I dug up the ginger (Zingiber officinale) today. Edible ginger, not the ornamental sort. It wouldn’t survive winter around here in the ground (it is a tropical plant, after all), so I grow it in a large pot. When the weather starts turning cold (around the middle of October), I bring it in and stop watering it and that sends it into dormancy. Then I just leave it in the pot – that preserves it just as well as, if not better than, any other way, until I’m ready to use or replant it.
People often call it “ginger root”, but of course we don’t use the roots – what we use is actually the rhizome, a creeping underground stem.
I wasn’t desperate for ginger this year, so I never needed to harvest it. However, now is the time I need to think about replanting it for this year. It usually takes up to six weeks to break dormancy, and possibly up to six more weeks for it to actually sprout and grow strongly. If I start that process soon, it should be ready just in time for June, when the weather is reliably warm enough here that ginger can be left outside. I got my original piece years ago from the grocery – I highly doubt that it was organically grown, and I’ve heard that such things are often treated to prevent sprouting. In that case, it might take even longer to grow.
For a starter piece, choose a section that’s firm and has a few small bumps – these are the buds from which new growth will sprout. I like to leave it in a sealed transparent container in a warm place until the buds start turning green (breaking dormancy), then plant it. In the ground it should be planted about four inches deep; in a pot you can get away with planting it two inches deep. Once planted, water well and don’t water again until green leaves appear (or unless the soil dries out completely).
I’m always amazed by how much of a return ginger gives. The piece I planted last year was only a 2-inch section, if that; the piece I dug up measured just about 11 inches – more if you count the bit growing off the side. The rhizome has a strong linear tendency, so as it often does, this piece started distorting the pot when the ends hit the sides. I only use cheap flexible plastic pots for ginger now – I’ve actually had pots crack in the past because of the pressure the growing rhizome exerts. Same thing with ginger’s cousin turmeric (Curcuma longa).
Common sense would therefore suggest growing it in a trough, but it’s not necessarily that simple. As you can see in the picture, the roots need a fair bit of room to grow, so it would need to be a deep trough. Also, if growth is very good, side buds can strike off in their own directions…and hit the sides of the trough. I wouldn’t use a trough unless I can get a big one…which would be a bitch to lift and bring indoors in autumn. Sigh.
It would be nice, though. Leaving the plant undisturbed for a couple seasons could very well result in flowers. Z. officinale flowers aren’t all that spectacular, but it would be nice to do it at least once.
Back to the roots: they were very succulent and fleshy, even though the soil was bone dry. Of course, that’s why I can get away with growing ginger at all – they naturally have a dormancy response to drought. From certain angles, the whole thing looks like some sort of huge spider or centipede or something. The round cracked areas are the scars left from where the leaves grew (the view is from the top).
Growing ginger is pretty simple if it gets enough sun and warmth. It also likes good, fertile, friable soil and lots of water. If you can give it these things, you just have to sit back and watch it break the pot.