Perk Up Your Green Thumb With This Guide to Coffee Plant Care
If you don’t know beans about growing coffee indoors, grab a cup of joe and check out the information we’ve harvested for you.
Yes, coffee really does grow on trees—actually on evergreen shrubs with large glossy leaves. One of those could conceivably reach 7 feet indoors. So, if you prefer your houseplants to be large and shiny like your vehicles, you might want to check this one out.
Although your plants aren’t likely to produce enough beans to make a significant difference in your grocery bill, coffee plant care isn’t difficult, and your shrub may even produce fragrant white blooms. That could give a whole new meaning to “wake up and smell the coffee!”
Coffee Plant Care at a Glance
Common name: Coffee
Scientific name: Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora
Soil: Acidic potting mix
Light: Bright indirect or partial sun
Food: Fertilizer for acid-loving plants
Temperature and humidity: Moderate temperatures, high humidity
Safety: Beans toxic to pets
Coffee Plant Characteristics
The coffee plant comes in two main types, Arabian (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora), with Arabian considered to have the highest quality beans. Native to Ethiopia and Sudan, it usually grows in the shade of other trees. Robusta—which originated in western Africa—is more tolerant of sun and heat but also produces more bitter taste.
Both varieties are hardy in USDA Zones 10 to 12. When coffee plants are 3 to 4 years old, they begin to produce small white flowers in their leaf axils, followed by oval fruits that take from 7 to 9 months to ripen from green, to yellow, to red. Each fruit contains two beans. Directions on how to grow coffee depend on which variety you have.
Types of Coffee Plant
- Coffea arabica: Arabian coffee grows to about 15 feet outdoors with glossy leaves up to 6 inches long.
- Coffea arabica ‘Nana’: A dwarf type often recommended for indoor use, this cultivar tops out at 5 feet and can flower and fruit at 3 feet.
- Coffea canephora: Robusta coffee may reach 12 feet in height outdoors with quilted-appearing leaves up to 1 foot long.
Selecting Soil for Coffee Plants
An indoor coffee plant needs humus-rich, acidic soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. A potting mix intended for acid-loving plants would be ideal but isn’t always readily available. To make your own, combine equal parts of sphagnum peat moss and standard potting mix.
Cactus and citrus potting mixes also should work since they are formulated to be somewhat acidic. Since this type of soil drains—and dries out—quickly, you may need to water more frequently if you choose it.
For the fullest look, plant 3 or 5 seedlings together in the same pot. Alternatively, you can pinch a single plant back frequently to encourage it to branch out more.
The Right Light
When growing coffee at home, keep in mind that an Arabian coffee plant prefers partial sun, filtered sun, or bright indirect light. A position near an east-facing window will work well since its panes should admit only the gentlest morning rays. Alternatively, you could site the plant in a south-facing window with a sheer curtain between it and the glass to filter the sun.
Robusta coffee can be placed in full sun in an uncovered south-facing window. However, most coffee shrubs sold as houseplants appear to be the Arabian type. If you move yours outdoors during summer, place it in the bright shade beneath a tall tree that has no low-hanging branches.
Watering Coffee Plants
Should your tap water be hard, irrigate your coffee plant with collected room-temperature rainwater instead to prevent the calcium in the tap water from hiking the pH of the potting soil. Keep the soil lightly moist but not soggy during the spring and summer months and allow it to dry out a bit more during autumn and winter—not too deeply, however, as coffee has shallow roots. Such dryness reportedly encourages the plant to bloom during spring after resuming regular watering.
Brittle brown spots on the leaves might indicate that you aren’t watering your plant enough. Softer brown spots can mean that you are watering it too much.
Fertilizing Coffee Plants
Feed a growing coffee plant every other week in spring and summer with a plant food formulated for acid-loving plants (such as 30-10-10) at the rate recommended for houseplants (usually about ½ teaspoon per gallon of water). Refrain from fertilizing it during fall and winter when growth slows. If the edges of the leaves turn brown, you might be feeding it too much.
When that happens, try “washing” the soil with clean water. Simply pour water into the pot until it runs out the drainage holes at the bottom. Once it has stopped dripping, discard the “dirty” water from the plant’s saucer.
Setting the Temperature and Humidity
Coffea arabica plant care requires conditions on the cool and humid side, with temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Robusta plants like to be a bit warmer, between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Either type might begin dropping leaves at temperatures below 55 degrees, so you’ll want to bring them back indoors early in autumn. They will not tolerate cold drafts or frost.
To help raise moisture levels in the air around your plant, set it on a humidity tray such as this highly rated option available at Amazon and/or close to other plants. Mist it frequently, using rainwater or bottled spring water to avoid the spots caused by hard water. Brown leaf tips usually signify that the foliage isn’t getting enough humidity.
Propagating Coffee Plants
When considering how to grow a coffee plant, keep in mind that you can start your own seedlings using unroasted coffee beans that are no more than 3 months old. Soak the beans in lukewarm water for 1 to 2 days before sowing them—with their flat sides down—½-inch deep in a pot of damp and sterile seed-starting mix.
Enclose that pot inside a plastic bag to keep the mix damp, and place it in a position where the temperature remains between 72 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and it receives bright indirect light. Coffee beans usually will take at least 1 month—sometimes up to 3 months—to sprout.
Extensive handling of coffee beans can give rise to skin or respiratory disorders in sensitive individuals, but usually only those involved in the coffee industry who are exposed to coffee dust. However, the beans could potentially be dangerous to pets, in whom large amounts of caffeine can cause hyperactivity, seizures, cardiac problems, vomiting, and even death.
The beans reportedly can have an adverse effect on children as well, especially small children. Therefore, to be on the safe side, keep this plant out of reach of both your pets and your progeny, especially when it is fruiting. Although there is caffeine in coffee leaves too—more in the young ones than the old ones—it reportedly is lower than that in tea leaves, so it’s probably not dangerous.
Related: 11 Uses for Coffee Grounds
Potential Pests and Diseases
The most common insect pests of the coffee plant are mealybugs, which may look like bits of white cottony lint doing a static cling to your plant’s glossy leaves. Fortunately, you should be able to wipe those bugs out and off by touching each one with a cotton swab that has been soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Another common problem is sunburn from foliage being exposed too suddenly to brighter light. That can cause bleached spots on the leaves, which eventually turn brown and dry. To prevent that, move the plant to a sunnier position gradually rather than all at once.
FAQs About Coffee Plant Care
Knowing how to care for a coffee plant makes it more likely you’ll see flowers and beans after a few years. If you need some unadorned answers on how to care for a coffee plant, check out the short and to-the-point questions and answers below. If you’d like a little extra cream, you may want to do a more leisurely perusal of the fuller information above.
Q. How much sun does a coffee plant need?
Arabian coffee prefers bright indirect light or partial sun. Robusta coffee can be grown under those conditions, too, but will also tolerate full sun.
Q. Do coffee plants like to be misted?
Yes, coffee plants enjoy high humidity, so misting them frequently should help with that.
Q. Why are the leaves on my coffee plant turning brown?
Leaves that curl and brown completely might be reacting to cold damage. Those showing brown spots or edges could be suffering from overwatering, underwatering, fertilizer burn, or low humidity.
Q. How do I make a coffee plant bushy?
Prune or pinch it back frequently to force it to branch out.
Q. How long does it take a coffee plant to bear fruit?
Coffee plants generally don’t flower and fruit until they are 3 or 4 years old and bear most heavily when between 6 and 8 years of age.
Q. How do I get my coffee plant to flower?
Cutting back a bit on water during winter reportedly will encourage a coffee plant to bloom in spring, provided it is old enough to do so.