How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Ginger Plants
Do you want to try growing your own ginger at home? It’s easier than you think. Ginger is a carefree tropical plant that tastes far better home-grown than store-bought. It has many uses which include cooking, seasoning, and more. Gardening expert Madison Moulton discusses everything you need to know about growing this globally popular spice.
Ginger is one of the world’s most popular spices, featured prominently in a number of cuisines. Avid home cooks would classify ginger as a kitchen staple, whether in its fresh or powdered form. Luckily for gardeners, the pungent flavor that makes ginger so popular is even stronger when it’s fresh, straight out of the garden.
Few gardeners consider growing spices, opting for their more common culinary cousins herbs instead. However, with the right care, Zingiber officinale can be just as easy to grow as the carefree herbs and tend to last far longer, providing you with a greater harvest over time. Plus, when it comes to ginger, a little goes a long way – just a couple of plants will be enough to provide you with a significant supply.
As a tropical plant, ginger can only grow well in warmer, humid climates. But those in colder climates don’t need to gloss over this spice. They also grow well in pots and can be moved indoors for protection from the cold in cooler areas. No matter your garden situation, there are many benefits to growing ginger.
Ginger Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Species Zingiber officinale
Native Area Southeast Asia
Hardiness Zone USDA 9-12
Exposure Dappled Sunlight
Plant Spacing 6 inches
Planting Depth 1/2 inch
Height 3 feet
Watering Requirements High
Pests Nematodes, Shoot Borer
Diseases Bacterial Wilt, Dry Rot, Rhizone Rot
Soil Type Nutrient-rich, Well-draining
Plant With Fruit Trees, Legumes
Don’t Plant With Tomatoes, Walnut
Uses Food, Seasoning
The ginger plant was first cultivated in Southeast Asia, around modern Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Historians do not know exactly how ginger cultivation first began, but they do know it goes back centuries – more than 5,000 years ago.
From the islands, ginger root spread to other parts of the world during the second wave of the Austronesian Expansion. This expansion is believed to have spread many plants, including ginger, across continents to Asia, Africa, and possibly North and South America.
In the first century CE, ginger is believed to have traveled from India to Italy, facilitated by Roman trading efforts. It surged in popularity in Europe, only to be dashed by the fall of the Roman Empire. Its use slowly returned, and ginger became an expensive, sought-after commodity – much like many other spices at the time. In the Middle Ages, one pound of ginger root allegedly cost as much as one sheep.
In the historical record, Confucius is one of the first to write about the medicinal benefits of the plant in the 4th century BCE. He suggested eating a bit of ginger before every meal to aid health and digestion. Later cultures adopted the plant for its medicinal and culinary properties, leading ginger to become a central spice in Southern Asian cuisines.
Today, ginger root can be found in almost any grocery store, for far less than the price of one sheep. It is widely cultivated, with most commercial ginger originating from India. It continues to be valued for its medicinal properties but mainly features as an essential spice ingredient in home cooking.
Growing from rhizomes (the part of the ginger we commonly call the root), ginger can be easily propagated by division. If you’ve never grown ginger before, this process can be done with fresh ginger rhizomes from your local grocery store. If you have some ginger in the garden already, simply lift a rhizome out with a fork and follow the same process.
Choose a fresh, healthy rhizome that hasn’t been frozen, dried, or damaged. The larger and thicker the rhizome, the better. Any rhizomes that aren’t fresh will not sprout to produce healthy plants. It’s best to purchase from a nursery or certified grower to ensure the rhizome is fit for growing, but choosing the right one at the grocery store should also provide a high chance of success. If your rhizome is store-bought, soak it in water overnight to remove the coating that prevents buds from sprouting.
Propagation is best done in spring. Cut into pieces around an inch long with at least one eye. If the eyes are difficult to spot, you can also soak the rhizome in water to speed up the sprouting process. Always cut with a sharp, sterilized knife to prevent any damage to the eyes or the spread of disease to young, vulnerable plants.
Leave the pieces out for a day or two to allow the cuts to seal. This prevents any rotting or disease when the rhizome is planted. Finally, plant the individual pieces into a pot or straight out into the garden.
Ginger is best planted in spring but can be planted any time when grown in warmer climates. Whether grown in pots or in the ground, each section should be planted around 6 inches apart. Some varieties differing from common grocery store ginger can be planted closer together – always check the packaging for instructions.
The rhizomes should be planted shallowly. Although they are commonly called ginger roots, rhizomes do not act like roots. They are closer in function and structure to stems than roots, that store essential nutrients and proteins that allow the plant to grow, similar to bulbs. As they do not act like roots, they do not need to be planted deeply and grow best when planted as close to the soil surface as possible.
When planting in containers, ensure you use a well-draining potting mix and not soil straight from the garden. Although they like moist soil, ginger rhizomes are prone to rotting and cannot sit in water for prolonged periods.
Once planted, water lightly. As there are no roots or leaves to soak up the water, the initial watering should just be enough to encourage sprouting.
How to Grow
Ginger is considered a ‘plant it and forget it’ spice. Given the right tropical conditions, it can largely be left alone all season and will continue to grow thoroughly. This makes it a great plant for beginning gardeners, including children.
The correct amount of sunlight is vital to ensure your ginger plant grows and spreads. Luckily, ginger does not require as much direct sunlight as other edible plants, making them ideal for partial shade gardens, or even growing indoors.
Ginger plants need at least two hours of sunlight per day. The ideal range is somewhere between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your climate and how hot your summers get. Dappled sunlight is best as it matches the tropical jungle conditions they are used to.
For edible shade gardens, ginger is certainly an option as it may grow in partial to full shade. However, it will not grow as quickly or as well as it would under higher light conditions, giving you less to harvest in the long run.
Growing ginger indoors is an option if you have a sunny window that receives some direct sunlight throughout the day. As a tropical plant, ginger has very similar growing conditions to other houseplants, like the pothos. It will benefit from a few hours of direct light, with the remainder of the day in bright indirect light.
Getting the light requirements for this plant right can be tricky. If growing in containers, keep an eye on the plant’s growth and move to a sunnier or shadier spot depending on the growth rate of the plant. It may take some trial and error, but in the right climates, ginger should grow well under a range of lighting conditions.
The most important condition to monitor when growing ginger is water levels. Ginger loves to grow in moist soil, thanks to their tropical environments. However, the rhizome is prone to rotting – a problem that will quickly ruin your entire harvest. It is crucial to get the balance of watering right when caring for ginger.
As mentioned, recently planted ginger rhizomes only need light watering to encourage sprouting and root development. This watering is simply to moisten the soil, rather than water the actual plant. Once roots begin to develop and the leaves sprout, you can increase your watering.
Keep the soil consistently moist, but never waterlogged. Misting the soil occasionally may help maintain the moisture levels in extremely dry climates. This is one plant that cannot be left to dry out for too long – once the rhizome is damaged, the plant will struggle to grow and spread.
Ginger appreciates well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. Enriching with compost is ideal as it provides nutrients and aids in moisture retention at the same time.
Growing on forest floors, ginger is used to nutrient-rich, humus-like soil and won’t appreciate poor quality soil. Mulching with a layer of compost or any other organic material will retain moisture and slowly break down into the soil, increasing nutrient levels.
Climate and Temperature
Ginger is particular about climate. This plant requires tropical heat and humidity to grow effectively, meaning it is only suitable for growing outdoors in USDA Zones 9-12. This is especially true if you’re looking to grow ginger long-term, as it will only spread under high temperatures.
This plant cannot stand temperatures below 50°F, at which point it will go dormant and stop growing completely. The leaves will turn yellow and begin to die back, indicating that the plant is waiting for warmer weather to grow again as it does in its native area. Temperatures around 32°F and any frost will damage the rhizome, causing the entire plant to die.
If you don’t live in a tropical climate, you don’t have to give up on growing ginger altogether. There are many options for gardeners in zones 8 and lower that allow you to have an abundant ginger harvest all year long.
The first step to growing ginger in cooler zones is to plant it in a container. When planted in the ground, the rhizome is exposed to outdoor temperatures without any protection. But in a container, the plant is mobile and can be moved out of harsh weather when required. In winter, it can be brought indoors for the season to continue thriving.
Secondly, ensure you leave it in a warm spot during the day and watch the overnight temperatures too. When growing indoors, it can get colder near windows in winter. Keep the container in the warmest room in the house and provide plenty of sunlight and humidity to improve conditions.
Ginger planted in nutrient-rich soil will grow well without fertilizer in the first year. However, to increase yields, you can choose to apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer once shoots appear and every month or so during spring and summer.
The low nitrogen fertilizer will stop the plant from focusing on leaf production, leaving more energy to grow the rhizomes. Slow fertilizing once the plant starts flowering (the flowers are edible too and don’t need to be pinched).
An all-purpose liquid fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer can be used to improve the nutrient levels of poor quality soils but does not serve as a replacement for compost which provides organic matter and good soil structure.
Fertilizing often is more important for ginger planted in containers. With the frequent watering ginger requires, the soil leaches nutrients far faster than out in the garden. In a container, there is no way for the soil to regain these nutrients, leaving the ginger’s growth stunted and you with a lesser harvest. Apply fertilizer to ginger in containers every couple of weeks for the best results.
Ginger requires almost no maintenance throughout the season. Regular mulching is advised to limit the amount you need to water but is not a necessity. These plants will grow happily without any pruning or other intervention from you.
The longer you leave your ginger in the ground, the better. Not only does this give the plant enough time to spread and grow more rhizome, leaving you with more ginger, but it also improves the taste.
It is best to wait a couple of years before pulling entire ginger plants for a significant harvest. However, they should be ready to harvest after around 8-12 months, depending on your climate.
You’ll know the rhizomes are ready to harvest when the leaves begin to die back and the plant becomes dormant. This is the ideal time to harvest ginger, to protect it from any cold winter weather, but in the right climate, an established plant can be harvested all year round.
Using a fork, loosen the soil around the plant. Then, simply pull out the entire rhizome to harvest. If you see some rhizome growing out the top of the soil or off to the side, you can carefully remove that section and leave the rest in the ground, but it does expose the plant to potential diseases as it heals.
Once pulled, remove the leaves from the plant and wash them thoroughly. You may want to use a clean scrubbing brush to ensure it is completely clean – dirt tends to stick in the spaces between the pieces. Once cleaned, the rhizomes can be left to dry and stored or used immediately. If you’ve pulled out all your ginger plants to prevent damage from cold winter weather, save some of the best rhizomes to plant again in spring.
Pests and Diseases
Ginger is not excessively pest or disease-prone, but its moist environment does cause some occasional problems. Keep an eye out for these pests and diseases to stop them in their tracks, before they ruin your harvest.
The diseases ginger is most susceptible to are the various rots, which affect the rhizome of the plant. Soft rot is a fungal disease that rots the rhizome from the inside. At a glance, the rhizome will appear completely normal from the outside, but the tissue will be soft and damaged on the inside. When you feel the rhizome, it will not be firm, but soft to the touch, indicating rot.
Rhizome rot is a disease that turns the rhizome an unappealing brown or black color, making it completely inedible. Dry rot is another fungal disease that turns the leaves yellow and causes the rhizome to dry and shrink, also becoming inedible.
Aside from the various rots, ginger is also susceptible to Bacterial wilt. Caused by Ralstonia solanacearum, Bacterial wilt causes the leaves to curl and die back. Underneath the soil, the rhizome becomes infected and starts to smell. The telltale sign that you have a Bacterial wilt problem is a milky liquid oozing from the rhizome when placed in a glass of water.
While these diseases are far more common in commercial ginger growth, they are still important to prevent in order to save your harvest. These diseases grow and spread in warm, wet weather – particularly after rain. Well-draining soil is the first step to preventing the stagnation that attracts these diseases. Always use clean tools when handling the rhizomes and remove any affected plants from your garden immediately to prevent spreading.
Ginger is not particularly attractive to pests, especially in home gardens. The pungent smell tends to keep most pesky critters far away from the rhizome. However, there are some pests unbothered by the ginger’s intensity.
Keep an eye out for Root-knot nematodes that attack the plant from underground. Small lesions in the roots and rhizome will appear and will slowly turn brown. Shoot borer is another pest that feeds on the inner tissues of the plant, killing it from the inside. Rhizome scale also affects ginger, although it isn’t particularly common in home gardens.
Many of these pests hide underground, waiting to attack. Before planting, ensure your soil is high quality and free of any pests from previous plantings. Give your ginger plenty of water and enough nutrients to allow them to fight pests on their own.
Although ginger can stay fresh for a few weeks in the fridge, the sooner you eat your harvested ginger, the better the taste. For this reason, you may want to try one of the many ginger preservation methods to preserve its strong flavor.
Rather than popping it in the fridge, keep your ginger in the freezer to maintain flavor. There are two main methods used to freeze ginger – grating or chopping. Simply chop the rhizome into chunks, place it on a tray, and freeze it for several hours.
Once frozen, pop the chunks into a plastic bag to make them easier to separate when ready to use. Alternatively, you can grate the ginger and freeze it in an ice cube mold to throw them straight into a dish whenever you need them pre-prepared.
Any regular sushi eaters will already know another popular preservation method – pickling. Peel and slice the ginger into thin strips. Place the strips into a sterilized jar and cover it with vinegar-based brine.
For a more flavorful brine, soak the ginger strips in a jar filled with brandy. When added to dishes, particularly stews or desserts, the alcohol will burn off, leaving the pungent ginger flavor.
To keep fresh ginger for planting next season, store it in a paper bag in the fridge. Freezing or allowing the rhizome to dry will damage it, making it difficult to replant the following year. The paper bag will stop air and moisture from reaching the rhizome, keeping it fresh until spring.
Ginger has many practical uses and has been used for centuries by many different civilizations across the entire planet. Whether in medicine, cooking or in the garden, you’ll never run out of uses for this versatile plant.
Ginger, whether powdered, fresh, or made into tea, is used to assist with a range of medical problems. Those with nausea problems, particularly pregnant women experiencing morning sickness, are known to reach for ginger to calm their stomachs. Similarly, ginger is used to treat cases of motion sickness, lessening nausea and dizziness it causes.
Continuing its benefits for stomachs, ginger is known to resolve cases of indigestion. It does this by speeding up the process of emptying the stomach, relieving discomfort.
Compounds in ginger are believed to fight off bacteria. Studies show it can halt the growth of bacteria like E.coli, keeping your body free of harmful germs. It’s also proven to be effective at limiting oral bacteria, preventing gum disease.
Along with anti-bacterial properties, ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties. This has resulted in its testing in the treatment of arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis of the knee, where it has shown promising results. It also proved effective in reducing menstrual pain; as effective as the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
In other studies, ginger was shown to lower blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes and reduce bad cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease. Smaller studies, although unproven, have also attempted to link ginger to improved brain function and cancer prevention.
Fresh ginger’s intense taste has earned it a great reputation in the culinary world. First and foremost, the ‘root’ is used to flavor dishes, most commonly in Southeast Asian cooking. Its combination of tartness, spiciness, and freshness makes it the perfect all-around spice, pairing well with a range of ingredients. When cooked, the intense flavor softens, similar to garlic.
On the other side of the food spectrum, ginger is also used to make sweets and popular desserts. Ginger and desserts are common in British history, with the famous gingerbread cookie featuring prominently. It is also combined with sugar to produce jams or marmalades, or used as a flavoring to make the popular beverage ginger ale. There are many plants in the ginger family that have culinary uses, including tumeric.
The wonderful uses of ginger don’t stop there. In the garden, this tropical part is the perfect edible complement to partially shaded areas. The tall stems with glossy leaves match other popular tropical plants, with stunning flowers emerging in summer. These flowers are also edible, and the leaves of the plant produce a wonderful fragrance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will ginger grow in the shade?
Ginger will grow well in some shade, depending on the conditions. It grows best in dappled light or partial shade, as long as the temperatures and humidity remain high. The plant may grow in deeper shade, but it will not grow as quickly or produce as many rhizomes for harvesting. In extremely hot climates, more shade is far better than less shade to protect the plant from sun damage and keep the soil moist.
Can I grow ginger in water?
When first planting ginger, the rhizome may grow for a short period of time in water. It will start to sprout and may even develop leaves. However, the rhizome cannot remain in water for too long and any parts exposed to the water will begin to rot. Once the sprouts have developed on the rhizome, it is best to transplant it into a pot or out into the garden.
What does ginger grow well with?
Ginger is an ideal companion plant for many perennial vegetables and fruits due to its strong odor. This repels many common garden pests that are prominent in vegetable gardens. Legumes – beans and peas – are nitrogen fixers that help ginger by improving the soil. Planting ginger under fruit trees is also ideal as the canopy of the trees provides the dappled light ginger loves. It can also be grown with plants that like similar soil conditions, such as turmeric.
Can I regrow ginger from store-bought roots?
Ginger is one of the few plants that can be grown effectively from store-bought scraps. Some store-bought ginger may be sprayed with a substance that prevents sprouting, so it’s best to soak the rhizome in water before planting to remove it. Follow the same steps in growing as you would any other rhizome and you should have a number of prolific, healthy plants.
Ginger is not as commonly grown as some other edible runner plants, but it is not more difficult to maintain. In fact, it is far easier to grow ginger than it is many other fruiting plants, as it requires little attention or maintenance and has almost no trouble with pests and diseases.
It is also one of the few edible plants that can be grown indoors due to its low light requirements and tropical environment. If you’re still not convinced, give it a try with some store-bought ginger leftovers. Simply throw it in a pot, and you’ll receive a thriving plant and a bountiful ginger harvest.