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Coffee Tree (Coffea arabica) | Care Difficulty – Moderate

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Coffee trees have willowy stems, waxy leaves, and when they receive the ideal amount of sunlight, they can grow up to 15 feet indoors. However, the word ideal is key here, as this is pretty hard to achieve. If growing conditions are not spot on, you can expect an average growth of 3-6 feet, considering the average lighting conditions in our homes.

Are you a coffee connoisseur? If so, you will be tickled to learn that these plants are the very same plants your favorite coffee beans are harvested from in countries like Ethiopia, Mexico, Colombia, and all along the coffee belt. Yet again (hangs head), in our homes this won’t happen. But a girl can dream, can’t she?!

They require so much sun, humidity, and constant warmth, conditions nearly impossible to replicate at home. When mature, at about 3-5 years old, they may produce little white, slightly sweet-smelling flowers, but even that is rare. These flowers are followed by green fruits which change to red then to almost black as they ripen, a process that takes several months. Inside each ripened fruit are two seeds (or beans) that when properly roasted can be ground and made into coffee.

As with most plants, we lean on them for their beauty and the life that they bring to our home. The coffee tree is very beautiful, lush, and can be quite the communicative and forgiving houseplant, telling you exactly when it needs to be watered, through the drooping and dull leaves.  So even if your plant never flowers or produces coffee berries…that’s okay, because it’s a great companion to hang out with while you enjoy your cup of coffee!

Light Requirements

I have come to learn that coffee plants thrive in abundant, indirect light.  The key is to avoid harsh, direct sun, as this can burn the leaves. If the only space you have with enough light has rays of light beaming into the room, I advise a sheer curtain in that window to filter direct light. I have my coffee tree about five feet away from a north-facing window and so far, so good.

Water Requirements

Make sure that your coffee plant is potted in a pot that drains water. It’s important to avoid wet, soggy soil as this can lead to root rot. During the summer months, keep the soil slightly moist at all times. During less-sunny months, allow the soil to dry 1-2 inches down at most, and water very deeply each time. When winter rolls around, it will require less water.

Never let the soil dry out fully. The best method for knowing when to water your coffee tree is to watch the leaves. When they look droopy and less shiny, feel the soil to be certain, but the plant is likely in need of a good watering! This method works year-round.

To test the soil you can use your finger, a moisture meter, or you can place a popsicle stick or skewer into the soil and pull it out. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water. If it comes out wet with soil stuck to it, wait. Don’t lock into a set watering schedule. The amount of water a plant needs changes when the post size increases, plus different seasons bring in heat and humidity, which ramp up the need for more water.

Temperature and Humidification

If you want to really give your coffee plant a stable home, I would recommend adding additional humidification.  The simplest, most effective way to increase humidity is to place a humidifier nearby. You can also group it with other houseplants, which naturally increases humidity. I do both.

I suggest never letting the temperature get below 60 degrees (F) in the winter and never below 65 degrees (F) in the summer. Keep it away from poorly insulated windows and away from doors where drafts can reach it.

Fertilizer (Plant Food)

As with every houseplant, always err on the side of too little fertilizer as opposed to too much! If you add too much, it can burn the roots and kill them. I recommend using a liquid concentrate, all-purpose houseplant fertilizer at half strength every time you water in the summer, stopping altogether in the winter if you live in a four-season climate. For some of you, the growing season can be year-round.

Additional Care

  • Remove any dead, discolored, damaged, or diseased leaves and stems as they occur, with clean, sharp scissors.
  • Clean the leaves often enough to keep them free of dust. I cut a paper towel into quarter-sized pieces, douse with my Neem oil solution, and wipe each leaf. It’s a great form of active meditation! Use a new piece of paper towel when the one you are using gets dirty.
  • Coffee plants prefer high humidity. Dry air encourages spider mites to attack the plant.

Plant Characteristics to Watch For

Diagnosing what is going wrong with your plant is going to take a little detective work, but even more, it requires patience! First of all, don’t panic and don’t throw a plant out prematurely.

Take a few deep breaths and work down the list of possible issues. Below, I am going to share some typical symptoms that can arise. When I start to spot troubling signs on a plant, I take the plant into a room with good lighting, pull out my magnifiers, and begin by thoroughly inspecting the plant.

Green leaves are dropping off.

  • This condition occurs when plants are not receiving enough light.
  • Solution: Move to a brighter location, but not in direct sunlight.

The leaves are turning yellow.

  • Watering is usually the culprit. Too little or too much water (though it is usually too much) can cause the leaves to turn yellow. If you see little brown spots in addition to the yellowing on the leaves or small, dark new leaves it is likely underwatering, or at the very least, uneven watering.
  • Solution: Feel the soil to be certain and make adjustments to the watering schedule.

My plant is dropping leaves.

  • Dropping lower, older leaves are normal. However, if your plant is dropping new leaves or dropping a lot very quickly, double-check your watering schedule and/or the temperature in which the plant is living.
  • Solution: First and foremost, check the soil for moisture. Dropping leaves can be a sign of not enough water, so check the soil to see how dry or wet it is… adjust the watering if need be. If that doesn’t seem like the issue, check the temperature of the space that it is living in. Is it near a cool or hot window, air drafts, fireplaces, etc?  Relocate if need be.

The leaves have brown crispy edges.

  • Brown crispy edges are telling you a few things… that the plant is overwatered, the soil isn’t draining properly, it needs more humidification, or it’s getting too much sun.
  • Solution: Is the soil constantly soggy? If so, allow the soil to dry out and then adjust the watering schedule (see requirements above).
  • Solution: Double-check that the pot has drainage holes. If it doesn’t, repot into a pot that allows the drainage of excess water. Don’t use a closed pot with rocks at the bottom.
  • Solution: If you feel that watering is appropriate and it is indeed in a drainage pot…try adding some humidification to the space in which it lives.
  • Solution: Brown, dead leaf edges can happen when the plant is placed into too much sun. Look for a spot with more dappled lighting. If the leaves are completely brown, cut them off.

The leaves have lost their glossy appearance.

  • This usually is an indication of too much direct sunlight.
  • Solution: Move to a shadier location… an east-facing window is good.

My plant looks leggy.

  • If your plant is getting leggy, it can be several things; it might be reaching for sunlight, it might be over- or underwatered.
  • Solution: Move the plant to a better lit area so it stops reaching for the light.
  • Solution: Check the soil. Is it being over- or underwatered? This may take a while to determine, but I have faith in you. Don’t stress.
  • Solution: Every spring, prune your coffee plant. Pruning helps to create a more lush, bush-like appearance, giving it an attractive shape. Use clean pruning shears to cut the stem at a 45° angle, 1/4-inch above a leaf axil (the place where a leaf attaches to the stem). Prune off top growth to keep this coffee bean plant small (if that’s your goal).

My plant is not growing.

  • If this is the case, we need to start ruling things out.  Make sure that it is getting adequate water, light, humidity, and fertilizer. If these all seem on point, let’s review the soil.
  • Solution: A rich, peat-based potting soil with excellent drainage is beneficial. Coffee plants can grow in soil that has a pH of 4 to 7. The ideal soil pH range is closer to 6 to 6.5.
  • Solution: Move the plant to a warmer location, as warmer temperatures may accelerate growth.

Common Bugs to Watch For

If you want to have healthy house plants, you MUST inspect them regularly. Every time I water a plant, I give it a quick look-over.  Bugs/insects feeding on your plants reduces the plant sap and redirect nutrients from leaves. Some chew on the leaves, leaving holes.  Also watch for wilting or yellowing, distorted, or speckled leaves. They can quickly get out of hand and spread to your other plants.

IF you see ONE bug, trust me, there are more. So, take action right away. Some are brave enough to show their “faces” by hanging out on stems in plain sight. Others tend to hide out in the darnedest of places, like the crotch of a plant or in a leaf that has yet to unfurl.

  • Mealybugs look like small balls of cotton. They can travel slowly, but they have a strong will and determination! Though it is slow-moving, if any plant is touching another, there is a chance the mealybug will hitch a ride on a new leaf and spread. They breed like rabbits of the insect world. Females can deposit around 600 eggs in loose cottony masses, often on the underside of leaves or along stems.
  • Scales are dark-colored bumps that are primarily immobile insects that stick themselves to stems and leaves. They are rather inconspicuous and don’t look like a typical insects. They can range in color but are most often brownish in appearance. They’re called “scales” primarily due to their scale-like appearance on a plant, due to waxy or armored coverings. They are often seen in clumps along a stem, sucking away at the plant’s juices with their spiky mouthpart.
  • Spider mites are more common on houseplants. They are not insects; they are related to spiders. These appear to be tiny black or red moving dots. Spider mites are nearly invisible to the naked eye. You often need a magnifying lens to spot them, or you may just notice a reddish film across the bottom of the leaves, some webbing, or even some leaf damage, which usually results in reddish-brown spots on the leaf.

Placement in the House: My coffee plant sits approximately 5 feet from a north-facing window, which gives it plenty of indirect light. I also run a humidifier in that area, since I have many plants there that love the extra pampering. 

Toxicity of Coffee Plants

All parts of the coffee plant, with the exception of the mature fruit (the coffee bean), are toxic to humans, cats, and dogs. Ingestion of these plants may cause vomiting or diarrhea.

11 thoughts on “Coffee Tree (Coffea arabica) | Care Difficulty – Moderate

  1. Janet Marshall says:

    I have one coffee plant from my mom. The top looks healthy enough, but it’s very tall and lanky. What should I do?

    • amie-sue says:

      Good morning Janet,

      To encourage a fuller appearance you can either prune or cut the plant back. Pruning is simply pinching off the new growth. Pinching back the plant will not only restrain the tree’s height but will encourage a bushier appearance. Or you can cut it back during the spring months to maintain a fuller, bushy appearance. Be sure to use clean, sharp pruning shears, cut the stem at a 45-degree angle, 1/4 inch above where the leaf attaches to the stem (axil).

      I hope this helps. blessings, amie sue

  2. Maria says:

    I have over 300 house plants, calatheas, Chinese evergreens, alocasias, philodendrons ferns and basically every difficult plant available. 16 months ago I was gifted a small coffee plant in a 7cm pot. It’s still a small plant in a 7cm pot that has only managed to grow 3 tiny new leaves. Obviously, with a lot of need care plants I have the humidity, temp etc right (everything else is growing like crazy, my coconut palm has grown 4′ since January) what could be the issue.

    • amie-sue says:

      Hmm, that’s a great question Maria… but a tough one to answer. It shows that you have plant experience and are following all the criteria for plant growth. If you have checked off all the requirements for the coffee plant… then I would just continue to give it time. My smaller ones were slow growers. Sorry that I don’t have any concrete answers. blessings, amie sue

  3. Liz says:

    Thank you a great article and I look forward to my own very pathetic little coffee plant maybe one day looking like yours. However the one thing I would query is the idea of coffee leaves being toxic to humans? See “Kuti” ie coffee-leaf tea which is apparently very widely drunk in Ethiopia.

  4. I am 81 & have always loved plants. Indoor and out.
    I live in a 130 year old small house and it’s loaded with plants.
    I Sagan renovations myself after I bought it in 2002 and needed plants.
    The closest material store was a Home Depot with a large nursery department. As my only income was from social security Ihad to be careful about wanting to buy plants that were beyond my budget. So, going almost weekly, I watched the “discounted plant shelves” very close. You never knew what you could get back then. One time after season was over we’re 6 orchids that were wilted and dried up looking & were discounted from$24.95 to .50 cents. I believe that they thought they were dead.
    Another time 5 Christmas Cactus from $7.95 to .50 cents. I still have them & are huge. And have probably “bred” 100 pots of new plants from leaves that came off at times. This year I saved & counted all dried blooms from original plants and each had between 65-78. Amazing when in full bloom.
    Then, what made me start this is my Coffee Tree. Don’t remember original cost but got it for $1.00. Was 8” tall in tiny pot. Now it is 8 1/2 feet as I have never pruned it. It’s awesome but Will only fit in second bedroom that has a high enough ceiling. Last year it had 3 coffee beans. Pretty cool.
    My grandkids can barely get in that bunk room because of coffee tree but theblike it too.

    • amie-sue says:

      Good evening William,

      I LOVED LOVED reading through your life’s journey of caring for houseplants. I can totally imagine just how beautiful your charming home is! I hope your love and passion for plants rub off on your grandkids. :) Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. blessings, amie sue

  5. Lis Alberts says:

    My coffee houseplant is 2 years old. I have been caring for it following your advice and similar from others. Even though it’s now winter it continues growing new leaves green enough. But after the leaves mature some of them just turn yellow (not brown, not dropping). All I ever dream of is a bushy plant with their deep green and shiny leaves but it’s almost impossible. Now and then I would have to plug a yellow leaf. Should I try to just prune off those new leaves as soon as they emerge?

    • amie-sue says:

      Good day Lis,

      Ahhh the good ole’ coffee tree plant. I understand your frustrations and experience them as well. That is why I tagged it as a moderately difficult plant to grow. First off, pruning should be done during the spring months to maintain a fuller, bushy appearance. Pinch or prune with shears 1/4 inch above where the leaf attaches to the stem (axil). Double-check everything; watering schedule, light source, and fertilize during the growing season. Also, be sure that you are cleaning the leaves. You can do this leaf by leaf or you can put it in the shower and give it a good spray down. Dust will block photosynthesis and make the leaves appear dull.

      I wish you the best of luck! amie sue

  6. Shawn says:

    Great article. Two questions.
    My coffee plant seems healthy. Had a rough couple of months and a scale infestation that I think is taken care of. My coffee plant is a single stem not a series of stems of off shoots. Is that normal?
    Next is the leaves are only at the tips of the plant about ten per branch but the middle of the branch is empty? Any idea why?

    • amie-sue says:

      Hello Shawn,

      Indoor Coffee plants can be challenging and mysterious! Having only one stem can be normal, just depends on how it was first grown and potted at the nursery. You also talked about the middle of the branches don’t have any leaves on them. Did they die off? Fall off? Were they damaged by the scale and removed? You don’t have to answer those questions, I stated them more for thought. As long as the plant has recovered from those nasty scales (good job on that!) and it looks healthy, just keep taking care of it and see what happens.

      blessings, amie sue

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