Ginger is the 2023 Herb of the Year™ according to the International Herb Association! Fresh ginger is a treat not to be missed and is easy to grow at home. Grab some rhizomes and let’s get rooting! Learn to plant, grow, care for, and harvest ginger.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root, is widely used as a spice and herbal medicine. It is an herbaceous perennial that can be grown outside in USDA zone 9 to 11 if temperatures do not fall to or below 32°F (0°C). Fortunately, the rest of us can grow in containers or dig the rhizomes up before frost.
A stately plant, a few stands of ginger will look good on your patio or in your garden as well. Reaching 3 to 4 feet tall, the rhizome clump will typically spread 1 to 2 feet wide. The above-ground portion of the plant looks like thick-stemmed grass, and it is the rhizomes underground that are most commonly used. The flowers have pale yellow petals with purple edges.
Ginger is a tropical plant native to Asia’s hot, equatorial areas, and it has a long history in Asian cooking and herbal medicine (for at least 4,400 years!). Ginger was traded at great expense along the Silk Road throughout the Middle Ages; in the 14th centry, a pound of ginger was worth as much as a whole sheep. Ginger was the first foreign spice to be grown in the “New World” (in 1585).
Ginger grown in the home garden in non-equatorial conditions is thinner-skinned and more flavorful than the thick-skinned, mature roots available at the grocery store. Because of the thinner skin, homegrown ginger doesn’t need to be peeled before use, with the trade off being that it won’t last as long on the shelf and should be preserved.
Ginger will do better the closer you can come to replicating its tropical natural home. Warm temperatures in the 70° to 90°F (21° to 32°C) range, moisture, rich and loamy soil, and a little dappled shade make ginger happiest. Protect from strong winds. Also, ginger cannot tolerate standing water or completely drying out.
Ginger does very well in a hoop house, greenhouse, or conservatory if you are so lucky. Plant it under the shelter of a taller crop like your hothouse tomatoes to give it a break from the intense sun. See how to grow ginger indoors.
Ginger can also be grown well in large containers and is particularly suited to grow bags. The rhizomes grow wide rather than deep, so a container with a large diameter is required–at least 12 inches wide for a single plant.
Whether in the ground or container, ginger loves soil rich in organic matter. A peat and wood bark-based soilless medium with a little sand mixed in will support container plants. In the ground, add lots of compost. Organic fertilizers and worm castings are also good choices.
When to Plant Ginger
It does take about 8 to 10 months for ginger to mature, although the rhizomes can be harvested at any time after they start to form. To maximize your growing time, pre-sprout ginger indoors in late winter.
Wait to plant ginger outside until nighttime temperatures are above 55°F (13°C). For direct planting of rhizomes in the garden, soil temperatures should be warmer than 75°F (24°C). This timing is often mid-spring in the U.S.
How to Plant Ginger
To grow your own ginger, purchase fresh ginger rhizomes from a plant nursery or seed company source. Grocery store ginger is often treated with a sprout inhibitor so if you try grocery store ginger, go with an organic ginger. Or try soaking store-bought ginger roots in water for 24 hours before planting and discard the water. Look for firm, large, pump rhizomes with no shriveling or mold; it should feel heavy for its size.
Like potatoes, ginger rhizomes have eyes or buds, and rhizomes can be planted whole or cut into pieces, each with a bud. While you can cut the pieces as small as an inch or two, the larger the rhizome, the quicker it will grow and the larger the plant will be, yielding a bigger harvest later. Use a larger rhizome and several buds if you only have room for one or two plants.
To pre-sprout ginger indoors:
- Prepare a tray with moist compost several inches deep.
- Cut or break the ginger rhizomes into the size pieces you wish to plant, ensuring each has at least one bud. Allowing the ginger to sit on the counter for a day to callus over can help prevent root rot.
- Lay the ginger pieces, buds up, on the surface, and then cover with another 1-2 inches of compost, firming up around the roots. Water until moist but not soggy.
- Cover with a humidity dome and place in a warm spot. A heating mat underneath can speed sprouting.
- When the rhizomes have popped up green sprouts, place them under lights.
- Repot into individual containers to continue growing until ready to plant outside.
Plant ginger outside as follows:
- Work compost into the bed and loosen the soil.
- For rhizomes, dig a trench that’s 6 inches deep and lay rhizomes, eyes up, in the trench about 8-12 inches apart. Cover with an inch of soil.
- For sprouted plants, don’t forget to harden them off first. Then, plant the same as the rhizomes in a trench, but plant them with the original rhizome 2-3 inches deep.
- Water well.
- Once the sprouts are a few inches tall, apply mulch to keep the soil near the surface from drying out and suppress weeds. A two-inch layer of natural mulch will make a big difference.
If you keep them in containers throughout the summer, place ginger plants outside when the nights are warmer or move them back and forth until summer days arrive. You’ll have the advantage of moving them around to adjust to the changing sunlight as summer progresses.
- Ginger will need regular watering unless frequent rainfall occurs. Plan to water in the morning. The soil should be evenly and slightly moist and not allowed to dry out. Ginger will enjoy more water than many of your other garden plants, so set up any irrigation independently. Note, however, that ginger doesn’t like to sit in sopping wet soil for long periods of time.
- As the ginger grows, fill the trench a little, covering the pink new rhizomes like hilling potatoes. Don’t worry if this gets away from you. It isn’t strictly necessary but will encourage more rhizomes to grow.
- Mulch around your ginger to keep weeds down and encourage healthy soil conditions. Read more about using mulch.
- Hand pull any weeds. You don’t want to damage those tasty rhizomes.
You can sneak a little pre-harvest in by gently digging around the base and snapping off or cutting a piece. While the entire crop may take 8-10 months, you can harvest earlier if autumn encroaches on your growing season.
- Ginger will start to slow down and not make new leaves in late summer. Any time after that is okay to harvest.
- Pull up the entire plant, rhizomes, and all. Loosening underneath with a garden fork may be helpful, but use caution.
- Snip the tops off and wash the ginger free of dirt. The skins are tender, so don’t get too frisky.
- Any damaged roots should be used first. Homegrown ginger won’t store as long as store-bought stuff with thicker skins.
- Always store fresh ginger in your refrigerator in a paper bad in the crisper drawer; do not store tightly in plastic, as that will encourage mold. You can store fresh ginger unpeeled in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and peeled in the freezer for up to 6 months
- Freshly grated ginger can be frozen in ice cubes; grate with a microplane or process in a blender to desired consistency. Add to recipes frozen.
- Dried ginger root should always be stored in your pantry.