How to Grow Turmeric Root

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Turmeric has captured the attention of many with health promises ranging from the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer to the ability to fight depression and ease arthritis pain.  Perhaps you are already experimenting with turmeric and now are wondering how to grow turmeric root in your home garden.

Good news! Growing turmeric root is not difficult. It’s largely about being patient.

Shaved fresh turmeric root, ready for cooking.
Use turmeric root chopped, shaved or dried.

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, related to the culinary ginger that gives many Asian dishes their bright flavor and unique zip.  Tasty Indian and British curries also owe their gold yellow color and distinctive taste to turmeric.

This plant has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries.  The substance curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin levels vary depending on the variety of turmeric, with Red Turmeric typically delivering the highest percentages.

Turmeric root looks a bit like fresh ginger root, but typically smaller, with branched “hands” made up of knobby “fingers”.  The fingers are the “seed” stock, the part of the root planted for propagation. Over the course of the season, the plants develop lush, tropical-looking leaves while underground another hand of roots is developing. The roots are harvested in late fall for culinary or medicinal use.

Ready to experiment with growing turmeric in your garden?

Turmeric Planting Stock

First, source your seed turmeric.  This planting stock is specifically for growing rather than eating, and unlike much of the grocery store turmeric it has not been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals.  Organic seed turmeric offers the advantage of being free from pesticide and insecticide residues, and other undesirable additives.

Consider sourcing seed turmeric early in the growing season, especially if you live where summers are short. Turmeric requires 7 to 9 month of active growth to develop harvestable roots, so you may want to start plants indoors preseason and move them outside when temperatures warm.

Turmeric Varieties

Cut sections of turmeric root showing varied interior colors
There are several variety options for turmeric, with different colors and flavors.

Several types of seed turmeric are available. Choose based on personal flavor preferences. Red Turmeric has a sweeter flavor, with little of the bitterness sometimes associated with this spice. Indira Yellow Turmeric is the variety classically used in Indian dishes such as curries. White Mango Turmeric has a taste similar to green mango and is popular in Thai cooking.

Where and When to Plant Your Turmeric

Turmeric is native to subtropical regions and thrives in hot, humid settings. Sites with morning to midday sun are ideal. Find a location that offers a bit of light shade in the afternoon, especially in hot southern regions. Turmeric planted in blistering sun in the hottest parts of the U.S. may suffer from leaf burn.

As turmeric leaves are large and wide, it’s best to site plants in wind-free parts of the landscape.

turmeric root sprouted and growing in container
Turmeric root can be grown in a large container

Turmeric can also be grown in large containers.  A trio of roots fit nicely in a 14-18″ diameter pot. Allow at least 15″ of root space in pots.

Plant or move your indoor-sprouted turmeric root outside when soil temperature is a minimum of 65 degrees. Tomatoes are typically planted when soil is this warm, so this is a helpful timing guide. Try not to jump the gun; planting turmeric in cold soil may lead to rot rather than sprouts.

Planting Turmeric

Ready to plant turmeric roots
Turmeric roots are knobby and funny looking.

Ginger-family plants appreciate rich, humusy soil. The better the soil, the greater the root production so if your soil is lean, amend it. Compost is helpful and a slow release fertilizer used according to package directions provides the nutrients needed for robust growth.

Examine your seed turmeric, looking for the eyes or growing points. These are little bumps that are a bit similar to the eyes on a potato. Plant the roots horizontally with the eyes facing upwards or sideways in holes 2 to 3 inches deep. Cover and water to settle the soil around the roots. Then, be patient.

Turmeric, like many in the ginger family, can be slow to break dormancy and sprout.  Allow up to 8 weeks for the roots to wake up and get going.  During this period, water very lightly, if at all. The goal is to keep the soil very slightly moist so the roots don’t dry out. Keep in mind that roots left in wet soil are likely to rot.  Note, too, that warmer soil temperatures tend to prompt faster sprouting. Temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees are ideal.

How to Grow Turmeric Root through the Season

Once your turmeric has sprouted, plant care is simple and straight forward.  Provide sufficient moisture to keep the soil lightly moist but not wet. Plants need more water as they grow larger; typically about 1 -1.5″ per week is enough for a mature turmeric.

We know a gardener in the upper Midwest who has successful grown a number of warmth-loving tropical plants in heat-absorbing black plastic pots, arranged on a dark colored driveway. This innovative approach has maximized the available heat and made it possible to please tropical plants in a region where temperatures don’t typically get hot.

At Season’s End

tall foliage of turmeric plant growing in garden.
Tall and upright, turmeric is an attractive garden plant.

The best way to handle your turmeric at the end of the growing season depends on where you live. In cold regions, the plants must be overwintered indoors. As with most tropical plants, if the roots freeze they will die.  Turmeric can be left in the ground to overwinter in parts of the country where freezes don’t occur.

For cold-region growers, carefully dig the tubers in the fall when the foliage turns yellow. Clean off any soil and let the tubers air dry outdoors for a day or two. Then store in a breathable cardboard container in very slightly moist peat moss. The tubers need enough moisture to avoid drying out, but not enough to encourage rot. So it’s helpful to check periodically and adjust as needed.

During winter dormancy container-grown turmeric can be brought indoors and stored in a cool (60 degree), dark site. In late winter to early spring, move the pot into a warmer area. Begin to water lightly to nudge the plant awake.

In warm regions, turmeric can be left in the ground. The plants slip into dormancy was the weather cools in late autumn and the foliage yellows. Snip off the dead leaves and mark the growing site. Look for sprouts again when the weather warms.

Now that you know how to grow turmeric root, have fun thinking about all the ways you can use this flavorful, healthy garden addition!

Buy Seed Turmeric here:  Turmeric Root for Planting 

Curious about recent findings relating to the health benefits of turmeric? Learn more here:  Turmeric Health Benefits and A Nutritionist’s Take on Turmeric


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