The cacao plant is a small evergreen tree growing in tropical areas of South and Central America, Asia and Africa. It is the source for all cocoa and chocolate products. The cacao tree only grows in tropical regions where temperatures stay above 68 degrees F. It can also grow in protected greenhouse areas. It can be propagated both by seeds and stem cuttings, but seeds have unpredictable fruiting and pollination problems. The cacao is not a hardy plant and needs special conditions to grow. With the correct knowledge and the right conditions, you can grow one of your own.
Buy a small cacao nursery tree or start one of your own from cuttings. Take a cutting from a stem with two to five leaves on it and one to two buds. Dip it in a rooting hormone and stick it in a moist, well-drained potting medium. Keep the cutting moist but not soaked, covering it with a plastic bag to increase humidity and placing it in a warm, shaded area. Increase light once the plant begins to grow and allow it to grow 2- to 3-feet tall, transplanting it to bigger pots as it gets bigger.
Choose an area with partial shade in which to plant the cacao tree. Dig a hole three times the diameter of the root ball and three times the height. Refill the hole with the soil until the plant can be placed in the hole with the top of the root ball at the top of the soil. Place the plant into the hole and refill with the rest of the soil. This will loosen the soil so the roots can grow more easily.
Tamp down the soil around the plant to stabilize it. Water immediately. Give it a good, slow soaking. Place a 3- to 6-inch layer of mulch around the tree, keeping it about 8 inches away from the trunk. This will retain moisture and keep down weeds.
Water the plant, according to the soil capacity. If you planted the tree in porous soil that does not retain water, such as sand, you will have to water the cacao every day or every other day in hot weather. With less porous soils, you may only have to water every three or four days. Decrease watering frequency in wetter and cooler periods.
Apply a complete fertilizer every two to three weeks in the growing season while the plant is young. Follow the directions on the package. As the plant grows larger, apply larger doses of fertilizer every other month in the growing season.
Prune the tree after it has grown 1- to 2-feet tall. Allow four main branches to develop; remove all others. Maintain the tree by pruning out any dead or broken branches. Keep it at a height of 6- to 8-feet tall.