Ginger Plant: Adding Spice To Your Garden

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 ginger is an absolute must. 

Ginger has numerous health benefits and has been used as a medicinal herb 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!

Great Products For Growing Ginger:

Quick Care Guide

Ginger plant
The ginger plant produces tasty rhizomes and lovely tropical foliage. Source: UnconventionalEmma
Common Name(s)Common ginger, cooking ginger
Scientific NameZingiber officinale 
Days to Harvest8-10 months 
LightPartial shade
Water:Keep soil moist but not soggy
SoilWell-drained sandy or loamy soil
Fertilizer5-5-5 per manufacturer’s recommendation
PestsChinese rose beetle, root knot nematodes, aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, thrips, red spider mites, cutworms, armyworms, caterpillars, fungus gnats
DiseasesBacterial wilt, root rot 

All About Ginger

Ginger is a spicy and pungent tropical plant that goes by the botanical name, “Zingiber officinale”. Ginger plants are also known as common ginger and cooking ginger. 

Zingiber officinale belongs to the 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.

The perennial 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 as that of lemons. Ginger roots are pungent and sharp in 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 ginger 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. 

Planting Ginger

Budding ginger root
Smaller pieces of ginger root will work for planting as long as they have buds. Source: graibeard

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 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 which you can prepare and loosen the 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 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

Ginger plant showing growth
You can easily see how the plant forms from its rhizome. Source: Zak Greant

So, now it’s time to discuss how to grow ginger! Let’s talk about 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. 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, but provide a grow light 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.

Soil

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.

Fertilizing

A balanced 5:5:5 NPK fertilizer is perfect for 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 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.

Pruning

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.

Propagation

Ginger propagation is done through 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

Fresh ginger
Freshly harvested ginger plants with stems still attached. Source: Sengai Podhuvan

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! 

Harvesting

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.

Your ginger 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.

Storing

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 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.

Troubleshooting

Variegated flowering ginger leaf
Some ginger is grown for its flowers and foliage rather than its root. Source: moccasinlanding

Growing ginger is quite easy but there are a few problems you might want to avoid. Here’s what you should know. 

Growing Problems

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.

Pests

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.

Mealybugs and soft scales will settle on stems and under the leaves. Use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to remove these.

Armyworms, cutworms, and yellow wooly bear caterpillars do leaf damage much like the Chinese rose beetles do. A bacillus thurigiensis spray will eliminate these.

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.

Diseases

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

Budding ginger rhizome
The budding nodes on this rhizome are pale green in color. Source: graibeard

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.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Clarisa Teodoro
Researcher

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