At some point or other, horticulturalist kavasseurs will often start looking for a kava plant for sale that they can raise on their own. Though a lot of people may not realize it, in addition to prepared kava products and dried roots, many kava vendors offer live kava plants for sale to customers. Interested gardeners can also buy root cuttings from a mature plant which they can use to grow their own kava seedling. Humans have grown and propagated kava for centuries using mostly the root stock; the flowering parts of the plant produce no kava seeds and are considered sterile. Although it takes root-grown kava about three to five years to mature enough so its roots can be harvested, many kavasseurs feel the end product is worth the trouble of growing and harvesting kava yourself. After all, kava root is never fresher than when it’s just been harvested from a living plant.
Let’s say you’ve found a kava plant for sale and had it shipped to your home. Now what? Like many tropical plants, kava grows best when it gets lots of sun, lots of water, and a decent amount of humidity. An ideal temperature range for kava is between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit: if you live in a subtropical region or state, such as Florida, South Texas or Hawaii, you can grow kava outside virtually year-round. You can also grow kava outside in more northern climes, but only during the summer; as a rough guide, take your kava plant inside or move it to a greenhouse when the temperature drops to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or below for three consecutive nights.
To simulate the moist conditions of its native tropical habitat, you should water your kava plant regularly. Kava growers recommend you pot your plant in loose soil—a ratio of about 50% soil and 50% perlite is best— to facilitate water drainage and prevent root rot from over-watering (or from heavy rain if you’ve planted it outside). Since kava plants like moderate humidity, be sure to mist your kava’s leaves with a spray bottle if you’re keeping the plant in a non-humid environment such as indoors. Be sure not to leave your kava plant near an air-conditioning vent, as the circulating air will dry out the plant and make it harder for it to thrive and grow. Finally, although kava plants like sun, they grow best in partial shade: keeping your plant near a window indoors may provide the best light conditions for its optimal growth.
Kava also rapidly depletes nutrients in its soil and thus requires a rich fertilizer. Luckily, beyond that kava isn’t too picky about its fertilizers: although you can use a natural humus or animal fertilizer for the all-natural route, kava plants will grow equally well when fed with a commercial NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) fertilizer such as Miracle Gro, ideally with an elements ratio of 14-14-14. Just be sure to go with the manufacturer’s lowest recommended dose when your plant is young, to avoid burning its roots; as the kava plant matures, you can increase its dose of fertilizer. Finally, don’t forget to take acidity into account: kava plants thrive in slightly acidic soil with a pH of between 5.5 to 6.5, which mimics conditions present in jungle soil. Most commercial fertilizers tend to work well both for creating this level of acidity and keeping your kava plant well-nourished. Replenish your plant’s fertilizer about once a month.
Though kava kava makes a nice ornamental plant due to its lush growth and heart-shaped leaves, you probably want to buy kava plant cuttings or rootstock mainly to harvest the roots to make a brew. So how do you know when your kava plant is mature enough to be used? Most guidelines for kava maturity recommend waiting at least three years for your kava plant to mature before harvesting its roots, to avoid killing the plant. Also, as kava plants age the percentage of active kavalactones in their roots increases, so you may want to wait even longer than the minimum to increase the potency of your harvest. The best commercial operations wait until their kava plants are four to five years old before harvesting the kava for sale. As your kava plant matures, it will also get big, which is why you’ll want to repot it several times to give it room to grow and allow its rootstock to expand. Remember, the more roots your kava plant puts out, the more you’ll be able to harvest and brew from it. Kava plants can also grow very tall (up to 15 feet) in the jungle. Unless you want it to take over your living room or greenhouse, we recommend you prune your kava plant periodically to keep it at a manageable size. Pruning won’t affect your plant’s root growth; just make sure to leave your plant with plenty of foliage for photosynthesis.
All right, so you’ve faithfully watered, fertilized, repotted and pruned your kava plant to a healthy maturity. How do you go about harvesting the fruits —or rather roots— of your labors? The good news is that harvesting kava root may be the easiest part of the entire process. Gently pull the mature plant from the soil and wash the dirt off the lower part of the root stock. You can cut off the lateral roots (roots that run along the soil’s surface) and some of the rhizome (underground part of the root) as well, as long as you some root left so your plant can continue to grow. The lateral roots are the most potent part of the kava plant, and they take about three years to regrow. Once you’ve replanted your kava, cut the harvested roots into small pieces and dry or freeze them unless you plan to use them immediately. The result will be an inordinately fresh supply of kava root that you can make into a delectable brew or tea whenever you wish.