We live in the wet tropics of northeast Australia, right in the sweet spot for growing ginger. This article has been written to help those looking to extend food production from the home garden by placing plants, including Ginger, closer together without the plants competing with each other.
Many people call this companion planting, and while this terminology is suitable, we have found it can lead to information overload and a tendency to overthink the process. It need not be complicated, as you will find out as you read below.
We like things to be simple, reliable, productive, and repeatable.
Does companion planting save space?
Placing many plants together as companions can bring a better return on that area and save space if you compare it to planting each group member singularly.
Many people have limited space to grow things, and when you want to head towards self-sufficiency, getting the most you can from every square foot of the garden is essential.
This is the framework we have used in our yard, or as we often call it, our system. The more we plant, the more holes become visible, waiting to be filled with the subsequent additional plant variety.
This process is perpetual, and success is measured in the quantity and variety of fresh produce coming into the kitchen to be eaten or processed and stored.
How to start with companion planting.
As we noted above, we don’t use the term companion planting much. We place plants according to size, shape, and growth habits, paying little attention to the classic companion planting guides.
How we approach the idea of plant companionship is detailed below, and it avoids any second-guessing or conjecture on what plant does well with another.
A typical area in our yard holds primary shade trees that are either fruit or nuts. The opportunities for the next plant layer are visible when the sun/shade dynamics of the sun movement daily and seasonally are observed.
For instance, if the primary fruit tree is large like a Mango, an opportunity is available below it for smaller trees like Coffee. The spaces beside the Coffee can be filled with Black Pepper plants (The vine variety as explained in this article).
A ground cover plant like Sweet Potato or Gotu Kola will fit well, and Ginger and Turmeric rhizomes can thrive below the ground. All these plants grow together, making the shade of a single tree a valuable piece of the garden.
Now we have the opportunity to introduce Ginger and its close family member Turmeric, to the shade zones of all fruit trees. This method of design is called stacking.
Designed stacking is where the Ginger plant and its extended family shine. All through our system (yard), we have Ginger placed below and alongside a large variety of trees, bushes, and plants. What didn’t work was eliminated, and what was successful stayed in place.
It is an actual trial and error process that eventually produces food efficiently and productively. I am willing to bet most people would welcome a similar system into their yard.
We are not limited by a list of companion plants in a book or an article on the net. We try something, and if it works, we stick with it.
What plants grow well with Ginger?
There is a large list of plants that Ginger will happily grow under and alongside. Most fruit trees, many herbs, and a variety of spices will grow with Ginger.
We like to give examples of the information we share to give depth and context to the articles. This one is no different.
In 2015 we undertook a Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC). Since that time, we have planted and replanted many areas in our yard, and the following lists represent the trees and plants that we know for sure grow together.
What trees will Ginger grow under?
The trees listed below are present in our garden, and all have Ginger below them. Turmeric is often present alongside ginger plants.
- Grumichama Cherry
- Indian Lime
- Macadamia Nut
- Noni Fruit
- Jack Fruit
- Kaffir Lime
There is one detail that should be mentioned here, and that is to use a good layer of woody mulch under the trees as this suits the Ginger perfectly. It is also a handy location to place all those loose branches that a garden can generate.
What plants will Ginger grow with?
All of the listed plants below are present in our yard and are closely planted with Ginger.
- Vanilla Bean
- Peppercorn or Black Pepper
- Sweet leaf (Sauropus androgynus) or Katuk
- Sweet Potato
- Chili (Thai/Birds-eye)
- Gotu Kola
A note on Bananas: This plant is a heavy feeder and will out-compete Ginger for available nutrients, in our experience. We use Banana plants as shading elements, windbreaks, mulch, and for fruit.
While Ginger will grow alongside the Banana, the rhizome harvest is poor. We don’t recommend you rely on obtaining a Ginger rhizome harvest from these two plants being close together.
Why grow Ginger plants under fruit trees?
There are several reasons for placing Ginger plants under fruit trees. The list below shows the ones we recognize as useful and worthy of discussion.
- Soil conditioning.
- Food production.
- Pro-active health benefits.
- Shade creation.
- Mulch generation.
1. Soil conditioner
Calling Ginger a soil conditioner is based on our observations when harvesting Ginger rhizomes at the end of the growing season. We often find multiple earthworms entangled in the rhizome and roots as we lift them.
Earthworms are known for creating fertile soil, and our soil where the Ginger grew is often in better condition than before planting.
The worm activity has to benefit all plants near the Ginger, so it stands to reason that using Ginger as a companion plant is a net positive.
2. Food production
We use a lot of Ginger throughout the year, and it is simple to head out to the garden and dig up as much Ginger rhizome as is required, not concerned about using up all available Ginger in one go.
We don’t take this for granted, though. It took a lot of hard work and quite a bit of time to reach this point in our garden system. Now days we consider ourselves experienced in growing Ginger, enough to put a dedicated article together about growing and caring for it. You can find it here.
3. Health benefits
You don’t have to look far to find information on the health benefits of fresh organic Ginger, so we won’t add to the noise. Suffice it to say that having a medicinal plant like Ginger readily available at all times is gratifying.
4. Shade creation
Gingers can be used as a low-shading element if you get creative with your planting patterns. A Ginger frond thicket can shelter soft-leaved shade-loving plants in some circumstances.
This is more appropriate with early or late-day sun angles and should be explored. This is a more advanced method of growing and is suitable for those who have sun-mapped their yard to optimize the production.
To find out how to map your yard for sun and shade, this article can help.
5. Mulch generation
At the end of the Ginger growing season, the plant tops all dry off and collapse to the soil surface, forming a sometimes-thick layer of natural mulch that can protect the rhizome over the resting season.
This is great when you leave the rhizomes in the ground over winter. Gardeners in cold climates should lift the rhizomes yearly, with cold meaning heavy frost or colder.
You can place mulch over the top of everything if you wish as we did in this article. We generate quite a lot of wood shavings from wood-lathe work we do, and this is a fantastic mulch as you will discover.
Are Turmeric companion plants the same as for ginger?
For all intents and purposes, it is safe to interchange all of the plants listed above as suitable for companion planting with turmeric. The primary difference to consider is the leaf size between turmeric and ginger.
Turmeric has a broader leaf so consider this when using turmeric as a shading screen. Both ginger and turmeric grow to a similar height and enjoy very similar soil preferences.
We grow a lot of both plants and have them side-by-side in many garden spots.
As I close this article out, I am reminded of how effective a PDC is for long-term food production stability. Hopefully, we have described stacking plants with Ginger well enough for you to consider starting this food-growing method. We know it works, as it is modeled after the natural systems of forest and edge plants.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.