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Cacao plants are probably the most beloved plants in the world because of their exceptional uses. The pods of cacao plants are made into chocolate! How cool would it be to actually have cacao growing in your home garden?! Even though this undertaking is extremely rewarding, growing a cacao plant does require a lot of patience. It takes a cacao seed three to five years to fully mature into a fruiting tree. But where there is a will, there is a way! Just like other plants, you will be able to grow cacao plants in your garden with the right guidance and discipline.
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What Is a Cacao Plant?
From chocolate to cocoa solids to cocoa butter, all of it is possible just because of a cacao plant. While it takes a long time to grow this plant, once grown, the trees can also last for several decades. The tree produces small fragrant flowers throughout its branches and trunk. After that, the seed pods are produced which can grow up to a length of 11-12 inches.
Initially, the pods are of green color. Slowly, the pods will turn a yellow/orange color as they ripen over a course of several months. Each pod contains around 30 to 50 seeds which are more commonly referred to as the cacao beans. These seeds are then retrieved and made into a variety of products.
Cacao Plant Varieties to Look Out For!
Before planting your cacao seeds, you should look for the varieties that you want to grow. For example, three cultivator groups are used to make cocoa products. Criollo is the rarest of these verities but is also the most delicious. On the other hand, most of the cocoa products are produced from forastero. The tree belonging to this variety is resistant to diseases and produces a high yield. Finally, trinitario is a hybrid of the above-mentioned two varieties and hence its qualities and characteristics are a mixture of criollo and forastero.
Growing the Cacao Plant
Cultivating cacao trees outside of their natural environment can be tricky. Many people keep cacao as just houseplants but that deprives them of the humidity and light they need. Cacao grown indoors will also not produce any seed pods so you should be well aware of these facts before you start growing one.
Cacao plants thrive in warm rainforests. This is why, when you are planting cacao outside, you have to choose the spot carefully. In order to grow cacao plant successfully, you have to mimic the natural conditions cacao plant finds favorable. If your region does not have the tropical climate cacao needs, you can try growing it in a greenhouse.
Planting the Cacao Seeds
In order to grow the cacao plant, you will need seeds directly from the pod as dry seeds lose their viability. If you cannot get your hands on fresh seeds, then you should find seeds that have been kept moist since their removal from the pods. If your seeds have not sprouted any roots, you can place them on damp paper in a warm area. They will begin to grow roots in no time.
After your seeds are ready, pot them in 4-5 inches of damp seed starter. While planting, the seeds should be placed vertically with their roots in the downward direction. Afterward, cover the pots with a plastic wrapping sheet in order to provide the right temperature for germination. Seeds should start to sprout after a week or more.
As the seedlings begin to grow, you can transplant them into a larger pot or your backyard. The soil for the cacao plant should have good drainage and it should be at a spot that is shielded from the harsh weather. Cacao likes lots of water and food which is why you should regularly provide it with water and fertilizers. Another way to maintain soil moisture is by adding mulch on top of the root area after planting. Usually, the trees begin to flower after 3 to 4 years. Once the pods appear, do not worry if they shrivel up and die. It is common among cacao trees to lose most of their pods.
Once the beans are ripe, you can harvest them. However, there is still some work needed to be done before you use them. In order to prepare a cup of cocoa from your home-grown cacao, the beans will need to be fermented, roasted, and grinded.
Pests and Diseases of Cacao Plants
A useful fact about cacao plants is that they do not attract many pests and diseases. The only danger to these trees is posed by aphids, mirids, bores, and mealybugs that can attack the tree’s foliage. The tree is at risk of catching fungal diseases but that only happens when there is an abundance of moisture in the soil. The important part is to diagnose any disease/infestation and treat it as soon as you can.
How to Care For Your Cacao Plant
The Right Soil to Grow Cacao Plants
As we have already mentioned above, the soil for cacao plants needs to be well-drained and rich with nutrients. Adding organic matter to the soil once in a while will not hurt! The trees are also heavy feeders and adding organic fertilizers to the soil will help in their growth.
Cacao trees need full or partial sunlight. On most days, your cacao plant should get at least 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight daily. However, in the afternoon, the sunlight can be harsh for the plants. At this time of the day, cacao plants will appreciate some shade so their leaves are not scorched.
Temperature to Grow Cacao Plants
Cacao plants are tough when it comes to tolerating heat so know your growing zone. They can tolerate temperatures as high as 29 degree C as long as you are providing the plant with adequate water and shade. Naturally, cold temperatures are not the best for this plant. Anything less than 15 degrees C will be deemed unfavorable for the cacao plant. Temperatures lower than 4 degrees C can even kill the plant so you have to be careful in providing cacao with the right environment. Similarly, cacao plants love humidity and can get damaged if the weather is too dry.
How to Grow Cacao Plants – Final Word
Cacao, or cacao tree, needs special care as growing them will have its own sets of challenges. The biggest challenge is observing patience as it will be a few years before you can finally enjoy the fruit of your labor. However, once you start growing this tree, you will need to commit to the job fully. Growing a cacao tree will not only provide you with cacao beans but will also teach you resilience. There is a chance that your tree might not produce usable fruit. However, what is important is that you learn from your attempts and give it your all!