How To Grow Turmeric In Beds Or Containers
Whether you use it for food or for dye or both, learning how to grow turmeric ensures a never ending supply. We're sharing our top tips!
Growing turmeric is playfully similar using a slow cooker in the kitchen. It’s a “set it and forget it” type of experience. Most of how to grow turmeric will be simple with the right growing conditions or ingredients. Turmeric requires fertile, well-drained soil in a location with lots of sunshine and ample water. It requires occasional checks to ensure soil is wet, not soggy, and periodic fertilizer much as you would layer on the spices in your slow cooker. After you patiently wait, months after planting you’ll reap your rewards. Don’t let the long growing season of 10 months scare you, as if your climate is right it requires very little care.
Turmeric can be used fresh, dried, or powdered as a peppery addition to a range of dishes and is popular in Indian cooking. Its bright yellow/orange color imparts a similar hue to foods that it is cooked with giving its other name of Indian saffron. It is most sought after for its medicinal properties.
Because turmeric is grown from the rhizome or tuberous root, it is easy to save and reap the rewards season after season. Save a few for your next planting! You can start with rhizomes from the grocery store or invest in some from seed houses with rare offerings or even find plant starts from nurseries specializing in tropical plants.
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- Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap
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- PyGanic Botanical Insecticide
- NaturesGoodGuys Beneficial Nematodes
- MycoStop Biofungicide
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s) ||Turmeric, yellow ginger, Indian saffron|
|Scientific Name ||Curcuma longa|
|Days to Harvest ||275-300|
|Light ||Full sun, partial shade when above 90 degrees|
|Water ||Ample water, avoid soggy conditions|
|Soil ||Well-draining, nutrient-rich|
|Fertilizer ||Heavy feeder; apply routine well-balanced fertilizer|
|Pests ||Aphids, spider mites|
|Diseases ||Fungal root rot, root-knot nematodes|
All About Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a tropical plant that has numerous culinary uses as well as a dye. It is the root or rhizome that is most sought after. The bright yellow or orange rhizomes can be used fresh or dried and has several medicinal properties as an anti-inflammatory and recommended for those with arthritis or other inflammation. Turmeric has a deep, earthy flavor with a bit of peppery spice and bitterness.
When cooking with turmeric, expect all of your tools and pans to have a temporary yellow-orange stain. It is this dye property of turmeric that traveled from its native Indian subcontinent throughout Southeast Asia with the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism. The yellow dye is used to color the robes of monks and priests. Turmeric yields a warm gold color on undyed natural cotton fabrics, silk, and wool. Turmeric powder can add a golden hue to curries, rice, and milk and a natural food coloring for Easter eggs or cakes.
So like ginger that it’s actually sometimes called yellow ginger, turmeric is in the same plant family, Zingiberaceae, and has similar growing conditions to its zingy cousin. In addition to the culinary roots, it is a gorgeous plant to have in your garden. The big glossy leaves add a tropical feel and the flowers are gorgeous. If your conditions are cooler than its native conditions in India and Southeast Asia, it may not flower for you. But if it does, you’re in for a show. The flowers are typically white with some having purple or pink tips and are edible! The flower petals and light green flower bracts have a strong smell but a mild turmeric taste.
Turmeric has a long season of 9-10 months. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of care during that time so long as you set it up for success.
When to Plant
Count backward 10 months from the date of your first frost. For most climates, that will require planting indoors in January or February. If you live in a season with a milder climate you can start directly outside in March. Cool soil conditions will result in a slow start. You want the timing to have a majority of its growth in the heat of summer and enter dormancy in late Fall. When it enters dormancy it is ready for harvest.
Where to Plant
If you live in a climate that has relatively warm conditions over a long season you can plant your turmeric in a raised or in-ground bed. If the soil is too cool the rhizomes will be very slow to sprout. Fresh turmeric plants can grow up to 3’ tall so ensure that you have plenty of space and will not unnecessarily shade neighboring plants.
If you live in a milder climate, accommodate changes in the growing climate. Plant turmeric in a pot that can be moved indoors when necessary. Regardless of the zone, planting in pots allows the turmeric plants to be moved around to give it plenty of heat and sunshine but allows for shade or providing filtered sun if temperatures are extreme.
How to Plant
Select plump rhizomes with several bumps or bud locations along the side. The larger the rhizome the quicker you will see the shoots. Don’t be tempted to cut into small sections as you might with potatoes. Plant turmeric with 3-4 bumps each. If you cut your rhizomes into smaller pieces, cure them for at least a week for the cut to dry and scab over, thus reducing the chance of rot.
Lay your turmeric root flat in the soil and cover with 1 inch of soil. Keep wet, but not soggy. If starting turmeric indoors, use a small 3-5” pot or a plastic clamshell with potting soil. Place in the warmest location you have to speed up the growth of shoots. You can also use a seedling heating mat. It is not necessary to use a grow light until you see the green shoots emerge.
Once you have a shoot 3-5 inches high, they should be transferred to a larger pot. If you’re keeping your turmeric indoors, you will need something that can be under a grow light and/or a sunny window. Continue to provide a heating mat to maintain 70 degrees. If planting outside the started rhizomes can be placed outside 4-6 inches apart and 2-4 inches deep.
Don’t be alarmed if it takes a long time until you see the shoots. Turmeric requires warm conditions to wake up and can be very slow to start. Keep them moist and have patience.
Try to replicate the native tropical growing conditions of the turmeric plant: warm with an ample amount of rainfall. If those conditions are met you’ll find success!
Sun and Temperature
Turmeric is happiest when given a location in the garden with full sun, moderately warm temperatures, and a humid environment. Turmeric’s ideal range is between 68 and 86 °F (20 and 30 °C).
During excessive temperatures above 90°, it will require afternoon shade and extra water. In Zones 8 and above, these conditions can be achieved outside year-round. In hot and dry zones, turmeric plant placed in a container on an afternoon shaded patio with misters can mimic these conditions.
Growing turmeric in cooler zones will require moving indoors to provide these conditions in early spring and fall. Turmeric will not withstand freezing temperatures and rhizomes will not actively grow below 60° (15° C).
Water and Humidity
When starting turmeric rhizomes, provide ample water but do not allow them to be excessively wet or they will begin to rot. The soil should feel wet, but not soggy. A location with good drainage is necessary. Using a slow drip hose or soaker hose can help with watering consistently, especially if it’s on a hose timer.
Once the turmeric plant has sprouted, keep the same wet, but not soggy conditions. It may be warmer and later in the season, so more water will be needed to maintain these conditions. When the harvest is approaching, cut back the watering for a week or two. Pulling the rhizomes out of drier soil is more likely to keep them intact.
Turmeric likes moisture, but providing a loose, well-draining soil is key. Clay soil will need to be worked and loosened to allow plants to easily expand underground. Add ample amounts of aged compost to lighten up the soil. Perlite can improve drainage of particularly muddy, wet soils. If filling pots, a quality bagged potting mix will work well.
Turmeric is also a heavy feeder so use a soil mix rich in organic matter with quality compost to start. Once the turmeric is actively growing, feed throughout the season every few weeks. Worm castings, organic liquid fertilizer, granular organic fertilizers, or compost tea are good choices. If you notice your growing container losing volume, top off with good quality compost.
You may notice outer turmeric leaves starting to turn brown. If this is early in the season it may indicate your turmeric is receiving too much sun and could use some shade. Prune off browning leaves to provide energy for new growth.
If this is occurring towards the end of the growing season at around 10 months of growth, you’re almost to harvest time! Leave the leaves as-is and reduce water in preparation for harvest.
Typically, the only viable method of growing turmeric is from rhizomes. Unlike many other plants, it doesn’t produce useful seed, instead developing primarily by root expansion.
After harvest, don’t use all your turmeric. Store some for planting next year if you found your turmeric to be a variety that thrived and was to your liking. Store planting stock in a cool, dark place until planting time.
Harvesting and Storing
Fresh turmeric root is ready to harvest when it enters dormancy. This is when the turmeric roots will be largest and the most mature with the most flavor for your future food needs. Time is your biggest indicator. It should be at least 9 to 10 months since sprouting. The outer leaves should also start to turn yellowish-brown and start to die back.
If your growing conditions closely resemble turmeric’s tropical native territory you may see it flower. The flowers are delicate and white, with some purple or pink tips. The flower is not an indicator that it is ready to harvest and usually occurs in late spring/early summer.
Using pots for growing also makes harvest easier. Instead of pulling up on the plants, turn the pot on its side and gently dump out the contents sifting through with your hand to release rhizomes from the soil. Turmeric rhizomes tend to grow side nodules and resemble hands or thumbs. They can break off easily if you pull from the top. This method of harvesting also doesn’t use a tool which is risky as you can stab or damage the rhizomes. A digging fork can also be used in raised beds or in-ground to pry up the rhizomes.
Post-harvest the fresh rhizomes can be gently rinsed to remove the dirt. Any long stringy roots can be cut using clean shears. The juncture between the stalk and the rhizome is where to separate them.
If harvesting leaves or flowers, cut only what you’ll need. These don’t store well, so you’ll need to use those fresh from the garden.
Store fresh turmeric in an air-tight container in the fridge. It is best to plan on using it fresh within a few weeks or prepare for long-term preservation as dehydrated pieces, powder, or frozen. Turmeric powder is probably the most versatile and most common culinarily.
To prepare turmeric powder, cut turmeric roots into small pieces and dehydrate. The pieces should be dry enough to snap when broken. Grind in a food processor, blender, or spice grinder.
Most issues that arise with growing turmeric plant are likely due to conditions outside of the optimal temperature and moisture range. Too much water, excessively dry conditions, direct sun in extreme temperatures, or cold conditions can lead to poor growth and pest problems.
Selecting the proper growing location for your plant will avoid many problems. Containers with good drainage are recommended.
Excessive watering or poor drainage will cause fungal diseases and rotting. Ensure water drains easily from the soil. Check the soil a few inches down. It should be wet, but not soggy. Adjust your watering regimen to maintain the right level. If watering with timers be particularly mindful that you are giving frequent water to keep wet, but not prolonged to cause soggy conditions.
With a container you can start with good quality potting soil that is new and will not introduce shoot borers, root-knot nematodes, burrowing nematodes, and lesion nematodes that will damage rhizomes. If growing in-ground or raised beds it is necessary to rotate the crops grown each season to avoid these pests.
If your plants are weakened, you might also find them an easy target for pests like aphids or spider mites. Ensure the watering conditions are appropriate and the leaves are not too dry. Nutrient levels should be adequate and provide regular fertilizer. Focus your energy on remedying what is causing your turmeric plants to be weak. Remove aphids or spider mites with insecticidal soap, neem oil or a strong spray of the hose. For large outbreaks, pyrethrin sprays have an excellent effect at reducing the population.
Turmeric is mildly susceptible to root rot caused by pythium. It’s essential to make sure that while the soil remains moist, it’s not soggy. An addition of a microbial biofungicide can be beneficial.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you grow turmeric from store bought?
A: Absolutely! To grow your own turmeric roots look for organic which should not be treated and impact its ability to sprout. It is more common to find fresh turmeric in groceries that specialize in Asian or Indian cuisine.
Q: Is turmeric an annual or perennial?
A: Turmeric is considered a perennial. It can be harvested on an annual cycle when it dies back and begins dormancy.
Q: Are turmeric leaves edible?
A: Yes! In fact, all parts of the turmeric plant are edible. The leaves have a milder flavor but have some of the same health properties.