.
Here are the four types of Cocoa Plants that are used to make chocolate.
You can never go wrong with Forastero with its industry-dominating properties to yield incredible results. Besides, they are quite hardy and disease-resistant, which makes them a preferable choice for most plant owners out there.
So think of Forastero as your go-to plant if you are looking to make mouth-watering chocolate right from the comfort of your garden.
Although it is mainly cultivated in West Africa, their earthy and simple upkeep makes it completely effortless to grow them anywhere hot and humid.
Simply said, Criollo is the high-end version of Forastero. Where Forastero is the conventional way of producing chocolate, nothing can beat Criollo’s rich taste that melts in your mouth.
It is the rarest one for the four and lacks bitter notes which only makes it only better to use as your luxury chocolate option.
So what earns its high value?
Criollo, in general, comes with a highly fragile state, is prone to diseases, and only makes up 1 to 5% of the crop production in the world.
And let’s not forget the irresistible complex flavor and superfine cocoa texture that is used by world-renowned chocolate makers.
That’s not it; if you manage to thrive a Criollo successfully, you get to have a wide range of varieties like ocumare beans, chuao, and porcelana which are infused with aromatic sweet flavor coupled with slight hints of chocolate bitterness.
Trinitario, being the least pure, serves a wide range of tastes, flavors, and aromas that sets it apart from the rest. As it is the hybrid between Criollo and Forastero, you are more likely to find it across the Caribbean Islands and South America.
The fascinating Trinitario yields good tree hardiness, making it the best choice for homeowners who can’t be bothered with the humdrum of cocoa plants.
The best part? The luscious essence of Criollo and the ease of Forastero give Trinitario the best of both worlds.
The Nacional was recently discovered in Peru in 2011. As it is a relatively new discovery, it is known as the rarest form, which has a rich, creamy, and delicious taste.
How to Care For Cocoa Plant
By now you must have an idea of the type of cocoa plant you want to grow.
But before you begin planting, bear in mind that the cocoa plant is not easy to grow. It can be difficult to give them the necessary environment with the correct level of humidity and warmth that keeps them thriving.
This is why people homeowners never get a single pod even after years of thorough upkeep. However, lack of proper knowledge also makes up the biggest culprit why these homeowners fail in the first place.
Once you have devoted yourself to learning, it can help you create a routine specially made for the cocoa plants to yield the ideal number of pods.
When the cocoa plant has reached 5 feet in height, you can begin hand-pollinating the flowers early in the morning to make the most out of its production.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the pods will naturally begin to shrivel without developing, so you may be left with a maximum of two pods from each cushion.
As you get enough pods, you can begin extensive processing, including fermenting, roasting, and grinding to turn it into chocolate.
However, if you have decent space outdoors, I’d highly recommend you choose a spot with good protection from the strong wind and is filled with other plants to give your cocoa plant shade when needed.
Now that the fundamentals are all set, you can start off by adding a layer of mulch over the root area and fertilizing this sensei plant regularly to maintain its food and moisture demands. You also need to look out for pests like mirids, aphids, and borers which can damage the foliage and lead to other fungal diseases.
And if you happen to encounter any issues, count on natural fungicide or insecticide to treat the diseases before they could ruin your entire garden.
When is the Right Time to Plant Cocoa Tree
If you think your efforts will pay off only within a few months of planting a cocoa tree, let me tell you this now you are going to be disappointed!
Growing a cocoa tree requires tremendous patience and care which can be a little frustrating at first. But once you master the right techniques, the result will be worth waiting for.
Now coming to your question, it is best to plant cocoa trees during spring where the temperature is warm but not too hot to hurt this sensitive plant. You must also try to keep the plant damp between 65-85 degrees F. (18-29 C.) so it could thrive in its favorable conditions.
As the seed grows, make sure to transfer it to larger pots to have enough space to grow at its own pace. And once they are four to six years old, these trees will start to flower, and the cacao pods will begin to ripen, for they pollinate flowers during their desired weather conditions.
Therefore, depending on the country you are living in, the timeframe may be different. The only thing you need to make sure of is to provide a warm and humid atmosphere that can yield the cocoa pods in their best condition.
Growing Cocoa Plant Conditions: What You Need to Consider Before Growing Cocoa Plant at Home
Let’s be honest here; there will be times where you won’t be able to provide the environment they desire. And that’s something you control, too.
But all you can do is to stay consistent with your regular upkeep to make sure these plants are getting everything they need to thrive successfully. Here are some of the things to consider before you dive in headfirst to grow a cocoa plant at home.
As a general rule of thumb, selective pruning allows branches to grow in healthy condition, lets sunlight hit all the right parts of the tree, and improves overall air circulation. You can do this by pruning your tree once or twice a year after a seed pod harvest to ensure you cut down all the diseased, damaged, or dead branches.
These trees require a great amount of fertilizer. Therefore, to apply a generous amount of fertilizer to maintain a balanced growth, you can also try mixing the compost into the soil annually to make the most of the fertilizers.
As you have already noticed, cocoa trees can only grow well in partial shade. This means they need around 3 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. Therefore, it is recommended to grow them under other plants so they have an adequate shade right after the harsh rays of sunlight.
Cacao trees have very specific water needs. They prefer to have consistently moist soil which can keep it damp but not too much that you end up rotting its roots. You can water the plant every time you see the top inch of the plant drying out.
This way, you can make sure to keep the plant in top-notch condition without excessively draining its quality.
5. Temperature and Humidity
If you manage to meet the moisture needs of cocoa plants, they are perfectly armed to combat any other temperature problem that you may have. Although they prefer 65 – 85℉ if you can’t provide the extra temperature, their heat tolerance and easily take care of the rest of the hassle for you.
However, anything below 30℉ can seriously ruin your entire plant in no time.
When it comes to successfully growing your plant, you need to consider the potting you are using carefully. Here, it is best to stick to one seed per pot to give plenty of space to thrive and stay rich in damp soil. This way, you will also be able to give close attention to each plant and let them thrive in their preferred space.
Cocoa plants can only tolerate slightly acidic and alkaline soil pH. Therefore, your soil must have an excellent drainage system to let it deal with the regular needs of a cocoa plant.
It’s Your Turn Now
Coming to the end of the guide, the only thing I want you to keep in mind is that growing a cocoa plant is hard, really hard. You may have to put up with countless failed attempts. But the key here is to personalize your efforts to the cocoa plant and not place all your hopes on just a single plant.
However, if you have reached here, you are 85% better equipped than most cocoa plant owners out there. So create a checklist, create a cocoa plant care routine, and you are all set to produce cocoa pods right at the comfort of your house (and pajamas, of course).
Tell me how it goes!