Tips to take care of your Curry Leaf plant to survive the winter and grow through summer.
Fall seemed so short this year! It feels colder than last November as far as I can recollect and I couldn’t help turning the heater on rather early as opposed to Thanksgiving last year. Winter is undeniably here already and it is also that time of the year to care for our garden plants, especially the vulnerable tropicals like the Curry Leaf plant.
Curry leaf is synonymous to, as much it is in-disposable in South Indian cooking where almost every seasoning starts or ends with it. That said, a curry leaf plant in the garden be it in the backyard or the balcony, is quite a handy and precious possession. Nothing comes close to the satisfaction of growing one’s own herbs and using them fresh from the garden as and when the need arises. It is the kind that belongs to the tiny joys of life..
With the kind of simple pleasure one gets to enjoy during spring, summer and early fall having a curry leaf plant potted in the garden, comes the responsibility of caring for its survival through the American winter. Being a tropical/sub-tropical plant/tree, it wasn’t meant for cold climates and hence, we need to go the extra mile for it.
Here are a few tips from my learning and experience with growing the curry plant in Houston:
Because it needs full sun, it is well suited to grow outdoors. However, even if you have a huge backyard garden, it is better to grow it potted as it is conveniently movable indoors away from the harsh weather during the winter months.
Place them in the sun during the day and move indoors before it gets dark and colder.
Pour warm water instead of cold.
Occasionally sprinkle salt water on the leaves to wash away dirt, bugs and mites or mold if any.
Place indoors in a warm spot away from the draft or windows
Make sure there is plenty of light wherever you place them indoors. White light works well if you do not have enough sunlight coming in.
If you must leave them outside for whatever reason, cover the plant with black trash bags and secure them around the pot. Few support sticks about the height of the plant inserted into the pot can help hold the trash bag in place. Plastic acts as a barrier to the cold winds and keeps the plant warmer by about 5°-10°F
If you are travelling, request a willing friend or neighbor to routinely water the plant and move it outdoors and indoors during daylight and at dusk respectively.
In the absence of another caregiver, they can be placed in the bath tub with some water filled in, for the roots to absorb. Do not forget to leave the lights on.
Follow this routine especially strictly around February frost or freeze. No matter how much you care up until then, if you give in for one day on the frost, the plant might slip away from you forever
Do insert plant food sticks if the plant has been potted for more than 4-5 months.Even though the plant might seem to shed all its leaves (which is natural for the season), just let it hang in there. Once the plant survives past couple or more winters, it will be strong enough to withstand the weather.
If you haven’t potted the plant, do so next spring and preferably in a wide pot with a spout at the bottom, so it can hold extra water for the roots when you are travelling.
Lastly, even if the leaves are yellow, resist the temptation to pluck the leaves or prune the plant. It needs all those to survive the harsh winter.
NOTE: Most or all of these tips are equally applicable and helpful for the Tulsi plant or “The Indian Holy Basil” except that it does not like acidic Yogurt or buttermilk or any kind of fertilizer.
Bonus Tip for Prolific Curry leaf plant: (Updated Summer 2013)
This summer, I have had the biggest revelation for a prolific curry leaf plant. It seems that bath salt or Epsom salt is the magic potion that makes them grow like bushes. Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate which is great for plants. It can be used for most plants including vegetable, fruits and flowering plants.
Which reminds me, we had a curry leaf tree in my grandfather’s house and we were told to feed it with Sambar and buttermilk and it would grow well. I never understood then. Now I know why!
Do the Buttermilk feeding during warmer months when possibility of mold growth is low.
How to use: Use a tablespoon of Epsom Salt diluted in a gallon of water and feed it to the plant when the soil is relatively dry and about twice a month, not more than that (or it burns the root)
Try it and you’ll surely come back and tell me tall tales of pride about your great looking curry leaf or any other plant. Good Luck!
What to do if the Curry Leaf Plant bears fruit (update: 2020 july 9th)
I have a Curry leaf plant here in Bangalore (we moved!) which bore beautiful purple fruit despite growing in a small pot in a balcony container garden.
While I was feeling happy that it bore fruit, I didn’t quite know what to do next. It stopped growing and slowly started to show symptoms of decline. When tending to other plants nearby, I happened to accidentally break one its fruit bearing stems and was so heartbroken.
Interestingly, I was super surprised to see new growth after a week or so. New shoots sprang up from below. Then, it started growing vigorously upon tending with some buttermilk intermittently and topping up with vermicompost later.
Lesson learnt that when it starts to bear fruit, chop off the fruit and save the seeds. Begin to prune the stems, so the plant can begin to grow leaves again. Hope this helps somebody
Must Try Recipes to make good use of Curry leaves