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Have you read all about the benefits of turmeric and now want to try growing some fresh stock in your home garden? We're doing the same this season. Here's all you need to know.
Turmeric can be grown for ornamental purposes solely, with wide tropical leaves and exotic flowers or brachts. It's attractive and provides that same "I'm sitting here sipping a cold one in a leafy jungle oasis" environment that cannas do. However, most will chose to grow their own turmeric to explore and reap the benefits of this popular herb. Turmeric rhizomes grow in a branced form similar to culinary ginge, but smaller.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family that's native to tropical Thailand, India and Indonesia. These plants prefer a little shade in hot regions and are happy under open canopy trees or planted along a fence that provides afternoon shade. In northern locations they can manage a bit more sun. Turmeric's large, wid leaves will catch breezes so to avoid breaks and tatters, it’s best to select a windfree site.
Turmeric prefers moist, but not soggy, soil. Rich humusy garden soil is ideal and average garden soil that's been heavily amended with compost also works well. Adding a slow release fertilizer when you plant provides nutrients to support the substantial growth that these plants produce each season. Note that fertilizers with lots of nitrogen may encourage foliage production at the expense of robust roots. For beds, mulch after the rhizomes have sprouted to keep the soil cool and to reduce watering needs.
Turmeric is a long-season plant so if you garden in a short-season region, consider pre-sprouting your turmeric indoors. The roots can take 6-12 weeks to break dormancy, sprout and begin to grow - they are often slow - don't give up. Focus on other gardening activites while waiting for your turmeric. Temperature influences sprout timing, with warmer settings producing the fastest results. Some people encourage turmeric roots to begin to sprout with bottom warmth, either in the form of a seed starting mat. The ideal temperature for sprouting are 75-85 degrees. Note that hotter isn't better.
Plant outdoors when frost danger has past and your soil is about 70 degrees. If the soil is warm enough for tomatoes, turmeric will be happy. Turmeric is a tropical plant and does not respond well to cold soil or cold nighttime temperatures.
Turmeric rhizomes typically have eyes or growing points, similar to those on a potato. Place your rhizomes horizontally in the soil with the eyes facing upwards, or sidways if they are poking out from the sides of the root. If you can’t find the eyes, don't worry. The eyes will sprout even from a downwards facing position and will find the soil surface. Cover with 3-4” of soil. Water well to settle the soil around the rhizomes.
Plant turmeric roots 12 – 18” apart in beds and borders. In containers, you can plant more closely; three root sections usually do fine in a 14-18" pot, placed in a triangle pattern. Keep in mind that a small amount of soil supporting a number of plants may require supplemental nutrients. Liquid fertilizers that are rich in potassium and phophorus may be used to support strong root growth, with a dilute mixture applied monthly.
Turmeric requires little care during the growing season. Provide supplemental water if rains are irregular. Turmeric prefers lightly moist soil but will rot in soil that's constantly wet.
Gardeners living in zones 8-10 can leave their turmeric plants in the ground year round. As temperatures cool and the season winds down, your turmeric will slip into dormancy. Their leaves will yellow. This usually occurs between September and December depending on your climate. When you see this, stop watering. This is typically when roots are harvested.
In colder climates you can choose to treat turmeric 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. Harvest som turmeric for home use and store the remaining rhizomes in very slightly moist peat moss in a cool (45-50+ degrees), well ventilated area. Replant come spring and enjoy for another season.
Light: Light to partial shade; not full sun
Soil: Rich, humusy soil
Depth: Cover with 3-4” of soil
Water: Average moisture
Uses: Large containers, herb beds and ornamental borders
Tip: Spicy, unusual perennial herbs
They Start Out looking Like This:
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