Providing two spices from one seed -- nutmeg and mace -- the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) is an aromatic evergreen that grows in most tropical countries. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11, this spreading tree grows 30 to 40 feet tall and bears cream-colored flowers followed by yellow, fleshy fruit similar to apricots. Ripe fruit splits open, revealing glossy, purple brown seeds partially covered by scarlet skins, called arils.
Nutmeg and Mace
Separating nutmeg from its mace-producing aril improves germination rates. A spice used to flavor milk dishes, cookies, cakes, fruit pies, custards and punches, nutmeg is the purple-brown inner seed of the nutmeg tree fruit. Mace, which is an ingredient in savory dishes, ketchups and pickles, is made from the aril that covers the seed. Remove the aril before sowing nutmeg. Sterilize a small, sharp knife by wiping the blade with rubbing alcohol, and cut the aril at its base it where it joins the nut. Peel it off, taking care not to damage the nut, and discard it or place it in a dry, sunny area and for 10 to 15 days until it turns brown and dry, ready for grinding into mace.
Freshness and Moisture
Only fresh, moist nutmeg seed germinates well. Nutmeg seeds dry out quickly, and when left uncovered and at room temperature, lose their ability to sprout as early as seven days after harvest. Sow fresh nutmeg seed immediately, or store seeds in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator and sow within 45 days. Soak nutmeg seeds for 24 hours in clean water before sowing to increase moisture levels and raise germination rates. Fill a 5-inch plant pot containing drainage holes with free-draining potting soil and sow the nutmeg 1 inch beneath the soil surface. Water the pot until water appears through the drainage holes, allow it to drain and stand it in an area where temperatures are 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply water regularly so the potting soil remains constantly moist but not sodden. Nutmeg seed takes one month or longer to sprout.
Young Tree Care
A young nutmeg tree thrives in a partial-shade, warm, humid environment. Place a newly germinated nutmeg tree in an indoor area that receives four to six hours of sunlight a day, such as a west-facing conservatory or windowsill. Mist the young tree twice a day with clean water from a fine mist sprayer, coating the foliage but stopping before water drips from the plant. Water a young nutmeg tree regularly so the soil remains moist and allow the pot to drain thoroughly before returning it to its drip tray. Turn the tree 180 degrees every day to prevent it from leaning toward the light.
Older Tree Care
Transplant a nutmeg tree into larger pots as it grows before planting outdoors. A nutmeg tree is ready for transplanting into a larger pot when its roots fill the base of its current pot. Select a pot 2 inches wider with drainage holes and spread potting soil over its base. Remove the tree from its pot and place it in the new container so the surface of the potting soil is 1 inch below the rim of the pot. Fill in the gaps with potting soil, water the tree well and allow it to drain. Transplant the nutmeg tree into pots 2 inches wider each time it fills its current pot, and when its roots fill a 5-gallon pot, plant it outdoors in late spring within its hardiness zones, in a partial-shade site in well-drained soil rich in organic matter, or grow it outdoors in a container. If planting multiple nutmeg trees into the landscape, allow approximately 30 to 40 feet between trees.