How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Sesame

Sesame is a fun plant to grow for its tasty seeds.

close up of sesame plant

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Sesame plants have been grown for thousands of years for their nutty flavor and nutritious oil. Native to Asia and Africa, sesame is thought to be one of the first crops domesticated by humans, providing people in desert regions of the Old World with a drought tolerant food oil source that requires very little water and care. Sesame grows well during the summer months in most climates, provided it has ample time to grow, flower, and produce seeds–at least 90 days for quick-growing cultivars. Sesame is very drought tolerant once established and it will especially thrive in areas with long, hot, and dry summers. 

Although widespread in its use as a food additive, sesame can cause reactions in some individuals and some studies have shown potential connections to those with peanut, almond, and hazelnut allergies.  

Sesame Overview

Genus Name Sesamum indicum
Common Name Sesame
Plant Type Annual
Light Sun
Height 2 to 4 Feet
Width 2 to 3 Feet
Flower Color Pink, Purple, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Special Features Attracts Birds
Zones 10, 11
Propagation Seed
Problem Solvers Drought Tolerant

Where to Plant Sesame

Sesame is an adaptable plant, but prefers growing in areas with full sun (8+ hours per day) and good drainage. In regions with high humidity and rainfall, planting sesame in raised beds can help keep roots from sitting in too much water. In cooler regions, planting on the south side of a fence, building, or other structure can be helpful to increase ambient temperature around plants.

How and When to Plant Sesame

In warmer climates with long summers, sesame can be sown outdoors after soil temperatures have reached about 70°F. In most areas, however, it can be beneficial to sow seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks prior to planting outdoors to get a head start on the growing season. Then, transplant your seedlings into the garden after hardening them off. Sesame is an annual plant, so will need to be replanted each year.

Care Tips for Sesame


Sesame plants require full sun. Avoid planting near trees or other objects that block sunlight.

Soil and Water

Sesame requires warm, well-draining soils for best growth. Soils too high in humus (organic matter) may lead to rot. Water sparingly and avoid using drip irrigation that keeps soil constantly moist. Instead, water thoroughly when necessary, but allow the soil to dry between watering. Avoid placing sesame near plants that require regular watering.

Temperature and Humidity

High temperatures and low humidity are key to growing healthy sesame crops. In areas with higher rainfall and ambient moisture, give plants plenty of airflow. In northern climates, starting seedlings indoors may be necessary to extend the growing season long enough for plants to flower and set seed.


While some sources state that high nitrogen fertilizer is necessary for healthy sesame plants, in truth most soils provide ample amounts of nutrients and will not require additional fertilizers. 

Pests and Problems

Sesame plants are prone to issues caused by excessive moisture and humidity. To avoid these potential problems, carefully select your planting location and keep the plants warm and dry enough during the growing season. 

How to Propagate and Harvest Sesame

Sesame seeds can be purchased from seed catalogs and online stores or harvested at the end of each growing season. To harvest, follow these simple instructions.

  1. As seed pods begin to form, look for wilting, browning leaves. At this point, you can reduce or even stop watering.
  2. As pods mature, they will begin to split. When this occurs, cut stems and hang them upside down in a bucket. Seed pods will continue to dry and seeds will fall into the bucket.
  3. After plants have thoroughly dried, thrash plants in the bucket to dislodge as many seeds as possible. Remove the remaining stems and collect seeds at the bottom of the bucket. 
  4. Label and store seeds in a cool, dry place.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sesame seeds poisonous?

    No, sesame seeds are not poisonous and do not contain intoxicants like poppy seeds. However, people with allergies should be cautious when trying sesame seeds for the first time. 

  • Can sesame seeds and oil be stored at room temperature?

    Unrefined sesame oil should be stored in a fridge or it could go rancid. Sesame seeds not intended for planting can be stored in the freezer until you're ready to use them.

  • Are sesame plants good for pollinators?

    Yes! Sesame flowers are an excellent source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and are especially attractive to bumblebees.

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