Clove tree: cultivation, hardiness & benefits


Having grown up in the countryside, nature and self-sufficiency have always been big part of my life. I live and breathe nature and had the chance to delve even deeper into this interest during my studies in agricultural systems science at university.

Favourite fruit: apples, blackberries and plums
Favourite vegetables: potatoes, peppers and courgettes

Would you like to grow cloves in your own garden? Here are some helpful tips on planting and caring for the marvellous clove tree.

Clove tree in bloom
If the clove buds are not harvested beforehand, clove trees produce red flowers [Photo: Denis Moskvinov/]

The smell and taste of cloves go hand in hand with the festive season. But how do you cultivate your own clove tree? Read on to learn more about this spice tree as well as our best planting and care tips.

Clove tree: properties, flowers and origin

The dried flower buds from clove trees (Syzygium aromaticum) have a strong fragrance and distinct flavour that are indispensable in many cuisines around the globe. The clove tree belongs to the myrtle family known as Myrtaceae. It originates from the Moluccas, an Indonesian archipelago that was once called the Spice Islands. In Europe, dried cloves have been used since the early Middle Ages, but cultivation is still limited due to the climate. Nowadays, clove trees are grown around the world in regions with oceanic climates that provide fitting growing conditions.

These evergreen trees can grow over 10m tall in the right conditions. Grown in a container, they remain much smaller because of the limited root space. A potted clove tree can grow up to 2m tall, but blossoms infrequently. Clove tree leaves are green, egg-shaped, and leathery and have oil glands that release clove essential oil. When a clove tree blooms, an abundance of small flowers emerges along the panicles. Each clove flower has four short, fleshy petals and is hermaphroditic. The white stamens, typical of myrtle plants, contrast with the flowers’ red petals. The fruits grow to about 2cm in size and turn dark purple to dark red as they ripen. Each fruit contains one clove seed that can be used to propagate a clove tree. To get the famous spice the clove plant is named after, the flower buds must be harvested and dried before they blossom.

Tip: as clove buds must be harvested by hand, clove trees that are cultivated for commercial use are usually kept small with regular pruning. This eliminates the need for a ladder, making it easier and safer for harvesters.

Clove trees in field
Clove trees, which are cultivated for their clove buds, are originally from the Moluccas [Photo: Shanjaya/]

How to grow a clove tree

Due to their tropical origin and specific location requirements, it can be difficult to grow clove trees in the UK. Their need for warm temperatures year-round as well as constant high humidity is not easy to meet. In the UK, these trees typically need to be grown in tubs and spend most of the year in a heated greenhouse or bright living room. They can be moved outdoors during the warm summer months, from May or June until the end of August or early September. Unfortunately, clove trees do not tolerate greater temperature fluctuations, so choose a protected location when placing your clove tree outdoors. Throughout the growing season, ensure that temperatures remain as constant as possible, ideally comparable to the oceanic climate of Southeast Asia.

In addition to the climatic requirements, these trees also need a frequent supply of water, but do not tolerate waterlogging. A clove tree’s fine root system can quickly become damaged if the soil is too wet or too dry.

Tip: to ensure high humidity for your clove tree, we suggest misting it daily with a little water. This will help keep it happy and healthy. Another trick for increasing the humidity around your potted clove tree is to fill the container’s saucer with expanded clay or gravel and top it off with water, and place the container on top. This set-up helps to keep the air around the plant relatively humid. Of course, another option is to keep the plant in a bright bathroom, as bathrooms are generally quite humid rooms.

Clove trees like nutrient-rich and well-draining soil with a high water storage capacity. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost is a great option, as it contains clay which helps the soil to retain water. Adding a little more clay will benefit your clove tree. Furthermore, due to its high compost content, our all purpose compost provides your plant with plenty of nutrients that last over a long period of time. Add an additional layer of expanded clay to the bottom of the tree’s container to improve drainage and protect the plant’s fine roots.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
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Clove tree care

To successfully cultivate a clove tree, it is important to meet its temperature requirements. Throughout their growing season, between April and September, clove trees require temperatures between 20 and 25 °C. They can only tolerate short periods below 10 °C. Do not allow the temperature to fall below 5 °C, as this will damage your clove tree.

With its tropical origin, clove trees are accustomed to heavy rain showers, which is why they tolerate vigorous watering. In fact, clove trees need a constant supply of water for healthy growth. That said, keep an eye on the root area to ensure the soil does not become waterlogged or dry out.

During the growing period, give your clove tree the occasional moderate supply of fertiliser. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is a superb choice and is easy to apply. Our granular fertiliser lasts longer than a liquid fertiliser and releases essential plant nutrients into the soil slowly, which prevents soil salinisation. Applying fertiliser once or twice a year is plenty. Apply the first dose of fertiliser at the beginning of the growing season in spring. Apply between 80 and 120g of fertiliser, depending on the size of the tub and the size of the plant. Whilst you can simply apply it to the surface of the soil, lightly working it into the soil makes it more effective. After applying the fertiliser, cover the soil surface with some mulch, ornamental gravel or expanded clay before watering the plant thoroughly.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
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Clove trees grow slowly in tubs, but should be repotted every 2 to 3 years to give the roots more room to grow. The best time to repot is in April, before the start of the growing season. Choose a new container that is about 2 to 3cm larger than the current one. Create a drainage layer of expanded clay at the bottom. Next, remove the tree from its container, and carefully clear away excess soil. Finally, place the clove tree in its new container and fill it with new soil. For repotting, we suggest using a high-quality plant soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost that is enriched with betonite (clay powder) which increases the soil’s water storage capacity.

Hand holding clove buds
Freshly harvested clove buds [Photo: ISHA FRANDIKA HUTAMA/]

Are clove trees hardy?

Clove trees are not hardy. They are tropical trees that thrive in regions with high temperatures and humidity throughout the year. If grown exclusively indoors, it is not necessary to relocate your clove tree for overwintering. However, if you keep your tree outside during the summer months, you will need to move it to its winter quarters no later than mid-September. In the UK, it is crucial to overwinter clove trees at around 20 °C to protect the plant from cold damage. A heated conservatory, a heated greenhouse or a bright living room are suitable places for overwintering. Once the temperatures rise again, typically after the last frost in May, go ahead and move your clove tree back outdoors.

Roots of a potbound clove tree
If the pot is too small, the roots of the clove tree start to grow round in circles [Photo: Andrii Spy_k/]

Uses and benefits of clove

Cloves, the unopened flower buds for which this tree is named, were said to have healing properties as far back as the Middle Ages. They were considered healthy for the brain, liver and stomach. Given their anaesthetic effect, chewing cloves was even the chosen remedy for toothaches. Chewing cloves for toothaches also had the added bonus of improving bad breath. We also now know that cloves are rich in antioxidants and help with digestion.

To harvest cloves, pick the flower buds before they bloom; this is typically when their colour changes from green to a light pink. After harvesting, dry the clove buds until they are hard and brown.

Tip: one way to recognise high-quality cloves is by lightly pressing them to see if they contain oil. Another indication is how they float in water. If the cloves float horizontally, they lack oil and are low quality. If they float vertically or sink, this indicates that the cloves still have their oil and are of a higher quality.

Dried cloves in a round metal container
Dried cloves ready for using in the kitchen [Photo: Edoma/]

Cloves have many uses. The dried bud has a delicate yet intense flavour, while the stem usually tastes bitter. As a spice, cloves are used to enhance fish, meat, cabbage, soups and sauces. At Christmas time, whole and ground cloves are indispensable for making things like mulled wine and gingerbread. While clove oil is mainly used for cosmetics and perfume, it can also be used to add aroma to beverages.

Surprisingly, up to 25% of dried cloves are ground up and added to tobacco to make cigarettes. Clove cigarettes are especially popular in Indonesia, but are shipped worldwide. Currently, Indonesia, Madagascar and Tanzania are the world leaders in clove production.

Are you interested in other unusual spice plants? Then follow the link to visit our article to find out more about the benefits of cardamom, as well as how to cultivate and harvest it.