Eggnog, melon slices, and morning oatmeal are just a few things made better with nutmeg and you just might be able to grow your own.
If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 10–11 or have a greenhouse, you can grow nutmeg. If you can’t grow your own, it’s still a fascinating plant.
Nutmeg tree description
The nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) is native to Asia and the western Pacific. It is an evergreen that can grow 50 feet tall or more. Leaves are dark green and can be two to six inches long. They look similar to magnolia leaves. Pale yellow, bell-shaped flowers grow in loose clusters.
Nutmeg tree flowers
Similar to avocado trees, nutmeg trees change their gender. Instead of altering flower gender within a single day, nutmeg trees mostly begin as male. As they get older, they may turn female. You’ll probably need more than one tree to get a crop unless you can find a self-pollinating variety.
Male flowers tend to have one to ten flowers on short stems, while female flowers grow in groups of one to three on slightly longer stems. In some cases, female flowers do not have petals. Nocturnal beetles are responsible for most nutmeg flowers pollination.
Nutmeg fruits can be oval or pear-shaped. They are two inches long, smooth, and yellow. As the fruit ripens, it splits in half, exposing a shiny red coating called the aril that creates a web around the seed. The aril from nutmeg trees is what we call mace. I was surprised to learn that nutmeg fruit is also edible, though I have read that it tastes nothing like the nutmeg spice.
How to grow nutmeg
You can grow nutmeg from seed or start with a seedling. If you get an untreated nutmeg fruit for growing, place it in a paper bag and put it in the refrigerator for up to 45 days. Stratification of the seed in cold triggers hormonal changes that help the plant grow properly. Soak the seed in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Then plant the seed one inch deep in loose, nutrient-rich soil. Keep the soil warm and moist. You should have a nutmeg sprout in six to eight weeks.
Nutmeg can be grown in a large container (10 gallons is ideal). If you put nutmeg trees in the ground and have more than one, space them 30 to 40 feet apart.
Nutmeg trees prefer hot, wet weather, neutral soil, and good drainage. You’ll need to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Dry soil and nutmeg trees don’t mix. Two inches of water each week is a good standard for these trees. And mulching around your nutmeg tree (but not touching the bark) will help retain moisture and stabilize temperatures.
Top dressing around your nutmeg tree with composted manure will provide many important nutrients. You can also use a standard fertilizer or fish emulsion.
Nutmeg trees grow best in dappled shade with four to six hours of direct sunlight and 77–86°F temperatures.
Nutmeg tree problems
Once established, nutmeg trees have few problems. Holes in seeds indicate cocoa weevils are present. Anthracnose leaf spot and thread blight are the two most common diseases. You can use a Bordeaux mixture or fixed copper to prevent both.
Many people have used nutmeg and mace from the grocery store, dried, ground, and bottled. Like many other edibles, homegrown or simply freshly grated, nutmeg and mace add new layers of taste and fragrance to your baking.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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