Ginger plants include a large number of species in several genera in the Zingiberaceae family of plants, mostly tropical perennials originating in Southern and Southeast Asia. The most well-known genus is Zingibar; its species include the common spice ginger, Zingibar officianale, also known as true ginger. But for ornamental purposes, several other genera offer better species.
The number of ginger plant species available for avid collectors is staggering. And there is great variation among species: one flower looks like an otherworldly pinecone; another resembles a mutant orchid; still another looks like a tropical insect dreamed up by a cartoonist. Although some people associate flowering gingers with the state of Hawaii, many of the species were introduced to the island as ornamentals, and some, like the red button ginger, are considered invasive plants.
Ginger plants spread and emerge from rhizomes, the thick fleshy root-like structures you are accustomed to seeing in the produce section of the market. The leaves are usually lance-shaped or oblong, deep green, and glossy. Flowers vary greatly from one genus to another and may be borne throughout the growing season in tropical climates.
|Botanical Name||Zingiberaceae family, several genera and species|
|Common Name||Flowering ginger, ornamental ginger, ginger|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||4 to 5 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Filtered sun; part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-draining soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5|
|Flower Color||Red, orange, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||7 to 10 (depends on species)|
|Native Area||Southern and Southeast Asia|
How to Grow Flowering Ginger
Plant flowering gingers with other large tropical plants like cannas or elephant ears to create a sultry statement. Grow them in moist, well-drained garden soil in a part-shade location, or one that gets filtered sun all day. Flowering ginger will grow quite vigorously in the garden and has been known to take over garden spaces. Avoid planting it near natural areas where it might escape.
Feed at least every other month, and clip back flower stalks to the ground after they finish blooming. The plant is fairly trouble-free, but root rot may occur in cold, wet soil.
Growing in Containers
Although most flowering gingers are too large to grow as houseplants, you can keep them in your greenhouse or conservatory or grow them on a shaded deck or patio. In fact, most gingers have a longer bloom period if grown in large pots. Ginger blooms will last as cut flowers for as long as three weeks. Gardeners should consult the care tag of the individual species to choose a proper location or container size. Choose a large container with a diameter of at least 24 inches. Larger containers also retain moisture for longer periods. Choose a heavy flowerpot made of concrete or porcelain, as the rhizomes may cause plastic or other thin-walled plants to split as the plant grows.
In colder climates, after the first frost, remove withered foliage and dig up the rhizomes to dry out in a protected location. Store the dormant rhizomes in sawdust or sphagnum moss as you would other tropical bulbs, such as gladioli or dahlias.
Most ginger plants thrive in filtered light, such as they experience when growing in a rainforest. Ginger plants growing in full sun may experience browning on foliage margins.
Ginger plants like organically rich, moist, well-draining soil with near-neutral to slightly acidic pH.
Water frequently during the growing season, less often in fall and winter. Weekly deep watering is preferable to shorter daily showers. Aim to give your ginger plant approximately one inch of moisture per week.
Temperature and Humidity
Tropical ginger plants crave the high humidity and moist, rich soil of their native habitat. If flowering ginger plants get too dry, they will cease to flower, and may even become dormant. As a tropical plant, ginger plants prefer temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ginger plants are heavy feeders and will benefit from a biweekly shovelful of manure when the summer heats up. Otherwise, you can apply a complete flower fertilizer every other month.
Varieties of Flowering Ginger
The flowering ginger family, Zingiberaceae, is a diverse group including some 47 genera and more than 1,000 species. Some of the more common genus names you are likely to see in the nursery trade include Alpinia, Costus, Hedychium, and Zingiber (which includes the edible culinary ginger).
Individual species may bear such uninteresting names as “red ginger” or “yellow ginger,” but collectors should choose plants based on the Latin name to avoid mislabeled plants and muddled taxonomy issues. Gardeners just looking for an attractive container plant can look for a plant in bloom that they admire, as all tropical gingers thrive under similar growing conditions. Top varieties include:
- 'Crepe Ginger' (Costus speciosus) has maroon bracts with white flowers whose petals resemble crinkled tissue paper; it may tolerate light frosts.
- 'Kahili Ginger' (Hedychium gardnerianum) has fragrant yellow flowers with prominent orange stamens.
- 'Pineapple Ginger' (Tapeinochilos ananassae) resembles a (red) pineapple; it is a good candidate for the shade garden.
- 'Red Button Ginger' (Costus woodsonii) is an easy ginger for beginners, but those in tropical areas should keep it in a container to prevent its invasive tendencies.
- 'Torch Ginger' (Etlingera elatior) has shiny red flowers that resemble pine cones; it grows well in full sun.
- 'White Ginger' (Hedychium coronarium) grows fragrant orchid-like flowers throughout the year; it may spread aggressively in the landscape in frost-free areas.
Propagating Flowering Ginger
It's possible to grow ginger from rhizomes you buy at the supermarket, but it may not be worth the effort if you desire an ornamental plant with flowers. Some ginger rhizomes sold for food use may be treated with a growth retardant to prohibit sprouting. If you come across a plump, fresh rhizome that looks alive, you can attempt to sprout it in a container in a warm place. If the rhizomes are indeed viable, you may see sprouts within two weeks. However, plants grown from rhizomes may take up to two years to flower, and blooms are not as showy as those from most ornamental species in the trade.
To propagate an existing plant, dig up the rhizome and cut it into 1- to 2-inch long sections, each with several good growth buds. Let the pieces dry out for a day, then plant them just below the surface in rich, well-drained soil. Water lightly until top growth develops. Once establish, water more heavily and fertilize regularly.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale. University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension