Spice, Ginger
Spice, Ginger

Culinary ginger flower

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical perennial that is native to south China.  From there it spread to the so-called Spice Islands (the Moluccas) and then to the rest of tropical Asia and finally to Africa and the Caribbean.  India is now the largest producer of ginger in the world.

In the US, it can be grown as a perennial in zones 9 through 12.  The rest of us either have to grow it in containers and bring our plants indoors during the winter or we have to start our plants indoors and then plant them in our gardens after all danger of frost has passed. There are ornamental gingers that are used in both tropical and sub-tropical landscapes because of their brightly colored flowers or variegated foliage, but they do not produce the flavorful rhizomes of culinary ginger.  Culinary ginger flowers are a less showy yellow and its foliage is green with no variegation.  The plants grow to 2 to 3 feet in height. Technically, ginger is a spice because the part of the plant that is used is the rhizome, but most people grow ginger as an herb in their gardens or in containers.

Spice, Ginger

A hand of ginger with eyes

In the tropics, you can plant your ginger directly in your garden.  All you need to do is buy a “hand” of ginger at the grocery store making sure that it has “eyes”.  Like potatoes, the eyes are what will produce the foliage.  Cut the rhizome (hand) in 1- to 2-inch pieces, making sure that each piece has at least one eye, then allow the pieces to dry out for a few days.

Plant them in a shady or semi-shady spot that is protected from wind.  Plant the pieces with the eye(s) facing upwards about 3 inches deep in rich, well-drained soil.  Water thoroughly after planting and keep moist, but not wet, while the plant is growing. When the foliage starts to die back in the fall, it’s time to harvest the rhizome.  Dig it up, clean it up and then freeze it for later use.  You can harvest small amounts of ginger during the growing season by carefully digging around the edges of the rhizome and cutting off small pieces.  These, small early harvests are known as “green ginger” and are not as flavorful as the mature rhizomes that are normally harvested at the end of the growing season.

Outside of the tropics, you can still grow ginger in your garden but you will have to start it indoors first because it takes 8 to 10 months to mature for harvest.  Plant your pieces of rhizome in a container just as you would if you were planting it in your garden.  Keep your plant moist until the soil in your garden is at least 68⁰F.  Ginger will go dormant in colder soils.  When your soil is warm enough, you can transplant your ginger from your container into your garden in a nice shady spot that is protected from the wind.

You can also grow ginger exclusively in a container.  A 14-inch container will hold up to 3 pieces of rhizome.  Plant them 3 inches deep and water regularly.  You can use slow release fertilizer or regular feedings of liquid fertilizers throughout the growing season.  You can put your containers outdoors in the late spring/early summer when the temperature reaches at least 77⁰F and then bring them in again in the late summer/early fall when the outdoor temperatures go below 77⁰F.  Just like in the garden, you can harvest small pieces from the edges of the rhizome before maturity if necessary.  When the foliage starts to die back, it’s time to harvest your rhizome(s). Whether harvesting from your garden or container, don’t forget to cut a few pieces with eyes from each rhizome which you can then use to start new plants.

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