However, it is important to understand that ginger is not a plant that you can just pop in your outdoors garden. This is something you will have to grow under cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel, or inside your home.
If you plan and prepare correctly, and take care of your plants with its needs in mind, you can succeed in growing ginger in the UK. In this brief guide you will learn more about this plant and why you might want to grow it at home. You will discover how to choose and plant ginger, where and how to grow it, care for it, and harvest it. Read on to find out more.
What is Ginger?
Ginger is a perennial herbaceous plant – Zingiber officinale. It is generally grown for its underground stems, or rhizome, which are used fresh, or ground to make a common dried spice. Interestingly, this is not a plant that is found in the wild. It is only found in cultivation. It originated in Island Southeast Asia and was likely first cultivated by the peoples of the Pacific Islands around 5,000 years ago. It was introduced to Europe in the early days of the spice trade.
The plant grows to an eventual height of between 30 and 100cm. It forms slender pseudo-stems that are sometimes harvested for an additional yield known as stem ginger. Inflorescences of yellow and purple flowers form on shoots that rise separately from the rhizome, though these are rarely seen when the plants are grown in temperate climates.
Why Grow Ginger at Home?
Ginger is a very useful cooking ingredient and spice that can be very useful in a wide range of different recipes. It also has benefits for your health, and is widely used in herbal remedies and natural medicine. Growing ginger here in the UK can be a great choice because it can help you reduce food miles and lower your carbon footprint. It is a food-producing plant that can be grown at home even by those without a garden. You can grow it in a container even in the smallest of spaces.
How To Choose & Plant Ginger
Ginger is grown from rhizomes (commonly referred to as root sections). These can be bought online or sometimes from local plant nurseries. You may also be able to root fresh ginger that you have bought from the shops. (Though it is worth noting that ginger for sale in supermarkets etc. may have been treated to prevent shoots from forming. If this is the case, soaking the root in water for 24 hours prior to proceeding may help by washing away treatments to retard growth that may have been used.)
When choosing a rhizome, note that the larger it is, the more quickly the ginger will be produced. You are looking for a rhizome with small nodules similar to the chits that appear on potatoes. New growth will form from these small growth buds.
A good time to start planting ginger in temperate climates like that here in the UK is at the end of the winter. But you can give this a try at any time of year when you are growing your ginger indoors.
Choose a moist and humus-rich yet free-draining growing medium. And a container that will allow that growing medium to dry out well between waterings while still retaining some moisture for your plant. Remember, when choosing a suitable container, that you are growing ginger mostly for what lies beneath the surface. So a tall, narrow pot that allows roots to delve deeper as the above-ground plants grow is the best option.
Place your ginger rhizome into a pot or container with the green growth buds popping out just above the surface of the growing medium.
Where To Grow Ginger
It is important to remember, when choosing where to place your ginger plants in containers, how and where ginger grows in a more natural environment.
Ginger thrives in moist to wet tropic environments. It grows best where daytime temperatures of between 18 and 28 degrees C. are maintained. Though it can also cope in temperatures as low as 12-13 degrees C., and as high as 35 degrees C. it will tend to go dormant temperatures lower than those of the optimal range.
Though ginger may prefer a partially shaded spot in hotter climates, when grown in the UK it will do best when given as much sun as possible.
In order to encourage ginger grown indoors in our climate to root successfully, it can be helpful to provide gentle bottom heat (from a heated propagator, or heat mat, for example). However, ginger will often root and shoot successfully when simply placed in a warm position on a sunny windowsill.
Ginger plants require relatively high humidity. And this can be one of the biggest challenges when growing ginger indoors in a temperate climate. Since central heating can really dry out the air, it can be beneficial to place ginger in a location where the humidity remains somewhat higher, such as on a kitchen windowsill close to the kitchen sink, or in a light, bright bathroom.
Caring For Ginger
It is important to make sure that the growing medium around your ginger stays moist, but does not become waterlogged. You should water well but ensure that the medium and container are free-draining. When growing indoors, it may also be necessary to mist your plants to increase humidity levels.
As your ginger plant shoots and begins to grow, it will be important to pot it up regularly. If it is doing well, by midsummer (having been planted in late winter) it should be in a rather large container (such as a 20-litre pot or grow bag, for example).
When ginger is planted and cared for correctly, it should be fully mature and ready for harvest after around 10 months. You can, if you wish, harvest ‘green ginger’ much sooner – cutting off small portions from around 4 months after planting. But this does not taste the same as ginger that is fully mature.
By autumn, in temperate climates, you should also have the option to harvest stem ginger in small amounts. Stem ginger has a unique flavour and can be more difficult to get your hands on than root ginger if you do not grow your own.
After around 10 months, however, the foliage on your ginger plant will begin to die down. This is the perfect time to harvest. Empty your pot and you should discover that a new ‘hand’ of ginger root has developed.
You can set aside some good, budding sections to replant. Then make use of the rest, either fresh, or dried, in your kitchen or in other ways around your home. You’ll find that there are plenty of interesting ginger recipes to try. And having access to the ingredient at home will make it easier and far more affordable to experiment and find new ways to use this exotic ingredient. Ginger might not be the easiest thing to grow yourself at home – but it can be truly worthwhile.