So you live somewhere with no backyard to speak of, but you like to grow stuff or think you would like to give it a shot at least. If it’s an apartment complex or block of units, you probably have access to a balcony.
You pay for this spot that might be hanging outside of your living space, floating off the side of the building, and if you could get some return from this place, it is a good thing, yeah?
Well, this post is all about a few gingers that can grow in these spots, and the best part is that these gingers can be used entirely, meaning roots, stems, flowers, leaves, everything. It’s all about getting the maximum return from that space.
There is also a much larger list of “21 edible ornamental gingers” to consider as well.
Let’s get into it then.
Why grow ginger on a balcony?
Balconies are typically small spaces where you go to get some fresh air while living in vertical housing systems. There is an excellent opportunity to use this space, and it can be pretty productive when the plant selection is on point.
This brings us to gingers and edible gingers at that. Gingers and turmeric are a family of plants that can be grown on balconies, but care is needed to choose varieties that don’t get too tall yet can still give you a harvest. Knowing “when should turmeric be harvested?” is critical for a good return.
The ideal situation for growing ginger in a balcony herb garden is one where it is semi to fully shaded during the hottest hours of the day.
Because gingers are mostly understory plants, they enjoy being well-shaded. The shade will protect the leaves from sunburn, and the moisture loss can be kept to a minimum. If you are sub-tropical, look for part shade. Temperate locations should seek the sun.
What plant pot is best for growing ginger?
Ginger will grow in any pot at least 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall. Gingers have shallow root systems, so the pot depth is not that critical for the plant, but more depth can retain more moisture.
The pots can be clay if looks are essential or plastic if that suits. A deep pot also gives more stability to the plant in windy conditions, but all things come at a price because the soil you grow your ginger in needs to get up to the balcony somehow.
What gingers will suit balcony herb garden bed growing?
It does not matter if it is a pot or a balcony herb garden, these ginger varieties will do well.
- Common Ginger (zingiber officinale)
- Turmeric (curcuma longa)
- Mango Ginger (curcuma amada)
- Hidden Ginger (curcuma petiolata)
- Peacock Ginger (kaempferia rotunda)
- White Turmeric (curcuma zedoaria)
You may get a notion to try out galangal, and we don’t recommend this plant for the balcony herb garden. We think greater galangal is too tall and is discussed in “growing and caring for galangal plants.”
How do you grow ginger in balcony gardens?
All the gingers below have similar growing requirements, making selection easy. If you are setting up for a ginger pot, maybe try a couple if space allows. You will need to select quality rhizomes, and where to buy ginger root to grow will help you figure that part out.
Soil should be rich in organic matter and needs to hold moisture well. Gingers tolerate some dry spells, but the harvest size can suffer due to infrequent watering.
While we personally don’t buy fertilizers, we do know that a balanced mix not tilted towards nitrogen will be sufficient.
Organic chicken manure pellets will be ok. Keep the soil covered with mulch and water often. These tropical plants are already programmed for plenty of rain, so you can’t really overwater them unless the soil in the pot is heavy clay.
That’s unlikely, so don’t be concerned about how much to give them. Soil pH should be around 6-6.5. The natural conditions for these plants are jungles and rainforests where the soil is acidic, so try to match this. Use Sulphur to lower pH and lime to raise it.
1. Common Ginger
This is the mainstay of the ginger industry, and little wonder. It is easy to grow, gives a good yield when conditions are right, and is pretty much insect-resistant.
This is one of the taller varieties of edible ginger on this list at 3-4ft (.9-1.2mts). It is a perennial but acts like an annual because the tops die back at the end of the growing period, typically when you can harvest the rhizomes.
Letting the leaves die is one method; while it is good, you are potentially missing out on half of the benefits this plant can offer. The leaves are edible, and they can be dehydrated and turned into ginger salt that can be used in so many ways in the kitchen.
The young shoots are also edible, but harvesting them may stress a potted plant too much, and the rhizome growth may be retarded.
We suggest you wait until the ginger flower is open and the first signs of leaves looking jaded is the time to cut the tops off the rhizome and then use the greens first. The rhizome will be fine in the pot for a few weeks if needed. This will allow you to maximize the harvest.
If you are a cook who loves ginger, this variety may be the one for your balcony herb garden if you only have room for one. For more info on common ginger “growing ginger” is recommended.
Turmeric grows a lot like the common ginger, and it is easy to tell them apart because their leaf shapes are very different. Getting started with turmeric can be from getting root from the store. There are traps to be aware of, and they are covered in “can you grow turmeric from store bought roots?“
It grows to about the same height, but the turmeric leaf is a large final leaf preceded by several smaller leaves of similar shape lower down the stem. Each new leaf grows out from the stem center, and the older leaves help form the stem shape and give it strength.
Common gingers have several smaller, narrower leaves along the stem.
Several of these leaves grow from the plant base and won’t wander around the pot because the rhizomes grow downwards and out from the base and don’t crowd pots or other plants, so if the soil is in good condition, maybe three plants can be grown in a single 12in pot.
This will require fertilizer or regular composting because of the biomass involved, but it is achievable. Mulch should be applied and maintained.
Just like ginger, this turmeric has leaves that can be used in cooking, and this time you should be able to take a single leaf from each plant during the growing season. Take too many, and the plant will suffer, but the occasional picking is fine.
The leaves can be dehydrated and powdered, or used as a wrap around flavored rice rolls.
Similar to the ginger, this plant will flower, and these are lovely. If you can muster the courage, you can pick the flower and eat it as a vegetable or even in a salad.
A turmeric plant will have just one flower, and it arrives at or very near the season’s end, so picking it will not noticeably harm the harvest quantity. “How long does it take to grow turmeric?” is recommended as a starting guide.
The rhizomes are like fingers that cluster from the plant base, and depending on the age of the plant, the roots will either be a pale yellow to dark orange.
We don’t know if one is more robust in flavor than the other because we blend them all and process many pounds/kilos in a batch.
The amount of turmeric fingers/roots/rhizomes you get will depend on the quality of the soil, and from the harvest, you can keep a couple aside to replant for the next season if you wish.
3. Mango Ginger
Mango ginger is at the tall end of this list at 4ft and is also arguably the most interesting of the listed gingers. The flower and leaves are similar to turmeric, as is the space required for a single plant.
Because of the height of this plant, it might be worth looking at the pot or garden bed’s location and seeing if this plant can grow behind other smaller plants so they can all get some light.
The mango turmeric won’t mind the shade. This root is interesting because the fresh young rhizomes can smell and taste a little like green mango, and green mango is similar to tart green apple but is not as in-your-face tart. I’m sure you get the picture.
Treat the plant the same as the turmeric above in the leaf picking. The flower can be eaten as well, and in the same manner.
4. Hidden Ginger
This Ginger is in the Curcuma genus, and the leaf structure is similar to the other 4 in this balcony garden collection.
The flower can show up before the first leaves at times and can be a little longer than the others if conditions are good, and it can be eaten just the same. It is scented and very attractive. Flower growers keep this plant just for the blooms.
The plant, just like the others above, dies back over winter and this can really suit the balcony gardener.
Because this plant is a summer grower, if you lift the rhizomes and winter them inside, the pot can be repurposed to grow a winter crop, and this way, you get a good return from the garden bed/pot, and it makes use of the balcony all year round.
The rhizome of this variety is a bit acrid and is best used as a starch source if you want to cook with it.
5. Peacock Ginger
This is the smallest of the gingers on our list. It will happily be used as a living ground cover in pots and garden beds. It has lovely variegated patterned leaves that are deep green to lighter greens.
The rhizome is pea sized and generally round-ish in form. The flowers are small and usually pink or purple.
The plant dies back over winter and will reshoot at the onset of warmer weather. It can be either lifted and divided to create more plants, or it can be harvested.
The leaves can be steamed or used as wraps in flavored rice dishes, and the rhizomes can be used as well.
The size of the rhizomes makes it less of a quantity harvest but more of a quality harvest because of the ability to use the plant to fill planting gaps in your pots and balcony gardens. It could be considered a bonus planting.
6. White Turmeric
This is a hard-to-get variety of ginger, but the time and trouble taken to track it down will be well worth it. This plant is very similar to the well-known Curcuma longa “turmeric” found in shops, online, and in many gardens.
The growth habits are different in that this turmeric variety can sometimes push out the flowers before any leaf matter arrives. It can make a pretty scene with only ginger flowers poking out of the ground.
The flowers are edible, as are all of the plants in this article. The rhizomes are paler than common turmeric and don’t have as intense an ability to be used as a dye.
However, it has a large percentage of starch in the rhizome, which can be extracted using the same process shown in this video. There is a hint of camphor when cutting the rhizomes, and the flowers can have a mango scent.
The plant has many medicinal uses, both traditionally and more recently, as scientific studies prove, in modern medicine.
So, now you have a few plants to consider and maybe introduce to your balcony garden beds or pots. These gingers are valuable items to have access to.
For more info on the ginger family in general, we have an article on “5 types of edible gingers for a self-sufficient food garden” that may interest you.
As you may be wondering, yes, we love gingers and grow several varieties in our yard. We are proud to say we are self-sufficient in ginger, turmeric, and galangal.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.