Ginger is a much sought after spice that can grow in so many locations, but you can have a lot of variability with harvest yield if the simple things are missed.
The first step to getting a better crop from the next planting is to create similar conditions where the plant is native. This can be said for all plants.
To gain a good crop of ginger rhizomes, it is best practice to heavily cover your garden bed with carbon rich mulch, so yes, ginger needs mulching.
We explain the reasoning below.
How ginger grows naturally.
Ginger in its natural environment grows as an understory plant in areas with generous rainfall. It is a tropical plant but will grow in sub-tropical and temperate regions.
It is shallow-rooted and forms clumps of rhizomes at its base. It prefers slightly acid soils that are well covered with a layer of decaying leaf litter to create compost.
It is often found at the edge of the rainforest, where it can receive more light than in the forest depths. The ginger family is extensive, and they all require similar conditions.
Our experience (here in the wet tropics of northeast Queensland, Australia) with growing ginger over the last few years is that the plant seems to attract a lot of worms around the rhizomes. This is a good thing, but we thought it quite unusual.
When we harvest an area, we almost always find several worms right in amongst the roots and ginger rhizomes, and it appears to be a happy partnership. The bigger rhizomes often have several larger worms tangled up in the root zone.
There have been many comments within the gardening community that ginger plants, and by extension, all of the ginger plant family, act as soil conditioners. Perhaps it is the interactions of the worms that they are talking about.
We know that the soil conditions never end up worse than before we planted it. We have spots in our yard where it has been ignored for a few years, and these spots still deliver reasonable returns from ginger plants.
“How much ginger can one plant produce?” details some ginger we dug up with weights included and explanations on growing it this way. It is part of a broader plan on how to care for a ginger plant that is detailed here.
What mulch is suitable for growing ginger?
Any mulch that is dry enough to resemble the natural conditions where ginger grows is suitable for the home garden.
This includes dead leaves, sawdust, straw and hay, a mix of grass clippings and wood shavings, and wood chips over the compost.
The mulch we most often use is wood shavings created by lathe turning timber products that we sell at a local market. Some of these shavings are from the sapwood of pioneer species full of minerals and nutrients.
These shavings are very close to the natural conditions of the rainforest floor where ginger originates. This is the process we apply to everything we grow here, if possible.
We are not super-growers by any stretch of the imagination but have become 9/10ths self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit in 7 years. We are confident you can achieve similar or better in time.
The best results we have had with ginger was an event that happened quite by accident. We ended up putting an article together on that event because of the incredible results we ended up getting. The article is titled “growing lots of ginger : is this the best mulch” and you might find it worth investigating.
One type of mulch that should be avoided is grass clippings. Grass clippings can be used if mixed with a larger woody component like shredded wood that the arborists sometimes have available when they mulch trees.
Grass can create a barrier that can become hydrophobic when it dries, meaning it repels water. This is the last thing you want in a mulch. This is discussed further in this post titled “can too much mulch suffocate my plants?“.
Water should drain freely through it while, at the same time, the mulch should reduce evaporation. The only time we would use straight grass clippings is in the middle of the wet season when the fungus in the soil can start breaking the clippings down straight away.
Aged manures in partnership with mulch can be beneficial, and compost lightly applied before the mulch will also help.
Ginger is a heavy feeder so we can feed the plants beneath the mulch and “what fertilizer is best for ginger?” can give some ideas how to go about it.
Can ginger be left in the ground under mulch?
Ginger can be left in the ground under mulch when the plant’s above-ground parts die back.
As long as there is a good covering of mulch, the rhizomes will re-shoot when the time is right, and the plant will grow the rhizome clump further as the season progresses.
We have areas in the yard where the ginger is in its 3rd-4th year in the ground without being lifted, and it does just fine.
This allows us to dig up what we need when we need it, and we don’t have to treat it as a stand-alone crop. We have deliberately planted a planned harvest crop in the past when we want to have a few jars of processed ginger on the pantry shelf.
Does ginger need to be harvested when the mulch rots down?
Ginger does not need to be harvested when the mulch has decayed back to soil. You have the choice of lifting the ginger or replacing the mulch.
Lifting the ginger and replanting it simultaneously makes sense in a small setting where you are growing it just for the kitchen. What is the point of growing it if you leave it in the ground in this situation?
A wet winter can also be a reason to lift the ginger, as the rhizome will be dormant and can be overwatered. This post titled “can you overwater ginger?” looks at the watering issues for ginger.
As we have said above, we have used both of these methods, depending on our ginger stocks on the shelf and if garden space is needed for other crops.
The important thing here is if you plant ginger, get mulch over it as soon as possible before the plant sets new shoots. This lessens the risk of harm to the young shoots as they begin to grow again.
Can ginger grow in the same spot if mulch is replaced?
Ginger is happy to grow in the same spot for many years if there is a constant supply of compost and mulch.
The ginger at the edge of the rainforest is not lifted or dug up every year, and it continues to grow year after year. The natural systems are our best teachers.
The mulch is continuously replaced all year by the falling leaves from the tree canopy above, and it is a constant process that we would be wise to mimic as closely as possible while obtaining a yield when we need to.
This is the purpose of self-sufficient garden design in action. We have found that the closer we get to the growing conditions that a particular plant prefers, the less work we have to do to help that plant grow.
So by copying the natural systems that support any plant, we can achieve solid results with minimal input. This leaves time and resources to move on to the next challenge.
The process of growing ginger can be very rewarding when the plant receives the required nutrients.
Mulch helps create conditions for microscopic activity that breaks down mulch and converts it to plant available nutrients.
It is a natural form of slow release fertilizer that lasts all season if you keep the water up. Growing ginger is the same as growing turmeric so you can treat them just the same.
This article “Can Ginger and Turmeric be Grown Together?” explains the similarities. It might suit your situation.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.