Agriculture and Farming Technology Updates

Cardamom Cultivation Ultimate Guide: Techniques From Seed Sowing To Harvest

Essential tips and tricks for Indian cardamom growers


Originating in the lush Western Ghats of South India, Cardamom often hailed as the “Queen of Spices,” holds a distinguished status among the world’s spices. Its global production, hovering around 35,000 metric tons annually, is spearheaded by Guatemala, with significant contributions from countries like India, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador. This aromatic gem finds its way into diverse culinary concoctions, beverages, and medicinal formulations, traversing cultural boundaries with its versatile applications. 

The prime consumers of cardamom span Middle Eastern countries, India, Pakistan, European nations, the United States, and Japan. Notably, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and India alone account for over 60% of global consumption. Within India, the heart of cardamom cultivation resides in the Western Ghats, predominantly in Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, with Kerala leading the pack at 60% of production, followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at 30% and 10%, respectively.

Idukki district in Kerala emerges as a pivotal hub for cardamom cultivation. The cultivation of cardamom, however, comes with its set of challenges, owing to its sensitivity to climate and susceptibility to pests and diseases. Thriving primarily in high-altitude regions, the scope for expansion remains constrained.

Key Regions Producing Cardamom In India

Indian Production of Cardamom
Production(000 Tonnes)
Sr No.StateProductionShare(%)
4Arunachal Pradesh1.365.13
6West Bengal0.823.09
7Tamil Nadu0.351.32
 Page Total26.51 
Source: National Horticulture Board (NHB)
*2021-22 ( 1st Adv. Estimate)


Major Varieties Of Cardamom

Cardamom boasts two distinct varieties: Elettaria cardamomum Maton, variety Major, comprising indigenous Sri Lankan types, and Elettaria cardamomum Maton, variety Minor, encompassing cultivars such as Mysore, Malabar, and “Vazhukka.” These varieties exhibit variances in growth patterns, panicle characteristics, and morphological attributes, influencing their cultivation tracts.

The classification of cultivars into Malabar, Mysore, and Vazhukka delineates their adaptability, panicle nature, and capsule morphology. Malabar, characterized by a prostate panicle, thrives predominantly in Karnataka, while Mysore, marked by erect panicles, flourishes in Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, Vazhukka, a natural hybrid boasting a semi-erect panicle, reigns as the preferred cultivar in Kerala.

Optimal Conditions For Cardamom Cultivation

Successful cardamom cultivation hinges upon specific soil and climatic requisites. Flourishing in forest loamy soils with a pH range of 4.2 to 6.8, cardamom displays optimal growth in regions with high organic matter and nitrogen content, along with moderate levels of available phosphorus and potassium.

Ideally sown during September and thriving under rain-fed conditions, cardamom demands a well-distributed annual rainfall ranging from 1500 to 4000 mm. The cultivation sites, ideally situated at altitudes between 600 to 1200 meters above mean sea level, enjoy mean temperatures spanning 10°C to 35°C. Forest loam soils with an acidic pH of 5.5-6.5, coupled with adequate humus content and balanced nutrient levels, provide the perfect milieu for cardamom to flourish.

Seasonal Practices In Cardamom Cultivation

Planting cardamom thrives in the monsoon season, ideally from June to July when drizzles and cloudy weather prevail. Optimal planting involves placing one mature sucker alongside a young growing shoot in a prepared pit, ensuring shallow planting to the collar region. Pits are filled with soil post-planting, and the base is mulched for moisture retention. Stake support and mulching aid in the initial growth phase, especially for tissue culture seedlings, ensuring robust establishment in the main field.

Regional Considerations For Planting

Initially, major cultivation practices such as shade regulation, field preparation, planting, weed control, irrigation, forking, and trashing are implemented. For areas like Mysore and Vazhukka cultivars, recommended planting spacing ranges from 3×3 m to 2.4×2.4 m, while for Karnataka region, it is advised to maintain a spacing of 1.8 x 1.8 m or 1.2×1.8 m. Mulching the plant base with dried leaves is essential for soil erosion protection and moisture conservation. Planting is ideally done diagonally to the slope to optimise growth conditions. Additionally, ensuring irrigation during summer months can lead to a significant increase in yield, potentially up to 50%.

Propagation by vegetative means through suckers is considered to be the most preferred method. Production of planting materials from seeds and through tissue culture are alternative methods of propagation. Seedling-propagated plants may not be true to their parent.

Field Preparation and Spacing

  • Clonal Nursery Establishment: To establish a clonal nursery, select an open, well-drained site near a perennial water source. Prepare trenches measuring 45 cm in width and depth, filling them with a mixture of humus-rich topsoil, sand, and well-decomposed compost. Planting units, comprising a grown tiller with a portion of rhizome and a developing shoot, should be spaced at 1.8 m × 0.6 m. Provide overhead shade to protect against sunlight and desiccation. Irrigate fortnightly for sucker establishment, applying fertilisers and neem cake as recommended. Approximately 15-20 high-quality planting units can be produced within ten months.
  • Primary Nursery Establishment: For a primary nursery, prepare beds of 6 × 1 × 0.2 m, spread humus-rich forest soil, and collect fully ripened capsules for seed extraction. Seeds undergo acid scarification to enhance germination, followed by sowing in rows spaced 10 cm apart. Maintain moisture for germination, with sprouting observed in 20-25 days. Transplant seedlings at the 3-4 leaf stage to the secondary nursery.
  • Secondary Nursery Establishment: In the secondary nursery, seedlings are either bed or polybag raised. In the bed nursery, apply fertilisers in three splits, starting 30 days after transplanting, with earthing up and weeding done regularly. For polybag nursery, use 20 × 20 cm bags filled with potting mixture, transplanting one seedling per bag. Polybag-raised seedlings exhibit uniform growth, reducing the nursery period by 5-6 months. 
  • Polybag Nursery Establishment: Seedlings raised in polybags offer a convenient alternative in nursery establishment. Polythene bags of size 20 × 20 cm and 100 gauge thickness are filled with a potting mixture consisting of forest topsoil, cow dung, and sand in a ratio of 3:1:1. Ensure good drainage by providing sufficient holes at the base of the polybags. Transplant seedlings at the 3-4 leaf stage into each bag, with one seedling per bag. Polybag-raised seedlings exhibit uniform growth, and the nursery period can be reduced by 5-6 months compared to traditional methods.

Watering And Irrigation Best Practices

Irrigation is crucial during the period from January to May. Plants should be irrigated every 10-15 days until the onset of the monsoon using convenient methods such as hose, sprinkler, mini-sprinkler, or drip irrigation. If drip irrigation is employed, it should be complemented with sprinkler irrigation once a month. On gently sloping terrain, creating rectangular silt pits (1.0 × 0.5 × 0.6 m) between four plants aids in soil and water conservation. For steeper slopes, constructing stone pitching walls at intervals of 10 to 20 m across the slope and setting up water collecting trenches along drainage channels strengthens soil and water conservation efforts.

Nutrient Management And Fertilization

When it comes to manuring, during the first year of planting under both rainfed and irrigated conditions, apply one-third of the recommended fertiliser dose. In the second year, increase it to one-half, and from the third year onwards, apply the full dose. Before applying fertiliser, remove the mulch from the plant basin and coil the panicles. Apply the fertiliser in a circular band, 15 cm wide, leaving a 30 cm distance from the plant basin, and mix it thoroughly with the top 5-7 cm of soil.

After application, mulch the basin. For productive plants, soil-cum-foliar application is effective. Spray a fertiliser solution onto the foliage, covering both sides of the leaves. Apply agricultural lime at a rate of 1 kg per plant per year for soils with pH below 5.0, in one or two splits during May and September. Organic manures such as cow dung or compost at 5 kg per plant may be applied in May or June along with rock phosphate and muriate of potash. Under irrigated conditions, manuring can be done in two splits, in May and September.

Additionally, applying neem cake, bone meal, or vermicompost at 1 kg per plant improves root proliferation and plant growth. Foliar spraying of zinc (Zinc sulphate at 250 g per 100 liters of water) during April/May and September/October enhances the growth, yield, and quality of the produce. Zinc should be applied alone and not mixed with any insecticide or fungicide.

Split soil application of boron along with NPK fertilisers (Borax at 7.5 kg per hectare) is recommended. Foliar application of a micronutrient mixture developed specifically for cardamom by IISR at a dosage of 5 g/L is advised twice, in May-June and September-October, for higher yield.

Soil application NPK (kg/ha)Soil-cum-foliar applicationTime of application
75:75:150 (rainfed – two splits)NPK 37.5:37.5:75 kg/ha and Urea (2.5%). Single super phosphate (0.75%) Muriate of potash (1.0%)May/June/ September/ October/ December/ JanuarySeptember/ November/ January
125:125:250 (irrigated- three splits)


Post Cultivation 

  • Weeding: Due to cardamom’s surface-feeding nature, frequent weeding is necessary in the first year after planting. Subsequently, depending on weed growth intensity, 2-3 rounds of hand weeding at the plant base in May, September, and December/January, along with slash weeding in interspaces, are recommended. Mechanical weed cutters can aid in this process.
  • Mulching: Mulch the entire plantation, especially the plant bases, with a 5-10 cm thickness using fallen shade tree leaves, except during heavy monsoon periods (June-September). Remove mulch during May-June to facilitate honey bee movement after pre-monsoon showers. Forking the plant base up to 90 cm away and 9-12 cm deep during November/December enhances root penetration without causing significant root damage.
  • Trashing: Under rainfed conditions, trashing should occur once a year at the onset of the monsoon, while in high-density plantations with irrigation, it can be done 2-3 times. Avoid trashing from November onward due to summer. Pruning should be conducted in January and September, coinciding with peak thrips population.
  • Earthing up: From October to December, earthing up the plant base and root zone with topsoil is recommended. In valleys and areas with medium slopes and high rainfall, suitable drains (45 cm depth, 30 cm width) between cardamom rows are beneficial. Shade regulation before the rainy season (May) ensures adequate light during monsoon.
  • Pollination: Honey bees (Apis cerana indica) are the principal pollinators of cardamom. Maintaining four bee colonies per hectare during flowering season enhances pollination, leading to increased fruit set and capsule production.
  • Replanting: To sustain higher productivity, consider replanting every 8-10 years or when yields fall below economically viable levels.

Pests and Diseases In Cardamom Plants 

  1. Nursery Leaf Spot: Nursery leaf spot, caused by the fungus Phyllosticta elettariae, is a destructive disease in primary nurseries. It typically occurs from February to April with the arrival of summer showers. Symptoms include small round or oval spots initially dull white in colour, which later become necrotic. In advanced stages, the central portion withers, forming a shot hole. In secondary nurseries, another leaf spot caused by Cercospora zingiberi is observed, characterised by yellowish to reddish-brown rectangular patches parallel to the side veins.
  1. ‘Azhukal’ or Capsule Rot: ‘Azhukal’ (caused by Phytophthora nicotianae var. nicotianae and P. meadii) is a significant issue in cardamom cultivation, particularly during heavy and continuous rainfall, resulting in crop losses of up to 40%. Symptoms manifest after the onset of the Southwest monsoon as water-soaked lesions on tender leaves and capsules, which later develop into dead areas surrounded by a yellow halo.
  2. Rhizome Rot: Rhizome rot, also known as clump rot, is caused by soil-borne pathogenic fungi including Pythium vexans, Rhizoctonia solani, and Fusarium spp. Symptoms include yellowing of foliage, drooping of leaves, and brittleness in the collar region, which breaks off easily. As the disease progresses, rot extends to the rhizomes and roots.

Cardamom plants are susceptible to various pests that can adversely affect their growth and yield. Among these pests, the hairy caterpillar poses a significant threat, which can be effectively managed by applying Phosalone 35 EC at a concentration of 1 ml/lit through spraying. Another common pest is the shoot and fruit borer, which can be controlled by deploying pheromone traps at a rate of 12 traps per hectare to attract and eliminate female moths.

Additionally, mites can infest cardamom plants, and their population can be suppressed by spraying Dicofol 18.5 EC at a concentration of 2 ml/lit. Regular monitoring and appropriate pest management practices are essential to safeguard cardamom plants from these damaging pests.

Harvesting & Processing Of Cardamom

Cardamom plants typically begin bearing fruit two or three years after planting suckers or seedlings, respectively. Capsules ripen within 120-135 days of formation. Harvesting spans from June-July to January-February in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and from August to December-January in Karnataka, occurring every 15-30 days.

Capsules are harvested when physiologically mature, indicated by dark green rind and black seeds. Harvesting ripe capsules is avoided to prevent loss of green colour and capsule splitting during curing. Immature capsules result in uneven, shrivelled, and discoloured produce during processing. Freshly harvested capsules are washed to remove soil and dirt, preserving quality. Prolonged storage after harvest deteriorates product quality.

Curing reduces moisture from 80% to 10-12% through indirect heating, influenced by capsule maturity and curing temperature, affecting colour and quality. Maintaining a temperature of 40-45°C throughout drying retains the green colour, gradually increasing to 50-60°C in the final two hours for easier removal of floral remnants during polishing. Exceeding temperature thresholds cause brownish streaks due to heat, leading to oil loss from seeds.

Cardamom is dried by adopting two methods:

  1. Natural (Sun drying)
  2. Flue curing
  • Natural (Sun Drying): Freshly harvested capsules are sun-dried for five to six days, depending on sunlight availability. This method does not retain the green colour of capsules and often causes splitting, especially during cloudy or rainy weather. Sun-dried capsules are generally not preferred for export and are mainly practised in certain regions of Karnataka.
  • Flue Curing: Flue curing is a preferred method for obtaining high-quality green cardamom. Traditional curing houses use a furnace for burning wood, flue pipes for hot air conveyance, and drying racks. A drying chamber measuring 4.5 m in length and breadth can accommodate a plantation producing 2 tonnes of fresh cardamom. Typically, 3-4 kg of firewood is consumed to dry 1 kg of fresh cardamom.  Capsules are evenly spread on trays inside the drying chamber, where hot air, generated by burning firewood, circulates through flue pipes. The room temperature is elevated to 45-55°C for 3-4 hours, causing capsules to release moisture. Ventilators and exhaust fans facilitate moisture removal. The temperature is then maintained at 45-55°C for 18-24 hours, followed by a final stage where the temperature is raised to 60-65°C for 1-2 hours to aid in debris removal and prevent capsule splitting and volatile oil loss. This process yields high-quality green cardamom in about 24-30 hours. Modern cardamom dryers have been developed using alternative fuels such as kerosene, LPG, or diesel. These efficient systems retain high-quality produce and reduce curing time to 16-18 hours. Dried capsules are polished manually or with machines, and graded based on parameters like color, weight per volume, size, and percentage of defective capsules.

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