Ginger is not only a delightful ingredient that can enhance various dishes, but it also has numerous other uses. Surprisingly, it’s effortless to cultivate ginger at home. However, it’s crucial to note that ginger is a tropical plant that won’t thrive in cooler temperate regions unless you create an appropriate growing environment.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a gardening expert or break the bank to grow ginger, whether you opt for a heated greenhouse, a polytunnel, or a sunny windowsill indoors.
In this article, we’ll provide you with tips on how to grow ginger in temperate climates and also offer suggestions for those with tropical or subtropical gardens, so anyone can give it a try regardless of their location.
What is Ginger?
Zingiber officinale, commonly known as ginger, is a perennial herb grown mainly for its rhizome – a swollen underground stem that typically measures between 1.5 and 2.5cm in thickness.
The plant can grow up to 30-100cm in height and form clumps of approximately 1.5m x 1.5m in optimal conditions. It has long, narrow leaves and slender pseudostems that are sometimes harvested for stem ginger. The inflorescences feature pale yellow and purple flowers that grow directly from the rhizome on separate shoots, though they are less common in cooler climates.
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Ginger is a member of the same plant family as turmeric, cardamom, and galangal, and is native to Island Southeast Asia. It was domesticated around 5,000 years ago during the Austronesian expansion, likely by the peoples of Pacific islands. Ginger was among the first spices to be traded from Asia to Europe and is now widely popular worldwide. The roots are used fresh or dried in a broad range of recipes and have a long history of medicinal use.
Although India is currently the largest producer of ginger globally, followed by Nigeria, China, Indonesia, and Nepal, this plant can thrive in various regions, including small-scale home growing in containers. Notably, ginger is not found growing wild but is only found in cultivation.
Why Grow Ginger?
Growing ginger in your own home is an effective way to reduce food miles and your carbon footprint while expanding the flavors of your home-grown meals. Not only is ginger an excellent spice for various recipes, but it can also be used fresh or dried in many different ways, as detailed later in this article.
Growing ginger is an ideal choice for those interested in natural medicine and promoting good health, as it is widely used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Ginger contains volatile oils, gingerols, and shogaols (when dried), which offer several health benefits, including nausea control, pain relief, improved circulation, and treatment of coughs and colds. It can be used both internally and topically.
In temperate climates, ginger can be grown in containers, requiring little space, making it ideal for a sunny windowsill or any other small, warm, and well-lit area. When grown in the ground, either in an undercover growing area or in a tropical or subtropical garden, ginger can work well in polycultures with other plants.
For more information on which plants to grow alongside ginger in such gardens, see the “Planting Your Ginger” section below.
Sourcing Ginger For Planting
You can easily obtain ginger rhizomes online or from a local plant nursery. In case you face difficulties in finding ginger rhizomes for planting, you can try using ginger from grocery stores. However, some of these ginger roots may have been treated with growth retardants, which can hinder the growth of shoots.
To overcome this, you can soak the root in water for 24 hours to wash away the growth inhibitors. If the ginger root begins to develop green growth, it’s worth planting. It’s important to note that the size of the rhizome affects the speed of ginger production. Look for a rhizome with small nodules, similar to chits found on potatoes, as these small growth buds will give rise to your ginger plant.
Choosing Where To Grow Ginger
To grow ginger, the first step is to decide on the best location based on your climate zone and local conditions. Ginger is typically found in moist to wet tropics, at elevations up to 1,900m. It grows best in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F, but can tolerate temperatures between 55 and 95 degrees F. However, growing ginger at temperatures lower than this can induce dormancy.
For optimal growth, ginger prefers an annual rainfall range between 1,400 and 3,000 mm, but it can tolerate rainfall between 400 mm and 4,000mm. If growing ginger indoors or under cover, it is important to ensure that the plant receives the right amount of water through regular watering.
Ginger thrives in a well-drained, humus-rich, neutral to alkaline soil with a pH between 6-7. In cooler northern climates, ginger should be planted in a position with full sun, although it can tolerate partial shade. In hotter regions, ginger may prefer a partially shaded spot.
Planting Ginger in a Warmer Climate
In temperate climates, the end of winter is a suitable time to start planting ginger. However, if you plan on growing ginger indoors throughout the year, you can start at any time. Choose a growing medium that is moist, humus-rich, and well-draining. Before planting, it is recommended to allow the budding root sections to dry out to heal any wounds.
When planting, ensure that the root sections with green growth buds are slightly protruding above the soil surface. You can either plant the ginger in a seed tray and later pot it up, or plant it directly in the container you plan to keep it in. Placing your tray or container on a heat mat or in a heated propagator may be beneficial for bottom heat, but a sunny windowsill will also suffice as long as it’s warm enough.
It’s important to consider that ginger is primarily grown for its roots, so tall and narrow pots are ideal as they allow the roots to grow deep as the buds develop.
Caring For Your Ginger
Ginger plants have a preference for high humidity, which can pose a challenge when cultivating them indoors in a temperate climate. Given that these plants naturally thrive in tropical rainforests, it’s important to maintain a suitable level of moisture around your plant or plants.
Indoor heating, particularly central heating, can be extremely drying, so it’s crucial to regularly mist your ginger’s leaves to increase humidity levels. Additionally, make sure to water the plant sufficiently while avoiding overwatering, and utilize free-draining containers and growing media.
Ideally, you should aim to grow your ginger in a higher humidity environment, such as a kitchen near a sink or a bright, well-lit bathroom. As your ginger plant grows, it’s essential to regularly transfer it to larger pots. By mid-summer, if your plant is thriving, it will likely require a considerably larger container, such as a 5-gallon bucket.
Caring For Ginger in a Warmer Climate
When grown in a tropical or subtropical environment outdoors, ginger can thrive with minimal maintenance. You can let it grow naturally without much intervention. A great way to grow ginger is in a tree circle where it can benefit from the collaborative effort of the whole polyculture to create a self-sustaining ecosystem.
In this setup, organic matter and water are added to a central pit in the ring, providing a constant supply of nutrients and moisture to the system.
Ginger reaches maturity and is ready for harvest in approximately ten months when provided with the proper conditions for growth. Although it’s possible to start harvesting ginger around four months after planting, the ginger is not fully mature and will not have the same taste as mature ginger.
In temperate climate areas, small quantities of stem ginger can be harvested in autumn. Growing your own ginger provides the opportunity to access stem ginger, which is more difficult to find in such areas than root ginger. Stem bases can swell to approximately the size of a golf ball and can be used to make sweets or in other ways.
The primary harvest occurs when the plant is fully mature after eight to ten months, indicated by the foliage dying down. The roots should be unearthed to reveal a new “hand” of root ginger. Reserve some healthy sections for next year’s planting and make use of the rest in various ways in your home and kitchen.
Using Your Ginger
Ginger root can be preserved in a variety of ways, including drying and freezing, to be used in the future. There are numerous exciting ginger recipes to experiment with.