A useful ingredient, ginger is commonly used in both Asian and Indian cuisine. Once mature the root is easily used either fresh, powdered or juiced into a smoothie. These knobbly rhizomes may not look the most attractive, but they are full of health benefits, including the ability to relieve digestive issues and boost the immune system. Additionally these plants produce pleasingly ornamental blooms and are surprisingly easy to grow.
A spicy, pungent rhizome, growing ginger is surprisingly easy.
Growing ginger is best done in warmer climates. These are tropical plants that won’t survive a frost. In cooler climates the roots can be grown undercover in a greenhouse or as a houseplant.
Full of flavor and with a range of health benefits, it is no wonder that growing ginger at home is becoming increasingly common. If you want to add a kick to your herb garden, this is the ideal choice. This is your complete guide to growing ginger.
How to Choose your Plant
Selecting a ginger plant is simplicity itself. Just pick up a healthy looking root from your grocery store. Organic rhizomes are best.
If you want a wider range of choice, you can also find suitable rhizomes in garden stores and nurseries. Zingiber Officinal is the most commonly grown variety.
Culinary varieties, while not primarily grown for their ornamental interest, produce insignificant green flowers. If you are growing for ornamental interest and not for culinary purposes, there are a number of varieties to choose from. Hedychium, or ginger lily, and Curcuma are two of the most attractive ornamental varieties. However, many of the ornamental varieties are not edible and can only be used for decoration.
Zingiber officinale, or common ginger, is hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 12. This variety requires 8 to 10 months of active growth to mature. Some varieties are hardy in zones down to 7.
Ornamental varieties are attractive but may not be edible.
Selecting a Healthy Rhizome
Select a rhizome which is plump and has a good number of small eyes. Eyes or buds are small, rounded points which form on the rhizome. Ideally the eyes should be beginning to turn green. The root should be about 5 inches long and have a few fingers.
If you want to grow more than one plant you can divide the rhizome into pieces. Use a sharp, sterilized knife to cut the rhizome into pieces that are rough 1 to 1.5 inches wide.
A whetstone is a good investment if you need to sharpen your garden tools. Each section should have at least one bud or eye.
After dividing the rhizome allow the pieces to dry in a safe position for a few days. During this drying period a callus forms over the cut surface area. This is a sign that the rhizome is healing. Allowing calluses to form before planting helps to prevent infections. Once the callus has formed you can plant your rhizome.
Large roots with lots of fingers can be divided and grown on as separate plants.
Where to Plant
In USDA Zones 7 or higher you can grow outside all year round. In zones 9 and lower you will need to protect the plants from winter temperatures. In cooler zones, don’t be surprised if the foliage dies back in winter. In zones 6 and lower growing ginger is best done in containers either as a year round houseplant or moved inside in the fall as temperatures begin to drop.
Ginger thrives in partial shade positions. Areas that enjoy the morning sun are perfect. Sites that enjoy around 5 hours of dappled light every day are also suitable. Your chosen position should offer some protection from the intense heat of the midday sun.
Whether you are planting in the ground or a raised bed try to select a position away from other plants with large root systems. Your chosen position should also offer protection from wind and excess moisture.
Allow the soil to warm up a little before you plant. The soil temperature must average between 71 and 77 ℉ before new growth begins.
The soil should be well draining and have a pH of between 6.1 and 6.5. A soil test kit is a great investment and enables you to accurately gauge the condition of your soil. If your soil is too heavy or poor try planting in a container.
Can I Grow in a Container?
Growing ginger is ideal for container gardens. It is particularly useful if you are growing in a cooler area.
The chosen pot should be clean, have drainage holes and be at least 12 inches deep. When selecting your container bear in mind that a decent sized, healthy rhizome can potentially develop into a 36 inch root. Your chosen container should be large enough to comfortably hold the mature root.
Preparing the Soil
Growing ginger requires a good quality well-draining soil. Work well-rotted compost into the soil before planting. Take this opportunity to break up large clumps of earth and remove any pebbles or stones. You should also weed the soil well before planting.
If you are planting in pots or raised beds, an even mix of potting soil and well-rotted compost is ideal. This enriches the soil, giving the root an immediate post-planting boost.
Adding some coconut fibre or sphagnum moss to the container or soil can also help to improve drainage and prevent root rot.
How to Plant
Wait until the last frost of the year has passed before planting in the spring.
Soaking the root in warm water overnight before planting helps to encourage germination. This is particularly useful if you are growing from a grocery store purchased rhizome. These are often treated with a growth retardant. A good soak helps to remove the retardant.
When you are ready to plant, make a hole in the soil roughly 2 to 4 inches deep. Plant the root with the eyes or buds facing upwards. Loosely cover the rhizome with fresh soil.
If you are planting more than one rhizome, space them 8 inches apart. For containers, each pot will hold no more than 3 pieces.
Within a few weeks of planting shoots should emerge.
Caring for Growing Plants
Once planted, growing ginger is surprisingly straightforward and low maintenance.
When to Water
Try to keep the soil evenly damp. This is best achieved by lightly watering the soil with a watering can straight after planting. Foliage should emerge within a few weeks. This may take slightly longer in containers or cooler climates so be patient.
Regularly check the soil. Lightly water when it appears to be drying out. Don’t allow the soil to completely dry out.
If you struggle to know exactly when to water your plants, why not invest in a soil moisture meter such as the Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter. These handy gadgets allow you to accurately and easily monitor the moisture content of your soil. This enables you to know exactly when to water your plants.
Avoid watering too frequently, soggy soil can cause the rhizome to rot.
Do my Growing Plants Require Fertilizer?
Growing ginger rarely requires fertilizer. This is particularly true if you have planted the rhizomes in a rich soil. Plants in poorer soils, containers or those that appear to be struggling can be given a dose of phosphorus rich fertilizer in the spring.
A slow release fertilizer can also be applied. Natural fertilizers and organic solutions such as a fish emulsion or seaweed extract can also be applied. Apply one dose every 6 to 8 weeks.
Cool Weather Care
Once the temperature begins to fall below 50 ℉ either bring the pots inside or cover the plants with a thick layer of mulch. This protects the rhizome. In warmer climates, if your garden only suffers from light frosts, an Agfabric Floating Row Cover can also be used to protect the rhizomes.
Protecting the Foliage
The foliage can grow up to 4 ft in height. This means that it is susceptible to wind damage. To protect the plants, plant in a sheltered position such as close to a fence or in the corner of a garden.
The tall foliage of these plants is prone to wind damage. Plant in a sheltered position.
Companion planting is useful for a number of reasons. When growing ginger, companion plants can prevent weeds from emerging, act as a natural mulch or be used to repel insects. When selecting companion plants try to choose plants that have the same growing needs and preferences as your ginger plant.
Ginger’s love of dappled light makes it ideal for planting under fruit and nut trees. Just make sure that the rhizome isn’t being disturbed by the larger plant’s root system.
Legumes make for good companions because they fix nitrogen in the soil. This helps to encourage healthy growth. Beans, peas and red clover are all great choices.
Other good companions include:
- Chili Peppers
- Kaffir Lime
Not only do all of these grow well with ginger but they are also commonly used alongside the spicy rhizome in many cuisines.
If you are growing ginger for its ornamental qualities, calla and canna both compliment its foliage. Other attractive combinations include palms, orchids, teak and hibiscus. These originate in Southern Asian tropics like ginger, meaning that they are natural companions.
Dividing Your Plants
If you are growing for culinary purposes you will not need to divide your rhizomes. Ornamental plants will require dividing every few years.
The most obvious sign that your plant requires dividing is rhizomes pushing through the soil surface.
To divide the plant, carefully dig it up. As you dig, aim to damage as little of the root system and rhizomes as possible. Use a clean, sharp knife to cut the rhizome into smaller sections. Check each section for signs of insect damage or rot. Damaged or diseased rhizomes should be discarded. The healthy rhizomes should each have several eyes or buds.
Store the rhizomes in a paper bag filled with peat moss until you are ready to plant. Divided rhizomes can be planted as described above.
How to Harvest
While these are attractive plants, ginger is usually grown for its usefulness. This means that it must be harvested. Unlike other plants, harvesting ginger requires the whole plant to be dug up.
Ginger takes about 10 months to fully mature. The longer it is allowed to sit in the ground, the stronger the taste. Usually your root is ready for harvest the first spring after planting. For a really strong flavor, allow the rhizome to sit in the ground until the summer. This also provides you with a larger harvest.
You can begin harvesting ginger when the foliage begins to yellow. In cool or damp USDA Zones, particularly those below 7, rhizomes are usually harvested in the fall. In warmer zones the roots can be harvested throughout the year.
When you are ready to harvest, cut the stems back and dig up the rhizome. If you want to continue growing ginger, cut away a section and allow it to remain in the soil. The remaining section should have some eyes or foliage.
Cut away or break off the foliage and wash the harvested root. It is now ready for use however you wish.
Common Pests and Diseases
A particularly nasty issue is bacterial wilt. This prevents afflicted plants from taking on moisture, causing them to wilt. Despite the death of the plant, upon lifting the rhizomes will appear healthy and water-soaked. Because bacterial wilt is such a quick developing disease, there is no easy cure. Rhizomes affected by bacterial wilt are best dug up and discarded.
Fusarium fungus is slower to develop than bacterial wilt. Like bacterial wilt it causes foliage to yellow and shoots to become stunted. While this particular issue is slower to manifest, like bacterial wilt by the time you notice fusarium fungal disease it is usually too late to save the plant.
Root-knot Nematode is a common problem for vegetable gardeners. In ginger plants it can cause rhizomes to become lumpy or cracked.
Why is the Foliage Turning Brown?
Brown foliage can have a number of different causes. Some varieties will become dormant if the soil is allowed to dry out too much. Foliage turning brown is an indication that the plant is becoming dormant.
If your plant is correctly watered, brown foliage may be a sign of overexposure to light. Allowing the plant to sit in an overly light position can cause foliage to brown or become sunburnt. Try moving the plant to a slightly darker position, or one filled with dappled light. Wherever you position the plant try to protect it from the intense rays of the midday sun.
Browning foliage could also be an indication that the plant requires fertilizer. This is particularly common in container growing plants.
Adopting good growing practices, such as watering correctly and spacing your plants out helps to keep them healthy. A simple method of crop rotation can also help your garden, not just your ginger plants to thrive. When planning your crop rotation system, bear in mind that while ginger isn’t solanaceous it shares similar pathogens with peppers, tomatoes and eggplants.
Spicy and easy to care for, ginger is a great addition to the edible garden.
By following the advice laid out in this guide, you will find that growing ginger is a pleasingly easy process. As long as you plant in rich soil, in a favorable position and water well the plants will thrive.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.