Coca Growing Guide


Erythroxylum novogranatense Plant


Coca seeds should be planted as soon as they fall from the bush. If they dry out, they will die right away. The only way to keep them for a maximum of about 4 weeks, is to keep them in moist (not wet) sphagnum in a cool place. Under no circumstances should they be kept dry, since even room humidity is too dry.

On coca plantations, the seeds are generally germinated by keeping them in a heap three or four inches deep and saturated with water until they germinate. The sprouts are picked apart very carefully and planted in the soil. However, based on my experience, it is not as effective as the zip-lock bag method. I have been using this method for 5 years with better results. By using the zip-lock bag method of germination, consistent moisture is assured, insect larva and slugs are kept away from germinating seeds.



Use sphagnum moss or coarse peat moss. Get it wet and squeeze out most of the water. Put a couple of handsfull of this damp peat moss into a clear plastic zip-lock bag and add 10 to 20 seeds. Hang these clear bags up in a window preferably where there is morning light and inspect daily to be certain that no mold is growing. If germinating outdoors, do not allow bags to remain in direct sunlight where heat inside the bags can reach more than 85 or 90 degrees F. If the sphagnum or peat moss is badly contaminated with mold or fungus, it is best to start over with fresh damp moss. The seeds can be dusted lightly with a powdered fungicide if the problem persists. This problem can be an indication that the sphagnum moss is too wet. It should be squeezed until hardly any water drips from it.

When the seeds begin to sprout, which might be anytime between 2-4 weeks, they are ready to be put into regular nursery flats or pots. Use styrofoam cups or small plastic pots, 5 cm diameter, with holes in the bottom. Pots should be raised so as not to saturate the medium. Coca, whether as a seedling or a mature plant, never likes to have wet feet. It is better to start them in small pots rather than flats, so there is less damage to the root system when they are transplanted. Forget the hot pad -- it is completely unnecessary.

Seeds should be planted no deeper than 1 cm below the surface of the soil - with the soil loosely packed around them. There is no special soil needed, other than an adequate supply of humus and sufficient sand/clay to stabilise the soil without loss of permeability. You can use common seeding mix (starter mix) available at your local garden store. A good example of seeding mix is one that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. This uniform mixture doesn't compact and also provides for the proper balance of air and moisture necessary for fast root development. Perlite and vermiculite have been used for years to amend professional potting medium made from peat moss. Essentially perlite and vermiculite are used in the horticultural industry because they both provide aeration and drainage, they can retain and hold substantial amounts of water and later release it as needed, they are sterile and free from diseases, and they are non-toxic, safe to use, and relatively inexpensive. Remember that coca plant will grow best in a medium having low pH (slightly acidic). The optimum soil pH for growing coca is between 4.7 to 6.0.

To insure maximum success with each seed, proper placement in the soil or propagating medium can be important. The sprout (the tail) would be underneath (downward) with the seed (the head) pointing slightly up, at about a 45 degrees angle. This will allow the newly formed sprout to raise toward the surface of the soil or quickly without having to bend and face the possibility of breaking itself. It will also give the sprout the shortest possible distance to travel to the surface of the soil, allowing the process of photosynthesis to begin as soon as possible.

At this early stage it is advised to keep some kind of plastic cover over the seedling container to keep out pests and to keep humidity in. A better idea is to place your germination pots in a terrarium with a coarse gravel layer on the bottom. Do not seal over and allow plenty of ventilation. If possible, place a Growlux fluorescent fixture, with two 40 W bulbs over the terrarium. When the second set of leaves appear it is no longer necessary to keep the containers covered. Keep the seedlings at a slightly warm temperatures: 20C - 30C (69F - 85F).

During the first six months of their life the little coca plants are very susceptable to rots and moulds, and any part or plant thus afflicted should be removed immediately. A common problem at this state is etiolation (too little light) which makes the plantlets weak and very susceptible to damping off, a fungus attack of the tender stems. Feeding at this time is recommended in order to grow the plants out of this vulnerable period as quickly as possible. They are heavy feeders and every three weeks or more often is not too often to fertilize. The all-purpose plant foods available at nurseries and garden centers will work fine. Just to name a few brand names: Schultz, Miracle-Gro, Peters, etc. Follow the label and do not be tempted to change the formula to make it stronger. A slightly weeker solution (more water) would be recommended.


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When plants are older it is important to give them iron in the form of iron chelate, available as a red powder sold as KEELATE on the West Coast of the USA. A yellow powder, not as good, is sold as SEQUESTRENE. This element should be added about every six months, but strictly according to instructions. Soil must be flushed three times after applying the dissolved iron compound to avoid burning roots. Most yellowed or bleached out leaves are caused by iron deficiency, but this also occurs when plants go deciduous. Periodically, the whole coca bush turns yellow and drops its leaves, every one. Most people freak out when this happens, but if it is otherwise a healthy, vigorous plant, then this is normal. After dropping, new flushes soon appear to renew the foliage. This is more likely to happen with E. coca than with E. novogranatense.



Warm, sunny exposure indoors. Full sun (through a window) will not hurt plantlets over 7.5 cm (3 inches) tall. But if plants are to be put outdoors in the summer, they should be at least 1 m (3 feet) tall. Put them in a shady place first, and gradually buildup the exposure of the plantlets to sunlight, at the rate of one hour the first day, two hours the second, and so forth until the plants are accustomed to the full daylight cycle in which they will be living.

The best type of lighting for the germinating and seeding stages, are the flourescent lighting fixtures, the 250W or the 400W. When using the 250's or 400's in the seeding stage, keep the lights far back from the seedlings until your confident they have ajusted to the lighting. If you use artificial light, I recommend using GRO-LUX STANDARD lamp for propagation and seedlings.

When the plant is ready for transplanting, gradually increase the amount of light by exposing your grown-up plant under direct sunlight, or if it's not available, I recommend using GRO-LUX WIDE SPECTRUM LAMP for general growing and blooming (available in 15W, 20W and 40W).

Coca plants can be grown entirely under growlights, or a combination of growlights and window light. Most apartments are not sunny enough for strong growth, so especially in winter, give the plants accessory light. Growlux Widespectrum Tubes seem to work well. I know someone who uses one Growlux and one regular Sylvania Lifeline tube in each fixture with a good result. Those lamps are suspended 15 cm (6 inches) to 30 cm (one foot) above larger plants. However, this is not the only possibility of lighting system that works well. You may want to know other grower's experiences on lighting.



Most city water, is unsuitable for coca. They are calciphobes and don't like heavy salts in the water. Best to use rainwater, melted snow, bottled spring water or distilled water if they are available. Plants should only be watered if the soil dries out. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, don't water.



It depends on the size of the plant and how fast it is growing. If you think your plant needs transplanting, look at the holes in the bottom of the pot to see if any roots are present. If so, then the roots have probably filled the pot and it is time. You can also carefully de-pot the plant by tapping upside down on a table edge. Repotting is probably unnecessary unless the roots have encircled the inner periphery of the pot. Again, the size of the pot should be increased gradually for best growth.


Avoid Sudden/Extreme Changes

Coca does not like extremes of any kind. 50° F is the lowest permissible temperature, 90° F being the highest. Sudden temperature changes are especially damaging. The most important thing in tending young plants is to keep the temperature even and constant, day and night, around 64° F. They can stand slightly higher or lower temperatures but they can't stand shifting temperatures. Likewise, sudden changes in air humidity or soil moisture. Erythroxylum novogranatense tolerates extremes, especially droughts, better than Erythroxylum coca, which is a much more delicate plant.

In handling the young plants, no matter how tall or short they are, always be careful not to touch the young plants or to touch them as little as possible, particularly on the roots and on the tips of the stems. The tips of the stems are where the shoots come from that allow the plant to grow, and even when the plant is mature, never touch the end of the stems and never remove the leaves that cling precariously to the end of the stem.


Going Deciduous

Don't freak out when the plants go deciduous, usually about a year or a year and a half from sprouting. They drop almost all their leaves except the ones at the tip of the stems, turn yellow and mottled, and you think they're dying. They're not -- in fact, they're growing! Within a few days, little spike-shaped green sprouts will appear, and tiny, usually white, flowers. After a few years, the flowers will start producing little seedpods, roundish oval shaped green pods that the flower may still cling to. These then dry and turn slowly red on the plant, reaching a bright red like a cherry-colored coffee fruit, which contains the albumin and nourishment for the tiny seed in the center. Usually the shrubs will go through the leaf-fall several times, about once every 2 or 3 months, before the seedpods appear. Don't expect seeds until the plant is 3 to 5 years old.

Once the plants get to be above a foot, they are pretty well established. After that first scary leaf-dropping, you will learn to recognize that process when it happens as described in Note 3 above. There is a different phenomenon that looks somewhat similar that happens to plants if they go through a sudden temperature change, especially if it gets cold suddenly or if they are exposed to cold fog and winds without much warm sunlight. In this case, the leaves very quickly become dry and crinkled and, turn deep brown and yellow-brown mottling, at first on their leaf tips and soon covering the whole leaf. This means your plant is about to die. The only thing to do is to lightly spray the leaves with pure (not tap) water and keep the plants at a constant warm temperature and talk to them and keep careful watch on them. Don't over-water, but keep the leaves themselves warm and moist. The plant has a 50% chance for recovery.


Organic Materials

The disadvantage of soilless potting mix is that unless they have a fertilizer source added, they do not contain any or have very low concentrations of the essential nutrients required for plant growth. To improve the nutrient level of your mixtures, you can add sufficient amount of organic materials such as compost, manure, humus but REMEMBER: A research has shown that using 100% organic materials in seedling growing causes toxicity due to decomposition and ammonification. For this reason, wait until you see several leaves before adding any organic materials to your potting mix, never use organic materials more than 1/3 of the volume of the whole potting mix, and use only organic materials which are fully mature and stable (i.e.finished, completely broke down materials).




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