Turmeric Planting Guide

Have you read all about the benefits of turmeric and now want to try growing some fresh stock in your home garden? Great! 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 reap the health benefits of this popular herb. Turmeric rhizomes grow in a branched form similar to culinary ginger, but smaller. 

Choosing a Growing Site for Turmeric

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family that's native to tropical Thailand, India and Indonesia. These plants do best planted outdoors where they 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, wide leaves will catch breezes so to avoid breaks and tatters, it’s best to select a wind free site.

Soil Preparation

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 balanced, 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.

When to Plant Turmeric

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 up to 8 weeks to break dormancy, sprout and begin to grow - they are often slow - don't give up. Focus on other gardening activities 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: a seed starting mat works well. 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 65 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. 

How to Plant Turmeric Roots

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 sideways 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 2-3” of soil. Water well to settle the soil around the rhizomes.

Turmeric Rhizome Spacing

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 phosphorus may be used to support strong root growth, with a dilute mixture applied every 2 to 4 weeks.

During the Growing Season

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.

Harvesting Turmeric Rhizomes

At the end of the growing season, lower light and cooler temperatures prompt turmeric plants to slip into dormancy. The foliage will yellow. This occurs between September and December, depending on your location in the country. Late season yellowing of foliage is a signal that it's time to harvest. Don't just the gun - a fair amount of the root mass that you want develops in the last few weeks so hold out as long as possible without risking freezing.

Saving Rhizomes at Season’s End

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; harvest all the roots 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 some 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.

Insider Tips

  1. Turmeric roots are often slow to break dormancy and get growing. Warm temperatures help wake the roots up. Consider starting indoors at 75-80 degrees and then transplanting the roots out to the garden or into a large container. While awaiting the first sprouts, the pot doesn't need light. A warm furnace room is a great place to start turmeric in many homes.
  2. All three types of turmeric we offer are grown similarly but their flavors and uses vary. For best results, choose a variety that aligns with your intended use and preferred flavors.
  3. Grocery store turmeric roots are often treated with sprout retardants. In Asian markets, the bud tips are frequently trimmed off. Obviously, neither results in a successful garden plant.
shop turmeric
shop turmeric

Success Snapshot

Light: Light to partial shade; not full sun

Soil: Rich, humusy soil

Depth: Cover with 2-3” of soil

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Large containers, herb beds and ornamental borders

Tip: Spicy, unusual perennial herbs

GUIDE: Turmeric Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: