How to grow ginger

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 - 4:30pm

Culinary ginger (zingiber officinale) or "ginger root" is really the rhizome of the tropical plant.  It is not only a spice but has folk medicine uses, most notably as a natural cure for nausea.

If you live in USDA Zone 7 or higher, you can grow your own fresh ginger root outdoors, although in all zones but 10 the leaves will die back each winter. And if you live in zone 6 or lower, you can still plant your ginger root in pots and bring it in during cold weather - just make sure you mist it a lot while indoors since it is prone to spider mites and keeping it moist will avoid that problem. (I'd keep multiple plants in different rooms to make sure at least one plant does not get spider mites, as they are incurable. "Two is one and one is none," as they say.) In either location they need rich, drained-but-moist soil, indirect sunlight and shelter from the wind.

Use a four or five inch long piece of ginger root - the kind you find in a supermarket produce section. Note: this is culinary ginger, not the kind that makes the spectacular flowers you see at florists. Culinary ginger will still flower, but flowers are smaller and yellow and will only happen if you do not harvest the rhizomes for two years. You should probably not harvest it the first year anyhow, to let it get established, but at least you'll get flowers.

If you can find a rhizome with green tips or little buds, so much the better, and you can soak it for a day before planting it to get off any sprouting inhibitor chemicals. Then plant it bud-side-up with the top about an inch below the soil line, and if you plant multiple roots set them about a foot apart. The leaves will grow about three feet tall. As it grows it is very common to see part of the ginger root above the soil. This is normal, and nothing to worry about.

Note: if you're going to bring a pot of ginger in for the winter (use a 14" pot) you need to harden off the plant gradually by bringing it in every night when temps go below 50 F, and in the spring reverse that by bringing it out during the day when temps get above 50 F.

Harvest the rhizomes by pulling the plant out of the ground and breaking most of them off, and then replanting the remaining rhizomes. You can slice and freeze it, or you can store the slices in brandy (which works really well). I've not tried to make ground ginger, but you can slice or grind it fresh and then powder the smaller dried pieces. It's fairly woody, so if you use an electric grinder go slow or you'll burn out the motor.

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