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Planning a tropical vacation this year? No? Then create your own tropical oasis in your yard. Include gingers. These unusual plants produce both lush, exotic foliage and cool flowers or brachts. And if you choose to grow culinary ginger, harvest the thick, branched roots in the fall for use in your favorite Asian and Indian dishes.
Gingers are a large and varied family. Siam tulips produce straight stalks topped with bright pink brachts in summer, while White Wonder and Pink Wonder zedoary gingers grow long, wide leaves, each decorated with a cranberry mid-vein. Culinary ginger puts most of it's energy into developing those plump, tasty roots and produces wide ribbed leaves, but doesn't develop showy flowers.
These gingers originate from tropical areas in Thailand, India and Indonesia. They prefer a little shade in the hot regions and are happy under open canopy trees or planted along a fence that provides afternoon shade. With large leaves that catch the wind like sails, it’s usually best to select a site that’s not too breezy.
To flower well, Siam tulips need more sun than many other gingers. Choose a location that gets 4 hours sun in northern regions and enjoys some bright, dabbled shade in areas where the sun is strong. These plants are happy with hot, humid conditions and can be slow to sprout and/or bloom in cooler regions.
Gingers prefer moist but not soggy soil. Rich humusy garden soil is ideal and average garden soil that's been amended with compost also works. Adding a slow release fertilizer when you plant provides nutrients to support the substantial growth gingers produce each season. For beds, mulch after the rhizomes have sprouted to keep the soil cooler and reduce watering needs.
Plant outdoors when frost danger has past and your soil is about 60-70 degrees. Gingers are tropical plants and do not respond well to cold soil or cold nighttime temperatures. A good rule of thumb is to plant your gingers outdoors when temperatures are suitable for tomatoes.
Gingers rhizomes typically have several eyes or growing points, similar to those on a potato. Place your rhizomes horizontally in the soil with the eyes facing upwards. (We have cut the rhizomes to size as needed and allowed the cut surfaces to callous over; no need to fuss with that.) If you can’t find the eyes or they are opposite sides of the rhizome, don't worry. The eyes will sprout even from a downwards facing position and will find the soil surface. Cover with 2” of soil. Water well to settle the soil around the rhizomes. Gingers can be slow to sprout; give them 3 to 5 weeks. (One of our tests took 7 weeks and then grew at a nice clip). Heat is a big factor in sprouting. One of our customers has success starting these plants in black pots, placed in full sun. When spouts appear, she moves the pots to a lightly shaded area.
Siam tulips have odd bulbs, ball shaped knobs attached to a crown. Plant the crown 2" deep with the knobs in the soil below.
Plant gingers 12 – 18” apart in beds and borders. In containers, you can plant more closely with partners. Keep in mind that a small amount of soil supporting a number of plants in a mixed container will require supplemental nutrients. If you choose to add fertilizer, select a slow release balanced varieties. Nitrogen heavy formulations tend to encourage folage growth at the expense of flower and root development.
Gingers require little care during the growing season. Provide supplemental water if rains are irregular. Gingers prefer lightly moist soil.
Gardeners living in zones 8-10 can leave their gingers in the ground for next year. As temperatures cool and the season winds down, your gingers will prepare for dormancy. Their leaves will yellow. This usually occurs between September and December depending on your climate. When you see this, stop watering.
In colder climates you can choose to treat gingers like annuals; ignore them when the cold arrives and start over in the spring. Or you can lift the rhizomes and overwinter indoors. To lift, wait until after the first frost, dig the rhizomes, brush off the soil and cut off the top growth. Store the rhizomes in very slightly moist peat moss in a cool (45-50+ degrees), well ventilated area. Replant come spring and enjoy for another season.
In areas where the ground freezes, potted gingers can be brought indoors for the winter. When yellowing foliage and/or chilly temperatures signal the end of the growing season, move your potted ginger indoors to a cool, dark place. A garage where temperatues don't freeze or a cool basement can both work. Withhold water to encourage the plant to slip into their required dormancy period. Let your ginger plant sleep through the winter. When spring arrives, move your pot to a warmer, bright site and water very lightly to wake the plants up. (Overly generous watering can enourage rot. Keep in mind that your plants have no stems or foliage to support at this stage so they don't need much moisture.) When temperatures are warm outdoors (minimum of 65 at night), move your ginger plant outside.
Light: Light to partial shade
Soil: Rich, humusy soil
Depth: Cover with 2” of soil
Water: Average moisture
Uses: Large containers, beds and borders
Tip: Fun and unusual garden additions
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