Turmeric is an excellent plant for the beginner to grow because it can be generous with the rhizome harvest and look great.
The well-known health benefits are probably the reason you are looking at growing the plant in the first place, and while they are pretty tough, there are things to be aware of when you first begin growing turmeric.
There are things that the turmeric plant will need to grow to its full potential. The following list is what we recommend on how to care for turmeric plants.
- Soil types and condition.
- The space required for a healthy plant.
- The sunlight needs of the turmeric plant.
- The best climate for growing turmeric.
- The water requirements of turmeric.
To get an idea of the best conditions for this plant, we should remind ourselves where it originally came from. Turmeric is a tropical plant that is part of the more prominent ginger family.
The tropics have seasonal changes that plants like turmeric and the gingers have adapted to over time and these growth habits are what we need to consider when we try to grow this plant in different climates.
The tropics can be described as having two seasons instead of the usual four we are mainly accustomed to. The first season is the wet, which can bring torrential rains called monsoonal in some parts.
It can be weeks of rain at a time, which could be a problem for a deep-rooted plant that cannot escape the soaked soils.
Turmeric is a shallow-rooted perennial that grows in the top layers of the soil where the moisture has a chance to drain away, and this is important to prevent the rotting of the rhizome.
The moisture also speeds up the forest floor’s rotting processes and converts the leaf litter into nutrients that the turmeric can access because of the shallow roots.
The process above stops at the end of the wet season, and when it gets dryer, the rotting processes slow down, and the turmeric and the gingers go into a dormant stage, waiting for the next wet season. This is when it is time to harvest. “When should turmeric be harvested?” fills in some details.
We can mimic this behavior in our gardens if we are diligent gardeners. If you want to be self-sufficient in turmeric, you will be well advised to copy the natural processes described above to make it so much easier on yourself.
So how do you care for a turmeric plant? We can begin by looking at the soil.
What soil does turmeric grow best in?
Turmeric grows best in soil that drains well but has good moisture retention. This is achieved through having plenty of organic matter in the soil. The soil should be slightly acidic, and turmeric can grow in soils as low as 5.5pH. Many of the tropical soils are this low.
The soil should be well mulched to create a barrier to moisture loss via evaporation, and this mulch can be used as a slow-release fertilizer that can save you from needing to feed the plant through the growing season. This post titled “growing lots of ginger” describes the process for you. For all intents and purposes, turmeric and ginger are interchangeable in the growing methods.
Commercial growers prefer sandy loams to grow gingers and turmeric but also often use lots of fungicides and chemical fertilizers to keep the plants alive. As home growers, we don’t need to use these products, which is a good thing from our perspective.
We have a dedicated post on how the chickens are used to create organic garden soil that cannot be bought at any price and it is titled “improve your garden soil with rock dust and chickens.” We recommend you spare some time and read it.
Now that the soil has been sorted out, how much of it do you need? We can look at this in the next section about the space required to grow turmeric.
How much space does a turmeric plant need?
For a good harvest, the turmeric plant will need about 1 square foot per plant. The plant can grow in tighter spaces, but to allow airflow and the leaves to fall away from the center, it is best to give them some room.
It is not so critical in a garden outside but is more directed towards someone looking to grow turmeric in a pot.
These plants are good candidates for growing in balcony gardens, and we have an article that goes into this subject for you. It is titled “6 gingers to suit a balcony herb garden,” and turmeric is one of the plants listed there.
The plant makes that list because while it needs a little more room than a common ginger, it is the plant’s height that helps in some situations. Turmeric grows at about 3-4 ft tall, and because of the size of the leaves, it can be a bit of a wind catcher if it is in a pot.
A large pot with enough soil to grow the plant well will have enough weight to counter the wind’s push. The height is excellent for understory planting, and this is the natural location where you can find these plants in the tropics.
We dive deeper into this in the next section about sunlight requirements.
Does turmeric need full sun?
Turmeric is a tropical plant that grows as an understory plant below trees at the edges of the forest, and these trees drop leaves and biomass all year long. This forms a leaf litter that feeds the turmeric over time.
Turmeric grows best in part shade in these zones and will suffer if subjected to full sun. Note that this is in the tropics, where the sun is directly overhead at midday. UV levels are extreme, and this is what will harm the turmeric if it gets too much sun.
Where you live is likely to be very different, and the amount of sunlight that the turmeric can benefit from will be more the further from the equator you are.
This is where a sun map of your yard can be helpful because if you want to grow turmeric in a cold climate, then maximizing the sunlight is vital. Knowing where the shade is during the day over the growing season can help you get the most from the turmeric without concern.
Planting it into a deep shade spot in the cold will likely stunt and kill the plant. This goes for all the gingers.
The further you are from this climate, the more sunlight you will need to give it. The following section details growing turmeric in cold temperatures in more depth.
Will turmeric grow in cold climates?
Turmeric can successfully be grown in cold climates, but the grower needs to be aware of the challenges that will be faced by trying to develop a tropical plant in these climates.
The best climate for growing ginger is a tropical one. It is the native location for these plants.
Cold weather is a stranger to turmeric, and the colder seasons are when turmeric and the greater ginger family members are usually dormant.
It is a fine line between getting the plant to grow well enough and long enough to produce rhizomes and the plant wanting to die back. The creative grower can use poly-tunnels and glass-houses to maintain warmth, which can be very successful.
Suppose you are fortunate enough to have one or both of these available. In that case, it is doubtful that you will be stopping at just turmeric because there are so many useful plants that prefer warmer climates that could be suitable for growing.
The main thing in these situations is to get enough sunlight into the plant so it can produce the roots for you. It will need about 9-10 months of growth to reach maturity, so keep this in mind. “How long does it take to grow turmeric?” gives more details.
There are a lot of different climates where people can try to grow this plant, and the deciding factor for success is the quality and amount of available sunlight.
We are spoilt for tropical plants here where we live. We are fortunate that we don’t have to be concerned with sun-hours or cold temperatures killing plants. It does cut both ways because the dry seasons test all of our plants. Some are seriously tough, and “growing galangal” shows this.
We hope you have found some helpful information on growing turmeric in this post, and there are several other articles on site that we have personally written on gingers and turmeric.
We feel we can help others with this topic as we have grown hundreds of pounds (kgs) of the rhizomes over the last few years and consider ourselves self-sufficient in both ginger and turmeric.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.