Growing Tamarind From Seeds

Trial And Error

I love eating Sweet Tamarind and spicy tamarind candy so much so that I forgot it has a laxative property.  Tamarind juice is also used in many beverages and cooking.  You cannot make real Pad Thai or Massaman curry without tamarind juice.  Young leaves and flowers are also good in cooking.  The juice is also good as a non-toxic polisher for brass and silver.  Wood is also good used as a cutting board.  The plant can be trained as a beautiful Bonzai.  As much as I want to grow it as a tree because of the benefits it provides, I cannot grow it in our garden in this climate.  So, I settled for growing it in a pot like the other tropical plants I have – for the beauty of it.

When I mentioned to my friends and colleagues that I attempted to grow tamarind (Tamarindus indica) from seed.  They asked either …why? or questioned whether I know that tamarind is a very large tree.  Yes, I know tamarind is a long lived, large tree that can grow over 50 feet tall.  Why would I want to grow it then?  It’s because I want to know I can grow it from seed in a cold climate.  I love its beautiful leaves and it can be made it into a Bonsai.  If they grow well, I can eat their young leaves, flowers and fruit.  Fruit is less likely, actually, due to a very short high temperature season and resulting lack of sunlight in this climate, USDA Zone 5-6.

I kept seeds of Sweet Tamarind after having eaten the yummy flesh.  Yes, there is a type of tamarind fruit that turns sweet when ripened.  I put them in warm water and let them soaked over night before I put them in a growing medium.  I put the tray on top of a heat mat that was set to 75°F.   Looking back at my 2015 garden record, I put the seeds in on March 31 and they sprouted on April 11. I was surprised to see them germinate in two weeks.

Tamarind seedling sprout up within two weeks
Tamarind seedling sprouted within two weeks
A week old, new leaves started to unfurl
A week old, new leaves starting to unfurl

Once they grew around 3 inches tall and produced a pair of true leaves, I transferred them to larger pots.  They seemed to grow fast when they were very young but after a year the growing rate seems to slow down.  I’m not really sure if it’s normal for tamarind or it’s because they have to spend 6 months in a cool basement, under artificial sunlight.  Will they grow faster if they sit on a heat mat in winter?  I don’t know but I don’t have the space to put them on a heat mat as an experiment.

Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year

Out of eight seedlings that sprouted in 2015 only four survived the first year.  I think I may have watered them too much.  Tamarind does better in semi dryness.  In their natural habitat, they survive drought and do fine with less than fertile soil.

The survivors are now almost two years old and thriving in the basement at the moment.  They are around a foot tall but branching out with a lot of beautiful leaves.  I haven’t decided if I want to keep them at a Bonsai height or let them grow to four feet tall (the height that can easily be transported in and out of the basement).

Reside in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of moths they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again
Relaxing in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of months they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again.

I’ve learned that watering tamarind too much will kill it, so each one of them will stay slightly on the dry side.  I have not encountered any pests or diseases yet.  As far as I know they are fairly pest-free in their natural habitat.

I look forward to seeing them flower, maybe five to six years from now.  They may not flower at all, but like our Kaffir limes, the oldest of which is around 20 years old, thrive but never flower.  By then, any survivor should be something of real beauty.

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