Branch of coffee shrub showing long green leaves with rippled edges and green immature fruits

Coffee plant with immature fruits. Courtesy of Natasha Atlas.

Coffee is a major horticultural crop that is grown in over 80 countries around the world. The two main species are arabica (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora). Both are in the Rubinaceae family and are related to common garden plants such as ixora, gardenia, and pentas.

Although coffee is typically grown in tropical regions with high elevation, it can also be grown in the southernmost parts of Florida. The small, attractive trees feature tiny fragrant flowers, shiny green foliage, and of course, the red fruits from which we process coffee beans. Coffee is also an emerging commercial crop in Florida, although it is still considered to be experimental.

If you’d like to grow this beautiful bush and even roast your own coffee beans, then read on.


Coffee trees can reach heights of up to 50 feet, but they are typically pruned to be four to six feet tall in the home landscape for practical reasons. The leaves are dark green and ovate with prominent veins and rippled margins. In the spring, the white, five-petaled flowers appear in clusters along the stem. The flowers of the arabica species are self-fertile, which means they don’t require cross-pollination to bear fruit. Conversely, robusta flowers do require cross-pollination. Arabica plants will grow true to type from seed, but robusta plants (and hybrids) often don’t.

The flowers lead to bright red drupes called “cherries.” Within the fruits are two seeds that look just like the whole coffee beans you buy at the store, except they are much paler and tend to have a green or yellow hue.

A cluster of small white flowers growing directly on the stem of the coffee plant

Planting and Care

Coffee will grow best in zones 10B through 11, although it can potentially be grown further north with the right microclimate. There are many cultivars and hybrids, but the plants you’ll find at nurseries will likely only be labeled as either “arabica” or “robusta.” Look for healthy trees that are in one- to three-gallon containers, with the tree being two to four feet tall. Large trees in small containers tend to be root-bound.

Coffee naturally grows as an understory plant, so it is typically planted in areas with light shade. Production will be higher if you grow it in a sunny location, but it will need more water and fertilizer to thrive. The ideal conditions are temperatures between 59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, high humidity, and protection from windy conditions. Coffee does not tolerate freezing temperatures.

For best results, choose a planting location with rich, well-drained soil. The soil's pH should be slightly acidic to neutral, although with good drainage, coffee can tolerate soils with a high pH. It should be the warmest part of the landscape that does not flood during summer rains. If you are planting near trees, buildings, or structures, make sure there is at least eight feet between them and the plant.

When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole that is three to four times the diameter and three times as deep as the plant’s container. Then, backfill the hole with some of the removed soil. There is no need to add any soil amendments such as topsoil or compost. You’ll want the soil in the container to be level with the surrounding soil. Place your tree in the hole, fill the gaps with soil, and lightly tamp it to remove air.

A coffee shrub

A coffee plant. Courtesy of Natasha Atlas.

If you live in an area with rockland soil, you may need to use special equipment to break through the rock. Apart from the special digging equipment, you can follow the instructions above. If you live in an area that experiences occasional flooding, you may want to plant on a mound. Make a mound of native soil that is two to three feet high and four to ten feet in diameter. Then, dig a hole in the mound that is three to four times the diameter and three times as deep as the container and continue following the above instructions.

Applying mulch to your coffee plants can help conserve moisture, reduce weed problems, and improve the soil composition. Apply a two- to six-inch layer of bark, wood chips, or other natural mulch. Preserve a mulch-free zone within eight to 12 inches of the trunk. Also, keep grass at least two feet away from the trunk since lawn equipment can damage coffee plants. Heavily applying irrigation or lawn fertilizers too close to coffee can cause root rot and reduce fruit quality and production.

Coffee plants require a specific irrigation, fertilization, and pruning schedule. The Ask IFAS publication Coffee Growing in the Florida Home Landscape has a handy table to help you keep track of maintenance throughout the year.

Pest problems you may encounter include stem borers, leaf miners, mealy-bugs, scales, and mites. Potential disease issues include several fungi, but growing coffee in a diverse landscape or food forest prevents this most of the time. Keep in mind that pest problems could become more prevalent if coffee becomes a larger scale crop in Florida.

If you see symptoms of pest or disease problems, contact the experts at your county Extension office for guidance.

Hand with palm up holding three red coffee cherries and three pale tan coffee beans

The "cherries" and beans of the coffee plant. Courtesy of Natasha Atlas.

Preparing the Beans

Once your coffee cherries have turned from green to red, they are ready to harvest! After picking them, rinse them in clean water and discard any berries that float. The ones that sink are good and those that float are not. Then, peel the cherries and remove the outer pulp. Soak the clean beans in water for 24 hours to allow them to ferment. Next, wash them again and spread them out on paper in the sun to dry. You’ll know the beans are done drying when you can remove the outer layer (called the hull) by rubbing.

The last step is to roast your beans. There are many ways to do this, from using your stovetop, to baking in your oven, to investing in a coffee roasting machine. Contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office for roasting advice.

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