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.

16 thoughts on “Growing Tamarind From Seeds

  1. I collected three tamarind seeds from Indonesian souvenir candy, and all of them sprouted! However, I live in Japan, and not only is the winter too cold for them, direct hot air from the heater is too hot and they lose their leaves, so I have covered that one with a plastic bag to protect it from changes in temperature, but I don’t know how it will fair long term. One is doing very well, in a room where people turn on the heater a lot, but it does not have to be directly under it, so it gets an increased ambient temperature and flourescent light almost all day every day of the week. It makes me think that it would be a good office plant, because the leaves are quite beautiful. We used to have a huge tree in our yard in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when I was a kid, and I loved that trees leaves and fruit, so I wanted to try to grow it here.
    Thank you for your article, it was very nice to read.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I’m not sure that covering the plant with plastic bags is a good idea since there is no air circulation. I want to make my tamarind plants into Bonsai too. I keep pruning them, to keep them short and well branched out.

      1. Well, it is mid-winter here. I decided to try keeping one uncovered, but it was too dry for it. The other two were also uncovered, but began to lose leaves dramatically, so I covered them.They are doing well now in the lab under the heaters and the lights, one in a plastic bag and one in a PET bottle. I think the air might just be too dry for them without it… Poor things. They really don’t seem to like cold winters or heaters with dry air…

  2. Hi, how are your plants doing now? I just started of with 6 seedlings. I live in Belgium so it’s also a more colder and darker climate. U can mail me about it if u want.


    1. They are happy to be outside. I pruned them so they won’t grow too tall. Plan to cook with their leaf buds. How are your seedlings? If you provide enough light and heat, they will be fine.

  3. I have three seeds (beautiful themselves) that I’m going to try and plant before deep Fall sets in here in Boston. I can give them a lot of window light but not consistent warmth until we turn our heater on. We’ll see how it goes. Your story was helpful to read- thanks!

    1. My apology for not replying. I haven’t done anything on the blog since the end of August, too busy and too exhausted from work. How’re your tamarinds? Did they germinate?

  4. I did not get around to plating them and now it is quite cold, even inside (60’s F) so I will probably not attempt unless I get advice that they will be okay at that temperature in a sunny window.

    1. If you have a heat mat and set it up to 75F, you can start them now. They will still need direct sunlight or a plant light to grow. I started mine in the house on a heat mat and under plant lights. They came up and are doing fine now. If you want to be on the safe side, you can start them when the temperature is warm enough outside, like in May. But you should start them inside by a sunny window because the inside temperature will not fluctuate much between day and night. Soaking the seeds for a couple hours first will help them germinate faster. Hope this helps.

  5. Thanks for your guidance. Really good experience. Didn’t know that they struggle in cold weather, especially younger trees, till I saw mine briefly stop growing and leaves drop off. Lucky they are back on track and seems promising, especially in this other part of the world, Mzuzu, Malawi.

    1. Hello! Update on my seedlings. Only one survived, but it is huge now. I need to cut it, but its graceful branches are so lovely… That being said, I know that if I don’t, I won’t be able to move it in and out of the apartment, and if I move I will have to chop it, so I really have to prune it. Each of the three main branches are about 5 feet long and when it loses one set of its compact leaves it gains a new baby branch. It is lovely. It has flowered, but the flowers just fell off without fruiting. Do you know if I need make and female plants? Also, do you know if you will have to bring them in during winter no matter how big they get? This one seems to be stronger in winter now, but I still don’t dare to put it outside.

      1. Hi, I prune all four of my trees every spring, once they are outside. I have limited space in the basement to house all my tropical plants so they will have to stay compact. But, people do make a tamarind tree into a beautiful Bonsai. You can eat the young leaves anyway. Or if your summer is long enough, you can try to propagate it via ‘air-layering’ the branches.
        I don’t know where you live but if your winter temperature goes down below freezing, (32F or 0C) you will have to bring it in. No matter how big it is, it will not survive. Even at 50F, most tropical plants are stunned.

  6. I did want to mention that I kind of figure it is like most houseplants — tropical but able to exist in this climate indoors. It is kind of exciting to think about how many tropical edible plants could be raised indoors for food as houseplants…

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