Ginger is both a beautiful and a useful plant to have around the garden, but planting it in the ground is not always an option. With its tropical nature, ginger requires that a particular set of environmental factors be in place in order to grow into a healthy and robust plant.
Fortunately, ginger grows very well as a container plant.
This means that just about anyone in any climate can be successful at growing and harvesting their own ginger. Here are 15 tips to keep your ginger in tip-top condition for a great rhizome harvest this season!
First, Know the Basics
Ginger is a perennial herb that grows from underground rhizomes. These fleshy stems resemble roots, but they serve a dual purpose. They produce both the shoots and the roots of the ginger plant. The rhizome is the portion of the plant that we harvest to eat.
Many cultures incorporate this tasty rhizome into their cuisine, both for its earthy zest and its amazing health benefits. Ginger doesn’t only taste great, but it’s actually quite good for you as well!
Ginger has been used for centuries to improve digestion, ease feelings of nausea, improve immunity, and improve skin conditions, to mention a few benefits.
Surprisingly enough, ginger is also a lovely ornamental plant, with many species producing beautiful and fragrant flowers.
The rhizomes of the plant send down roots and sends up shoots. The roots help to anchor the plant in place and absorb nutrients, and the shoots absorb sunlight to provide the plant with the energy it needs to produce more healthy rhizomes.
Choose the Right Container
Selecting a container is a little trickier than you might expect. It serves to reason that in growing a plant to harvest the rhizomes, a deeper pot would allow more space for them to grow. However, rhizomes are not roots.
Where a carrot needs to grow deep because it is a root, ginger rhizomes grow horizontally. They need a pot that is wider rather than one that’s deeper.
In terms of depth, aim for 8”-12” deep. That is plenty of room for the rhizomes and roots to grow to the proper depth. Look for a container that is wider than it is deep, as this will allow your rhizomes to spread and reproduce more, increasing your harvest.
Fabric grow bags are great options, like the Root Pouch 65 Gallon Fabric Pot.
Select The Right Variety
The Zingiberaceae family of plants is made up of more than 1,300 species. Some of these species are not edible, and others are grown specifically for ornamental purposes. There are about 14 species commonly used in cooking.
If you are going for ornamental value, some of the more popular species are ‘Awapuhi (also called Shampoo ginger), Beehive ginger, Hidden ginger, Butterfly Lily ginger, Dancing Ladies ginger, and Torch ginger.
If you are looking for the tastiest types for culinary use, the most desirable species are Common ginger, Shell ginger, Butterfly ginger, and Cardamom ginger, which has a particularly unique flavor that my family loves sprinkled on vanilla ice cream.
It is perfectly reasonable to plant common ginger rhizomes purchased from the grocery store, and in fact, this is the most common type used in cuisine and one of the most flavorful. Select portions that are still plump and juicy. Rhizomes that are dry and beginning to shrivel are not likely to produce much.
Try to choose pieces of ginger that have already formed growing points. These look like small horns or pointed nubs on the rhizome, indicating that the rhizome is healthy and ready to grow.
Turmeric is another species of the Zingiberaceae family that can be found in grocery stores and has its own culinary uses. Similar to ginger, Turmeric can also be grown in containers if you follow the same steps.
Prep Your Rhizomes Properly
There are three schools of thought on preparing ginger for planting. One is to propagate in water before planting. You’ll learn a bit more about that later when we discuss propagation after harvesting.
The two methods for direct sowing into a container or the ground are to soak the rhizomes overnight to help stimulate growth or to allow the ends to heal over. Either method will work. Both methods have different pros and cons and will grow at different rates.
Soaking your rhizomes in warm water overnight before planting them has two potential benefits. Often, store-bought ginger is treated with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting in the store.
Soaking these in water will remove that coating and allow the plant to grow quicker. Soaking will stimulate growth regardless of treatment with a growth inhibitor so that it can be done with non-treated rhizomes to the same effect.
The other method is to allow the cuts to heal. By allowing the rhizomes to sit out exposed to the air for a couple of days, the cuts heal and harden a bit. This helps to protect them from root rot, which can be an issue since ginger is a water-loving plant.
Choose the Right Potting Mix
Ginger likes organically rich soil with a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5 is ideal). Because you want the rhizomes to grow as freely as possible, it’s best to avoid soil that compacts easily. The soil should be loose and well-draining.
Standard potting mix or raised bed soil should work well. Feel free to mix in some manure, worm castings, or compost to build a more nutritionally rich foundation and give your rhizomes a healthy start.
Place your Rhizomes Carefully
Unlike root crops, ginger does not need to be planted deeply. The most important factor is to make sure that the rhizome is planted with the points or eyes facing upward.
These are the places from which the rhizome will send up leaves, so planting them face up means less work for the plant. The sooner those leaves start taking in sunlight, the sooner your rhizomes will start to grow and reproduce.
You really don’t need more than an inch of soil on top of your rhizomes. Place the rhizomes on the soil with the eyes facing up and lightly add about an inch of potting soil on top so that they are just covered. Ginger likes water, so make sure to give it some water when you plant it to get it started right away.
Choose the Right Location
Ginger is a plant that prefers partial sun. The best lighting conditions are those where the plant will get plenty of sun in the morning but will not be exposed to harsh afternoon sun.
Naturally, the climate will play a role in placement, and in a cooler climate, it will need more sun. Dappled sun for the greater part of the day is the ideal exposure, but that isn’t always possible.
If you are planning to keep your potted ginger indoors, look for a spot that gets plenty of sun. Indoor plants can tolerate sunlight for most of the day. If you are growing outdoors, stick to part sun with shade in the afternoon.
After you’ve planted, if you notice the leaves looking wilted and it’s been watered properly, the afternoon sun could be the culprit.
Ginger likes moisture, but because it is rhizomatic, it can be prone to root rot if kept too wet. While your rhizomes are establishing roots, be careful about overwatering, as this can hold up spreading roots and ultimately lead to a quick death by fungus. Also, be sure your growing medium drains excess water freely, as an overly moisture-retentive soil can be as bad as overwatering.
When watering, you want to water it so the soil is moist all the way through but not oversaturated. If the leaves are turning brown and looking wilted, it probably needs more water. If you see yellow creeping up the stems, hold back and let your plant dry out a bit. This is an early indicator of root rot.
A good rule of thumb is to wait until just the surface of the soil is dry before watering again. Don’t let the soil dry out completely. This should look like watering one to two times per week, depending on other environmental factors like temperature and humidity.
Ginger also loves humidity. When I say loves it, I mean really loves it, like orchid-level humidity. It is happiest with a humidity level between 70-90%, much higher than most people are comfortable with indoors.
A humidifier or pebble tray are great ways to add humidity to the space around your ginger plants. A sunny bathroom is also a great spot for container-grown plants.
Keep it Toasty
Keep in mind that ginger is a tropical plant, and as such, it is not tolerant of cold weather. If the temperature dips below 50°, plants will suffer. This is where things get a little tricky, but if we are talking about growing a tropical plant outside of a tropical climate, it’s always a little bit complicated.
Because ginger likes warm weather and high humidity, it should, ideally, be kept outdoors in the summertime. As it is intolerant to temperatures lower than 50°, it should be kept indoors in the cooler months unless you live in zones 11-12 where temperatures seldom drop below that range.
Climate factors into this equation heavily. But there is a magic combination that will provide the best chance at success.
If you plant in the spring, keep young potted plants indoors until the temperature is consistently above that 50° mark, and keep them in a sunny spot.
When the weather warms, move the plant outdoors. Find a spot with filtered sunlight, or sun in the morning and afternoon shade. When the temperature drops again in the fall, bring plants back indoors again. It takes 8-10 months for plants to mature.
Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize
Ginger is a heavy feeder, so fertilizer is a key element in achieving a bountiful harvest. Here, a balanced formula of 1-3-1 NPK is usually plentiful — this does not boost the nitrogen too high and spur excess foliage growth. A lower nitrogen fertilizer will result in more rhizome development, which is the desired result.
Opting for an organic fertilizer (either granular or liquid) is likely your best choice here, as these typically do not cause fertilizer burn to the rhizomes. If using a diluted liquid organic fertilizer, apply it when the first shoots emerge above the soil, and fertilize again every 2-3 weeks during its growth period. If using an organic granular fertilizer, work some into the soil to begin and then follow the timing on the package, as these only release nutrients when they decompose.
Fully-composted cow and chicken manure fertilizers are also great, as they release nutrients slowly over a longer period. These don’t need to be applied as frequently and can be worked into the initial soil blend before planting if desired.
Look Out For Insects
There are a number of insects that like to snack on ginger plants, given their fragrant flowers and sweet sap. Nematodes can be a particular issue if you are growing edible varieties, as these pests go after the rhizomes.
Several types of worms, mealybugs, scales, aphids, thrips, and spider mites are other pests that can turn up on Ginger plants.
Some of these larger pests are best dealt with by manually removing them. For smaller insect infestations, neem oil is a safe and effective treatment. For more severe infestations, look to insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils.
If your plants are outdoors and in bloom, these insecticides should be avoided, as they are toxic to pollinating and beneficial insects.
Keeping an eye on your plants will help to head off infestations early before they can do a lot of damage. For indoor plants, inspect all new plants before introducing them to the environment, as most pests make their way into the house on already-infested plants.
Give it Time
Ginger takes its time about maturing. 8-10 months is how long you should expect to wait to harvest for culinary use.
It can take up to 3 years to produce flowers, so if you are growing it for ornamental purposes, be patient with your plants and allow those rhizomes to mature.
Harvest at the Right Time
The plants are unlikely to flower if you are growing for culinary purposes. This is because you will harvest the rhizomes yearly and propagate the plants every spring to start new plants.
Ginger plants have a growing period of about 8-10 months. It’s best to allow them to complete their growth cycle before harvesting to maximize your yield.
When the stems of your plant begin to turn yellow, the plant is headed toward dormancy. This is the time to harvest. Once you observe this change in the stems, cut all of the foliage just above the level of the soil two to three weeks before you intend to harvest the rhizomes. Allow your soil to dry completely before harvesting.
Gently dig up the rhizomes and cut off the remainder of the stems. Decide how many plants you want to grow next season and set aside some cuttings of your rhizome to replant later. Look for plump portions with small growth buds.
Preserve Your Excess Ginger
Fresh ginger root will last for about one month in the refrigerator as long as you do not peel it. Peeled ginger root will only keep for 2-3 weeks. There are lots of ways to preserve your excess ginger. This way, it can be used throughout the year as desired.
It keeps very well in the freezer for five months or more. To preserve in the freezer, peel it first and place the whole roots in an airtight container. You can also grate the roots and store them for ease of use.
Pickling is another great way to preserve ginger, particularly if you enjoy homemade sushi. Pickled ginger is easy to prepare and lasts in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Ginger syrup is another delicious way to use leftovers. It’s simple to prepare and lasts for several months in the freezer.
Drying and grinding ginger roots to form ginger powder is another great way to store it. However, ground ginger often loses its flavor more rapidly than the other methods, so you will need to use your ground ginger within a year for the best flavor
Propagate When Appropriate
Now that you’ve successfully grown a ginger plant, don’t forget to propagate! There are three equally effective ways to do this, although two of them are somewhat faster than the other.
- Propagate in water: Ginger can be propagated in water quite successfully. Simply place a portion of the rhizome in water and wait for the roots to grow. Once the roots reach 1”-2”, transfer them back into your container.
- Paper towel method: Another method that involves moisture is to wrap the rhizomes in wet paper towels and place them in a resealable bag. The rhizome will also develop roots this way and can be planted once those roots are 1”-2” long.
- Direct sowing: The last method is the one we have already covered, and that is direct sowing your rhizomes back into the container. While this is just as effective as the other methods, it is slower. However, it is simpler and doesn’t require much work.
Whether you are growing it for culinary or ornamental purposes, ginger makes a great container plant. Planting your ginger in containers is ideal for those living in cooler climates, as it enables you to bring your plant indoors easily if the temperature outdoors is too cool. Container planting also makes it easier and more convenient to harvest your ginger rhizomes.