You’re probably familiar with turmeric as a bright orange superfood. This spice is loaded with health benefits and keeps appearing in more and more forms as it keeps getting more and more popular.
In spite of the fact that it’s really a tropical plant, you can actually grow your own turmeric at home!
If you live in a warm zone, you’ll be able to grow it in the ground year round. If not, you still have some good options for growing it as an annual or in a container.
Here’s everything you need to know about growing your own turmeric plant at home- no matter where you live.
- All About the Super-Spice Turmeric
- Buying Turmeric Rhizomes
- Getting Ready to Grow Turmeric
- Growing a Turmeric Plant as a Perennial
- Growing Turmeric in Containers
- Growing Turmeric in the Ground as an Annual
- Pests and Problems
- How to Harvest a Turmeric Plant
- Enjoying Your Homegrown Turmeric
All About the Super-Spice Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a tropical plant closely related to another spicy herb: ginger. The brilliant orange powder you see in jars and as a key ingredient in curry comes from the roots- technically known as rhizomes- of the plant.
There have been a lot of research studies done on turmeric and its health benefits.
It contains a powerful plant compound, known as curcumin, that is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It’s been linked to things like reduced inflammation, better memory, lower blood pressure, and even cancer-fighting potential.
This is why turmeric has become such a popular supplement in the modern world, but it has actually been used for thousands of years for flavor and health.
Ayurvedic medicine, especially, has placed a high value on turmeric as a medicinal herb. It’s used to relieve arthritis pain, boost energy, improve digestion, and purify the blood. Many Asian cultures also use turmeric frequently as a paste for the skin and hair.
Turmeric has shot to popularity around the world. It can be used to flavor meals, taken in capsules, or used to make bright orange face masks that are great for your skin.
With all these benefits and uses, wouldn’t it be great to have your own turmeric plant growing in your backyard?
How Does a Turmeric Plant Grow?
In its native habitat, turmeric is a perennial plant. It grows from tuberous rhizomes, which are basically underground stems, that send up large leaves and eventually flowers.
Turmeric is native to India and Indonesia, which is one of the reasons it’s so frequently used in these countries.
The plants grow about 3 feet tall and have long, tropical-looking leaves that can get a couple feet in length. Flowers will appear several months after the plants start growing. They are typically white or pink-purple.
Turmeric needs a growing season of 8-10 months before its roots are ready to harvest. Plants can then be dug up and the rhizomes harvested.
Believe it or not, all this can be done in your home garden, although you’ll need to follow some special steps if you live in a less than tropical climate. The first step is to buy your own rhizomes to start your plants with.
Buying Turmeric Rhizomes
Turmeric plants are started from rhizomes- not tiny seeds like many other plants are. They are more similar to spring bulbs like daffodils than any other type of perennial.
You may have actually seen turmeric rhizomes being sold at the grocery store. They look similar to ginger root but have orangish skin and are the familiar neon orange color when you cut into them.
Fresh turmeric roots that you might see at the grocery store are what turmeric plants grow from. You can try using store bought rhizomes, or order higher quality ones from a reputable online supplier.
You can actually use store bought turmeric roots to grow your own plants, although you’ll need to be careful because they are sometimes treated with a growth retardant to keep them from sprouting on the shelves.
Your best option is to buy organic turmeric rhizomes because they are much less likely to be treated with any chemicals. Try a natural food store or Asian market if your local grocery store doesn’t have them.
A second option is to buy turmeric seed rhizomes online from a nursery. These rhizomes are sold specifically to be grown, so you’ll have a much better chance of successfully getting them to sprout.
The only downside to ordering online is that some companies have a minimum order amount you have to meet. They also may only be available for a short period of time each year- typically in November.
Once you successfully grow a turmeric plant or several, you can save your own rhizomes to replant each year.
If you buy turmeric rhizomes at the grocery store, the only kind available will be the standard orange variety. Some online nurseries only sell that type as well, but there’s actually a red and white variety available.
Turmeric plants actually look very ornamental, even though they are mainly grown so that the roots can be harvested. Even though you only see the orange variety in the store, there are actually several different kinds of turmeric that you can grow.
Keep in mind that the oranger turmeric is, the more curcumin it has. So if you want to grow it mainly for curcumin content, stick with an orange variety. However, the others have their own unique flavors and are still very good for you.
Here’s a look at the top four varieties:
- ‘Red Hawaiian’– In spite of the name, this is actually a standard orange variety of turmeric. It has a nice sweet taste and can be grown for baby or full-size roots.
- ‘BKK’– This variety has the highest curcumin content. It measures at 7-10% in dried material (compared to 5-6% for ‘Red Hawaiian’). Not as high-yielding as the Hawaiian variety but great for health uses. Roots are a deep orange.
- ‘Indira Yellow’– This is an Indian variety with bright yellow rhizomes. It has a strong turmeric flavor and is perfect for spice blends and cooking. Matures more quickly than the other varieties and has attractive pink flowers.
- ‘White Mango’– A very unique turmeric, this variety has whitish roots. Its name refers to the fact that it tastes similar to green mangoes. It’s great to cook with and can be used as a vegetable for cooking, pickling, or to make a salad.
Getting Ready to Grow Turmeric
There are a few planning and preparation steps you need to take before you start to grow turmeric.
To start with, you’ll need to plan your planting date carefully. When this is depends on what zone you live in.
Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 8-11 can grow turmeric as a perennial. If you’re in a borderline zone (like 7b), you may be able to get away with growing it as a perennial as well if you give plants some extra winter protection.
If you live in zones 8-11, plan to plant your turmeric rhizomes in early spring.
If you live in any zone below 8, you’ll need to start your turmeric plant indoors to give it the full 8-10 months of frost-free growing.
Before planting, you can actually cut any large turmeric roots into smaller sections. Just make sure that each section has several nubs because these are where the sprouts come out.
To do this, you need to calculate what would be 10 months from your first average frost date in the fall. So for example, if your first frost date in the fall is usually in mid-October, you’ll need to start your plants in mid to late December.
Preparing the Rhizomes
The other preparation step before actually planting your turmeric is getting the rhizomes ready. This can be done a few days to a week before you plan to plant them.
First, you’ll need to inspect the turmeric roots to make sure they all look healthy and none are rotting or shriveled. You can cut any unhealthy sections off with a sharp, sanitized knife.
Next, you can cut large turmeric “hands” into smaller pieces so that you can get more plants. (If they are already in pretty small pieces, just skip this step.)
If you look at a longer rhizome “finger,” you should notice that it has some little nubs or flatter bumps sticking out of it. These nubs or bumps are the part of the rhizome that will sprout. What you can do is cut larger pieces into smaller sections that each have 2-3 nubs on them.
Once you’ve cut them, leave the pieces somewhere clean and make sure they have good air circulation. Let them dry enough so that the spots where you cut the roots scab over.
Once this happens, they are ready to be planted!
Growing a Turmeric Plant as a Perennial
This section is for you if you live in zones 8 and up. If not, skip to the next sections on growing turmeric in containers or in the ground as an annual.
Turmeric certainly looks like a tropical plant with its beautiful pink or white flowers and large bright green leaves. You’ll have the easiest time growing it if you live in a climate similar to its native habitat.
Where to Plant
Turmeric grows best in full sun to partial shade. If you live somewhere with temperatures consistently 90°F or above for much of the summer, try to provide some afternoon shade for your plants.
Even though turmeric needs constant moisture when it’s growing, choose a spot that has good drainage to prevent the roots from rotting. Be sure to amend clay soil before trying to grow turmeric, or plant in raised beds for better drainage.
The turmeric plant is a fairly heavy feeder during the growing season. Mix in some good compost or well-rotted manure before planting to add nutrients to your soil.
Finally, make sure you’ve cleared the soil of any large rocks, debris, and weeds. You can do this while you’re adding amendments.
Planting Turmeric in the Ground
Once your planting site is ready, you can put your prepared turmeric rhizomes in the ground in early spring. Wait until the soil temperature is at least 55°F and daytime temperatures are around 70°F.
Plant each rhizome 3-4 inches deep, and space them about 6 inches apart. It’s best to dig holes for each one rather than trying to push them into the soil, which can cause them to break.
Place each rhizome so that the nubs are facing upwards. This is the part that will sprout, and it makes it easier for your plants if the sprouts are facing in the right direction.
Getting your soil ready before planting is an important step. Turmeric prefers loose and well-drained soil, so work in amendments like compost as needed.
Cover them all up with a layer of soil, and water the planting area well.
The biggest tip to follow while you’re waiting for your turmeric plant to sprout is to have patience. They can take a very long time to send up sprouts, and you might start to despair.
It’s not uncommon for turmeric planted in the spring to take a good 4-5 months to sprout. This will vary depending on how warm the temperatures are during these months, but don’t panic if it seems like nothing is happening!
A March planting can take until July or August to sprout and will be ready for a December harvest.
You do not need to water your rhizomes until they do sprout unless you go through a severe drought period. Overwatering them will cause the roots to rot, and they will never grow if that happens.
Once you finally do see sprouts, keep the soil consistently moist but never soggy. You can stop all supplemental water about 2 weeks before harvest time.
You can apply a balanced fertilizer once or twice after your plants start actively growing. Or feed them more regularly with a homemade liquid plant feed. Don’t over fertilize or you might burn your plants.
If you live in a dry region, it’s a good idea to mulch around your plants to help keep moisture in the soil. Leave a few inch gap between the mulch and the stems of your plants.
Growing Turmeric in Containers
If you aren’t able to grow turmeric as a perennial, you still have the option of starting it indoors in containers that you can take outside when the weather warms up.
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Get Started Early + Container Tips
Remember that you’ll most likely need to get your turmeric started during the winter so that it will have time to mature before the first frost comes through in the fall.
Choose containers that are on the larger side, since you want the roots of your plants to have lots of room to grow. Pots should be at least 10-12 inches deep. Wider is better so that there’s plenty of space for the roots to mature.
Also, make sure that your containers have drainage holes in the bottom. If they don’t, drill some in yourself before adding soil. They are very necessary to prevent the rhizomes from rotting.
Use a good quality potting soil to fill your containers with, and mix it with about 20-30% compost. You can also mix in a slow-release fertilizer if your potting soil doesn’t already contain one, but keep it light.
Planting Your Containers
You can plant the turmeric rhizomes in the same way you would plant them in the ground.
Dig individual holes that are 3-4 inches deep. Place one rhizome in each hole with the nubs facing up. You can plant multiple rhizomes in one container as long as it’s wide enough to space them 4-6 inches apart.
Cover all the rhizomes up with soil and water the containers well enough to get them thoroughly moist.
Because they won’t be getting any rain from nature, you’ll need to keep the soil in the containers from drying out completely. However, water only as often as you need to to accomplish this, and don’t let the soil get soggy.
Keep your containers somewhere warm. Once again, it will take several months for the rhizomes to sprout, so have patience!
Using a good quality potting soil is key to growing turmeric in containers. It needs to drain well and have compost or a slow release fertilizer added to feed your plants as they grow.
If your turmeric sprouts before it’s time to take it outside, place your containers under bright grow lights or by a very sunny window. They can stay in the dark until they sprout.
You can take your containers outside after all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Try to wait until the air has warmed up to 60-70°F. Turmeric really won’t start growing until temperatures get to 70°F.
Make sure you gradually accustom your plants to outdoor weather before leaving them out there all the time.
You can do this by placing them in a sheltered spot during the day and bringing them back in at night. Gradually expose them to more sunlight, wind, etc. and longer times outside. Do this for 1-2 weeks before leaving them out for good.
Make sure you place your containers where they will get full sun. If leaves look like they are getting scalded, give them some afternoon shade.
Containers will need watered more frequently than plants in the ground because they dry out more quickly. Water so that the soil stays consistently moist.
The most important care task for you growing plants is to make sure they get enough water. Keep the soil consistently moist without overdoing it, and your plants will thrive.
If your potting soil had a slow release fertilizer, it will last for a while, but you may need to start fertilizing towards the end of summer. Using a liquid plant feed is best to avoid burning your plants.
Growing Turmeric in the Ground as an Annual
You have one final option for growing a turmeric plant if you live in a zone colder than zone 8.
If you really want to grow your plants in the ground, you can start them in containers indoors and transplant them outside once the soil temperature has reached at least 55-60°F.
You’ll need to be more careful with this method to gradually harden your plants off before planting them in the ground. To reduce transplant shock, you may want to wait until soil temperatures have warmed up even more before planting.
At the end of the season, you’ll simply dig all your plants up and harvest the rhizomes. You can save some rhizomes for planting again next year.
Pests and Problems
There’s some great news about growing turmeric: it’s practically pest- and disease-free!
The main problem you’re likely to run into is root rot due to standing water. You can avoid this by ensuring that your plants have good drainage.
Your turmeric plant will most likely not be bothered by deer or other critters because it has a strong taste. There may be a little nibbling on the leaves but nothing major.
The only other thing to keep in mind is not to grow turmeric in the same spot in your garden for several years in a row. This won’t be a problem if you’re using containers and new soil every year.
How to Harvest a Turmeric Plant
Once you’ve given your plants at least 8-10 months to grow, it’s time to harvest!
You’ll be able to tell when it’s harvest time because the leaves will start to turn yellow, then brown, and look dried out. Once this happens, you are free to dig up the roots. Make sure you do so before a frost comes through.
If you have been growing in containers, you can simply tip the whole container over and let the turmeric gently slide out onto a tarp. You can then sort through the dirt to find the roots and pull them out.
If your turmeric is in the ground, you’ll need to use a sturdy shovel to dig it out. Dig gently in a wide circle around your plants, trying not to stab any roots. Then, scoop them up from below with the shovel while pulling them out by the top with your free hand.
Brush or rinse the rhizomes to remove the dirt. Cut off the stalk and long roots with a pair of sanitized garden clippers. Leave the rhizomes somewhere warm and sheltered to air dry, making sure the skins are dry before you store them.
After harvesting your turmeric, you can use it however you like! You can make your own powder by dehydrating it and grinding or use the roots fresh for more flavor.
After they are dry, turmeric rhizomes will store the best if refrigerated or frozen.
You can use them right away to cook with, or place them in an airtight container in your fridge. Or freeze them whole in plastic bags or containers for longer storage.
If you want to plant some of your rhizomes for next year, select the ones that are largest and healthiest. Store them in a cool, dark location packed into a medium like peat moss or sawdust.
Since they have such a long growing season, it will only be a few months before you will be planting these stored rhizomes.
Enjoying Your Homegrown Turmeric
You’ll probably be surprised at how much more flavor is in homegrown turmeric! You can enjoy using the roots fresh by chopping or grating them into recipes. Or you can dry them and grind them into powder.