Theobroma Cacao Care

birdsnbloomsMarch 24, 2010

I received a young, Theobroma 'Chocolate/Cacao plant,' today.

Obviously, it's a very sensitive plant..on its two day journey, two leaves dropped. I can tell keeping this plant alive is going to be a challenge.

Its main trunk stands about 7". It arrived bare-root.

It's fully rooted; roots are healthy and firm.

Does anyone grow Theobroma? Especially potted or as a house plant?

I'd appreciate help. Care tips: soil, sun, water, etc.

I Googled, but found very little info, mostly history and nurseries that sell plants.

Don't know if this info is significant but the seller stated, 'cocao produces pods of the yellow phenotype.

TIA, Toni

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flabotany(9 FL)

I have Cacao plants in my greenhouse, and have found them to be pretty easy to grow. I use a bark/peat/perlite soil mix and slow-release(osmocote type) fertilizer. They seem to like bright light, but not hot mid-day sun, I have 30% shade cloth over my greenhouse and that seems to work well down here, because the sun is pretty strong. I generally keep them moist, not soggy, the humidity here is almost never below 50%. Also remember that Cacao are very tropical, so never let them get below 40F.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 12:06PM
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Thanks Flabotany. You find it easy to grow

The problem is I'm in IL and the Theobroma shipped to me isn't in the best health. I'm not saying it has insects or disease..It's much smaller than I anticipated, and has two leaves. Stems and foliage are quite fragile.

Which Osmocote do you use? There's many different types. So, you don't add any instant ferts at all? In other words, ferts other than slow-release?

Flabotany..our winters are very dry. I use a humidifer, indoor fountain, daily misting, 'some' trops are kept on pebbles, and I try hosing/showering weekly.

Ironically, the two rooms that get the most sun 'when we get any' and humidity happen to be the chilliest. lol. Not 40F, but some nights in the upper 50's. Too cold?

Would you say Cacao goes dormant in winter? I know Fl winters are very different than Il, but I assume plants go into dormancy?? Right? Even if it's a few wks, a month.

You wouldn't happen to know pH?

Thanks for your help, Flabtany. You've given me a couple ideas that should help..Toni

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:42PM
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flabotany(9 FL)

Hi Toni,
I use a balanced slow-release (like 13-13-13) with all the minor elements, I also mix in a little organic fertilizer into my soil (granular), but thats about it. A humidifier should help, as will misting the leaves. In the tropics they are usually understory trees, and can take relatively low light conditions, they will of course grow slower, but not deep dark shade. Cacao does not go dormant, they want to grow all year, if it looks like its dormant-its dead!!
For temperature, I would try to keep it on the warm side [60-80 F], much lower and growth may cease altogether, but will resume with warmer temps. Good Luck

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:48PM
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ohiojay(z6 OH)

I wouldn't add any fertilizer just yet. I would enclose the plant in clear plastic to build up humidity. As flabotany stated, these are tropical plants and one of their requirements is high humidity. That is...unless you can enclose the plant in one of those little plastic greenhouses and hitting it with your humidifier. Keep it out of full sun. Soil mix should be acidic. Keep temps warm as possible. Once you get it past this critical stage, you will be much better off. But for folks in our climates and our artificial growing conditions, you'll always need to stay on your toes with this plant. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 3:45AM
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Tony I live in zone 4 and been growing a Theobroma Cacao tree for about 4 years. I started it from seed and its about 4' tall.
Mine is indoors all year. It get early morning sun and is growing in a 6" container using 100% coconut husk chips.
I feed mine using a sea weed extract the root system is very delicate.
In the winter I give it no special care. Although some of the outer edges of the leaves turn brown from lack of humidity it does fine.
I suggest getting a fresh pod and plant the seeds, the germination rate is almost 100% giving you 15- 25 seedlings to work with.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 8:42AM
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boson(Delray Beach,Florida)


I have been growing Theobroma Cacao in a pot for 3-4 years now. I started with a seed. Last year I had the first flowers. For me it grows best if full shade. I tried to gradually expose it to a little morning sun - but the leaves burned right away - back in the shade. That's the only advice I can give because I haven't had any problem with my plant (except anthracnose a few months ago). But again, I also live in Florida.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 8:36PM
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nancyanne_2010(Z 8 / WA)

It likes bright but indirect light. I keep mine next to the stove and it gets humidity every time I heat water for coffee / tea. It also gets a shower a few times a week. It likes warmth and humidity - ideally 80 F / 80% humidity. It will not like direct sun and will burn. Mine goes outside when its warm (but not too windy - wind will break leaves / trunk) It also likes lots of water - but not standing in water. I also keep a few sticks with sponges I keep wet poked in its container and its on a pebble tray with water to keep the humidity up. I've had mine since last august and it's doubled in size and has had about 20 new leaves on it. A couple of leaves were half way in full sun for a few hours one day and they burned - I wouldn't dare put the entire plant in full sun. - oh, I live near seattle (Z 8)

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 10:18PM
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nancyanne_2010's it sounds like your Theobroma Cacao is doing GREAT. Mine is about 4' tall having a single stem. I thought about pinching the the leader bud in order to produce branching, but Im just not sure of doing this. Any advice.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 8:41PM
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nancyanne_2010(Z 8 / WA)

I was scared to pinch mine back - but I did (just barely) and it sent up new growth with a bunch of new leaves right after - although it's been going outside more and I fertilized it too. It's starting to branch. I read somewhere Theobroma cacao won't produce until after it branches - although I don't expect mine to produce for awhile yet (maybe next year ?) It seems very happy so far :)

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 12:36AM
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nancyanne_2010 The other day I decided to pinch the leader bud, I probably should of done it sooner when the tree was smaller. So far my 3'-4' tree is also doing very well.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 1:45PM
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aroideana(Tropical Australia)

Mine gets a little protection from a nearby large mango tree , but it cops a fair bit of full sun . Luckily I live in wet tropics with 4m annual rainfall . Have several pods ready to come off in just 2 years from planting out a small seedling tree. Approaching winter here , and it seems most fruit is ready in cooler months . Just drying some beans for an attempt at making some mexican style chocolate.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 8:26AM
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nancyanne_2010(Z 8 / WA)

I think with higher humidity they can take more sun. I read an article where some places they are experimenting with cocoa plantations in full sun (although the humidity is very high) Seattle may rain lots but when the sun is out and it's warm, the humidity is usually far less than the tropics (40% humidity is fairly common) and cocoa likes 80%

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 4:07PM
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About 6 months ago I potted up to a 6 inch container using 100% coconut husk chips, today I slipped it out of the container to have a look at the root system, to my surprise the container was just filled with nice looking roots.

So Im prepping up another batch of chips for a 10 inch container, I never disturb the root system when potting up, just slip it out and place it in the larger container.

Also I began using a humidity tray which seems to help a bit.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 5:42PM
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Since pinching mine back, it started growing three new branches. That was a good bit of advice.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 11:50AM
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