Ginger Plant: Adding Spice To Your Garden
The sharp and zingy flavor of the ginger plant is popular in all cuisines worldwide. We'll show you how to grow it!
Ginger is a powerful, anti-inflammatory herb that has been used in the culinary world since centuries. The ginger plant forms from a rhizome that grows into a dainty, little flowering perennial. If you want to add flavor and beauty to your food garden, growing the ginger plant is an absolute must.
Ginger plants have numerous health benefits and have been used as medicinal herbs since the 16th century. The plant offers quick relief from indigestion, nausea, and can ease common cold and flu symptoms. Truly, ginger is an all-purpose, versatile herb that deserves a place in your garden.
Read on for our in-depth guide on how to care for and maintain ginger plants! We’ll discuss the ginger botanical name, look alikes, and all you need to grow that spicy goodness in your garden.
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Common ginger, cooking ginger, ginger plants|
|Scientific Name||Zingiber officinale|
|Days to Harvest||8-10 months|
|Water:||Keep soil moist but not soggy|
|Soil||Well-drained sandy or loamy soil|
|Fertilizer||5-5-5 per manufacturer’s recommendation|
|Pests||Chinese rose beetle, root knot nematodes, aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, thrips, red spider mites, cutworms, armyworms, caterpillars, fungus gnats|
|Diseases||Bacterial wilt, root rot|
All About Ginger
Ginger is a spicy and pungent tropical plant that goes by the ginger botanical name “Zingiber officinale.” Ginger plants are also known as common ginger and cooking ginger.
Zingiber officinale (the ginger botanical name) belongs to the ginger family “Zingiberaceae” – the same family as cardamom and turmeric. The herb is popularly grown in India, Haiti, Nigeria, and in the United States, particularly in Hawaii. But what of ginger origin? It’s originally native to Southeast Asia.
Zingiber officinale is a true ginger that is sometimes confused with wild ginger (Asarum canadense), yellow ginger or kahili ginger (Awapuhi Melemele), and white ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium). However, it has a completely different botanical structure and use in comparison to these three. Yellow ginger, for instance, is an ornamental plant grown for its striking yellow flowers.
This perennial tropical plant can grow up to 3-4 feet tall and has elegantly sharp and thin leaves that range in length from 6-12 inches. The roots that extend from the rhizomes are beige and tangled and about 2-6 inches in length.
The branched rhizomes are thick and warty with coarse golden to brown outer skin. The skin can be easily peeled off or abraded. The flesh of the roots is pale yellow and has a citrusy smell like that of lemons. Ginger roots have a sharp and pungent taste.
Young rhizomes normally have a milder taste, but as they grow and develop, they become more fibrous and flavorful. Edible ginger root has a number of volatile and non-volatile compounds that result in a spicy fragrance.
Many people ask, “is ginger a root?” Contrary to popular belief, ginger is actually a rhizome. So, if you’re growing ginger plants, you can expect long tendril-like roots sprouting from the rhizomes that spread in an outward fashion.
The shoots of the ginger perennial appear as stems but are actually leaf sheaths that are wrapped around one another. The leaves of the plant are medium green in color and long and narrow in shape. They are arranged in pairs of two along each stem, growing 2 to 3 feet tall at full maturity.
One interesting feature of ginger is its lovely yellow and purple flowers that bloom when conditions are right. Within each faded flower comes a set of red fruits, each containing three seed pods. Within these, black seeds spread as the pods dry.
Growing ginger plants can be extremely fun because the perennial also produces flowers on the leaf spikes. These flowers come in colors of green and yellow with purple bases. The petals are peppered with cream-colored splotches that look absolutely beautiful when they bloom.
When a piece of sprouted rhizome is planted, it can take up to 8-10 months to fully grow out the rhizomes, after which it can be successfully harvested. After planting your seed ginger segments, you’ll start to see sprouting within 4-6 weeks.
Many people use fresh ginger to add taste and aroma to their dishes. Ginger can be used to spice up dishes, prepare teas, and in ginger beer and ginger ale. Fresh ginger is famously used in many ethnic cuisines for its sharp, pungent flavor.
Whether you’re growing ginger indoors or wish to welcome them to your garden, these plants are extremely easy to care for and maintain. But as tropicals, they do have specific conditions they prefer!
When To Plant
When growing from seed ginger (also called rhizome segments), get your seed started early. You’ll want to get your young plants outdoors in well-draining soil from late February to early April, and it’ll take a while for them to germinate and start to develop.
When you plant ginger, it needs warm soil to develop properly. 50 degrees Fahrenheit is the minimum soil temperature for development.
If you’re growing ginger in a container, keep it in a warm location until the frost has passed. This allows the ginger roots to quickly establish themselves once they move outdoors. A grow light can provide both light and warmth.
Where To Plant
The ginger rhizome is surprisingly delicate. Deciding where to plant is extremely important. Keep in mind that if the weather seems too cold for this tropical, you can always use containers and move them indoors.
In its natural environment, ginger grows well in a warm and humid jungle-like location with sunlight that filters through the trees. Try to mimic its natural environment as much as possible. Select a location where you can prepare and loosen well-draining soil in to a depth of 8-10 inches and with room to spread.
How To Plant
Begin by soaking your seed rhizomes overnight in room-temperature water. This activates the ginger rhizomes and starts bringing them back to life. Supermarket ginger often has a growth retardant sprayed over it, but if you have an older piece that’s starting to sprout, it can be planted.
Plant your rhizomes at least 3 inches deep and about 8 inches apart. If there are green growth buds, make sure they’re oriented up towards the soil’s surface. If starting them in a container, you can place it on a seedling heating mat set at 70 degrees for good sprout development. Those put directly in the soil should be planted once the ground is consistently over 50 degrees.
Growing Ginger Plants
So, now it’s time to discuss how to grow ginger! Let’s talk about the ideal conditions for growing this delicious plant. It’s not too hard to coax life out of your ginger root.
Sun and Temperature
Young ginger thrives best in filtered sunlight or partial shade. Be sure it receives 2-5 hours of dappled or indirect light per day. Try to avoid consistently hot and direct sunlight when possible.
Your ginger rhizomes are somewhat tolerant of cooler conditions. Once the soil starts to freeze, your ginger rhizome is in danger. If overwintering them, carefully transplant them into a pot and bring them indoors to where the weather remains warmer.
Container-grown gingers’ plants still need access to light, even during the winter months. It doesn’t take a whole lot of light, but provide a grow light and partial shade if required.
Water & Humidity
Water is an absolute necessity for growing ginger. Keep the soil consistently and evenly moist at all times, and don’t let it dry out. Slow, even watering is the best option, as it allows the soil to absorb more water than if you just drench it. A soaker hose system is usually perfect.
Ginger prefers humid environments. Ideally, it would have about 50-60% ambient humidity around the plant at all times. If it’s outdoors, applying wet wood chip mulch around the plants will increase the ambient humidity until the moisture evaporates. Misting the plants also helps. Container-grown plants can have a pebble tray with water placed underneath to help increase the ambient humidity, as well.
Ginger needs slightly acidic soils to grow and allow the rhizomes to develop fully. The ideal soil pH ranges from 5.5-6.5. The best soil types are loamy and sandy. Both loamy and sandy soils are loose and allow faster drainage while also maintaining moisture for the roots to establish properly. A blend of the two will work just fine.
The most important thing for the soil mixture is to be able to hold moisture to keep it available for the rhizomes. Add compost before planting time, as it can absorb and hold moisture for your rhizome as well.
If your garden contains high levels of hard clay, it can be too hard for ginger root to penetrate while growing. Add more organic material to loosen it up, so it’s good for your plants.
A balanced 5:5:5 NPK fertilizer is perfect for providing essential nutrients to your ginger. Add fertilizer to your soil a few days prior to planting, and follow the manufacturer’s directions as to when to add more. It’s generally every couple of months for a slow-release fertilizer.
While you can occasionally use liquid fertilizers, most of the time, they’re just not as good as a granular organic fertilizer would be for your ginger. Should you opt to use a liquid fertilizer, apply it every 2-4 weeks.
As is the case with most perennials, ginger should be pruned in early spring. This is a good time as there’s plenty of warmth and humidity that allows the stems to recover quickly. Make sure to snip off dead and dying stems before new growth appears.
The best way to prune ginger is by cutting the stems that flowered the year before. Most ginger only flowers on two-year-old canes. Use clean and sterile pruning shears and snip off the stem at the base of the plant. Since the stems of this perennial only produce blooms once before they die, pruning these old canes out will make your plants more attractive.
Ginger propagation is done by dividing rhizomes. When you harvest ginger, select a nice rhizome that has lots of nodes on it. It’s from those nodes that the stalks will sprout.
Examine your rhizome closely. Slice off smaller pieces that have 2-3 nodes on them using a clean, sharp knife. Lay these in a cool and dry location to dry out for at least two days. As time passes, the cut edge will dry out and form a callous, reducing the risk of rot.
Once dried, select a spot with partial to full shade in your garden and plant the ginger root pieces. Water in your rhizomes well. Watering should be done frequently until the ginger produces sprouts.
Ginger can’t be grown using seeds. It only develops through pieces of rhizomes.
Harvesting and Storing
If you’re wondering about when to harvest ginger, here’s a quick guide. We’ll help you collect and store your flavorful ginger roots!
Your fresh ginger should be ready in the fall if you planted in the spring. Carefully loosen the soil around your edible ginger plant and lift it up. You may see slender roots that grow between rhizomes. Either harvest the fresh ginger you need right now and leave the other roots to continue growing or remove all the rhizomes at once.
When you’re harvesting ginger, it should be firm to the touch. If it’s mushy, it may have succumbed to rot or pest infestation and should not be eaten or stored.
A large piece of ginger can be stored as a “hand” in a dry, cool location as long as it has its skin. Be sure to keep it completely dry for the best storage. It will last this way for a couple of weeks as long as it’s kept dry and in the dark. A paper bag works very well for this.
For longer-term storage, peel the skin off the roots, and either grate them or slice them into thin slices. These can be stored in the freezer. I like to grate teaspoon-sized amounts into a small ice cube tray to freeze with just a tiny bit of water to bind them together, as this enables me to use them in recipes. Once fully frozen, place these ginger cubes into a freezer bag.
Growing ginger is quite easy, but there are a few problems you might want to avoid. Here’s what you should know.
Avoid over-watering your ginger. Excess water may cause it to develop root rot. Even if it doesn’t rot, the roots won’t be as flavorful if they’ve had too much water.
Those who live in colder climates should bring their plants indoors or harvest before the weather drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This species just is not tolerant of frozen soils at all.
We find ginger to be delicious. Unfortunately, so do pests.
One of the ones to be most concerned about are root knot nematodes. These pests can cause serious damage to your rhizomes. Add beneficial nematodes to your soil to eliminate the bad.
Chinese rose beetles are a large, brown beetle that will eat all of your plant’s leaves. They’re nocturnal, so you won’t see them until dusk. You can go out and pick them off your plants with a headlamp, or spray with neem oil to reduce the appeal of the leaves.
Also, sucking pests like aphids, red spider mites, certain thrips, and fungus gnats can invade the leaves or the soil around plants. Neem seems to be the preferred treatment for these as well. If they persist, use an insecticidal soap with pyrethrin to eliminate these pests.
Ginger is also susceptible to bacterial wilt and root rot. Bacterial wilt causes water-soaked spots and curled up leaves. The only way to treat it is by removing damaged leaves and stems and carefully inspecting the entire plant for any signs or symptoms. Apply an organic fungicide or bactericide as needed.
Once root rot begins, there is no saving the rotten portion of the rhizome. This fungal-caused rot is common in soil that’s too wet. Cut off rotten areas, allow the rhizome to dry, and plant it as if it were a new one. Watch to see if you get new sprouts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take to grow ginger?
A: After planting your rhizome segments, it can take 8-10 months for the plant to grow and mature..
Q: How tall does ginger grow?
A: It can reach heights of 3 feet on its cane-like flower spikes.
Q: Do ginger plants need full sun?
Typically yes, though they can take a little partial shade here and there.
Q: Are all ginger plants edible?
Some are purely ornamental. In fact, there are some that aren’t even similar botanically to Zinziber officinale.
Q: How do I grow ginger?
We have a great video on this very topic!
Q: Can you grow ginger in pots?
Absolutely! Grow them in well-draining soil in pots rich with organic matter, and keep them out of cold. You’ll have ginger rhizomes in no time.
Q: Does ginger need a lot of water?
During the growing season, yes. Reduce in the fall and winter. The general rule is to keep the soil moist, but not wet. It can dry out slightly in dormancy.
Q: Are ginger leaves poisonous?
No! In fact, you can harvest and consume them while you’re waiting for rhizomes. They’re slightly less spicy, but similar in flavor.