Coffee – a great ornamental small tree, and maybe, a bean or two!

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Coffee is a favorite beverage for much of the world.  In addition to this attribute, coffee plants can also be considered ornamental and novel in regards to your backyard landscape.  Small coffee seedlings are often grown as foliage house plants and occasionally are available as small trees in local garden centers.   Coffee seedlings are also used in terrariums or dish gardens.  I grew a coffee plant from a little seedling I bought at a local garden center.  Give them a chance and they will grow – mine is now about five-feet tall!    How do you grow edible ornamentals such as coffee in your own backyard?

Coffee originated in Africa and is now grown in about eighty different countries.  In some climates, un-pruned, it can grow into a fifty-foot tree, but is usually kept at about six feet within commercial production.  Ornamentally speaking, coffee is a beautiful plant with glossy green leaves and small fragrant flowers followed by red or yellow fruit.  Although there are many varieties available commercially, those found by the home gardener may be simply labeled as Arabica or Robusta.  Coffee is normally grown in shady conditions, but will adapt to full sun over a period of time.  Plunging these plants from shade to sun will cause the foliage to sunburn, so make the change gradually.  This beverage plant is also a bit sensitive to high and low temperatures and will need protection during cold weather.  Plant coffee trees about fifteen feet away from other trees and buildings in well-drained soil in light to moderate shade.  Once established, use an acid-loving plant fertilizer with micronutrients as per label instructions.  Chelated iron, a material which is biologically available to the plant, may also be helpful when applied to high pH soils.  Foliar applications of nutrients will be needed throughout the year.  Mulch, kept about twelve inches away from the trunk, will help suppress weeds and retain moisture.  If everything goes well, you can expect flowers followed by green berries that turn red when ripe.  Once ripe, the outer pulp is removed and the beans are placed in water to ferment for twenty-four hours.  A final washing and drying is then followed by removal of the outer bean hull.  Roasting is an art that is refined with practice!  Store the finished product in a cool dry place.    If you get this far, you will appreciate how much work goes into your cup of coffee!

Coffee plants make excellent containerized specimens when grown on a patio as a conversation piece.  Happily growing in a ten-gallon pot in a shady area,  I have had mine for about six years and it has produced some coffee berries.  As noted above, coffee plants are often available at local garden centers or at gardening Internet sites.  Regardless, consider these beverage plants as suitable for addition to your “plant zoo” or landscape.  For more information on all types of curious and novel plants, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.   Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Crane, J. H., Balerdi, C. F. & Joyner, G. (2016) Coffee Growing in the Florida Home Landscape.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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