Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Grow the Cocoa Plant

Cocoa plant varieties grow wild in the Amazon basin of South America. Of the 20 species of cocoa plants, the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) serves as the most widely grown and popular. Known for its use in creating chocolate for confectionery industries, the cocoa plant now grows in 58 countries and the crop covers more than 17 million acres. The plants require a hot, humid climate, as well as evenly distributed rainfall to thrive. In areas such as South Florida, the cocoa plants grow as unique garden specimens. Planting can take place year-round.

Select only healthy, nursery-grown trees that measure 2 to 3 feet tall. Avoid large trees in small pots as the cocoa plant and tree easily become root-bound. Root-bound trees are difficult to establish once planted and will not flourish.

Choose a planting location that offers partial shade. The cocoa plant thrives on the south side of most houses and buildings due to the extra heat the area produces. The cocoa plant can be placed beside fences or houses.

Select a site that offers well-drained soil. There should be no standing water and excessive rainfall should not pool up around the cocoa plant. The plant adores water but does not like its roots to become water-logged.

Dig a hole that is three to four times the diameter to the cocoa tree's root ball and three times as deep as the root ball. If the soil is sandy, often the case in south Florida, mix a large bag of garden soil into the sandy soil at a ratio of 50 percent garden soil to 50 percent native sandy soil.

Place the cocoa plant or tree into the hole. The soil level in the hole should be level or slightly above the soil level from the plant container. Tamp the soil down around the plant's root system. Water the cocoa thoroughly.

Apply 6 inches of mulch, such as bark chips or recycled plastic mulch, around the base of the cocoa plant. Keep the mulch 12 inches away from the base of the plant or tree.

Place stakes on either side of the tree or plant. Tie the tree or plant to the stakes using cotton cord. Staking offers additional support to the newly planted specimen in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane.

Fertilize every 14 to 21 days. Apply a 6-6-6 fertilizer at a rate of a 1/4 pound per plant. When the cocoa plant is 12 to 18 months old, apply 2 pounds of fertilizer every other month.

Prune the cocoa tree if the tree does not branch out after 1 to 2 feet of growth takes place. Cut back the top of the tree. Allow four branches to continue to grow, but remove the rest completely. As the tree or plant grows, keep the height under 8 feet. Remove branches and limbs to allow air to flow through the plant freely. Air flow prevents fungus from developing. Prune the tree at any time during the year.


Check the soil pH in the vicinity of the cocoa plants. If the pH is less than 7, apply manganese and zinc every other month. Iron sulfate should be applied every other month if the pH is low. Chelated iron with water should be applied if the pH is high. Maintain a 5-foot grass-free area around the cocoa plant or tree.

Garden Guides