How to Grow and Care for Red Button Ginger

Red button ginger plant with red cones in garden

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Red button ginger makes a bold addition to the garden thanks to its glossy green, oval-shaped foliage and bright ruby red spiky cones, which produce vibrant orange flowers. Its red cone attracts hummingbirds. Red button ginger is best planted in early spring (or year-round in tropical environments). The plant will grow at a moderate rate, blooming in its second or third growing season and eventually reaching a mature height of 3 to 4 feet.

Native to Central America, red button ginger is a flowering ginger, including 47 genera and more than 1,000 species. It is an invasive species in some tropical locations around the world.

Common Names Red button ginger, scarlet spiral flag
Botanical Name Costus woodsonii
Family Costaceae
Plant Type Perennial, herbaceous, rhizome
Mature Size 3–6 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Red-orange
Hardiness Zones 9–11 (USDA)
Native Area Central America

Red Button Ginger Care

A beloved spiral ginger among gardeners in the southern United States (as well Central and South America), red button ginger is easy to care for and offers year-round visual interest. It grows best in hot temperatures and tropical conditions.

Space each rhizome at least 18 to 24 inches apart when planting—doing so will mean you will end up dividing them less in the future. It looks great alongside plants that like similar conditions, such as mondo grass, bush lily, hosta, Brunfelsia, and aralia.

Warning

Red button ginger is an invasive species in four tropical locations: Marshall Islands, Palau, Cook Islands, and St. Lucia. "As an invasive alien species, it has become established in natural or semi-natural ecosystems or habitat as an agent of change, threatening native biological diversity," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Red button ginger with red cones and one blooming in the center

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Red button ginger branch with red cone closeup

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Red button ginger plants with red cones and flowering blooms in garden

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Light

Red button ginger thrives in full sun but can also do well in partial shade, especially in hot conditions. Plant your red button ginger somewhere that gets at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Red button ginger is also susceptible to sunburn if it's left in direct sunlight for too long, so if you can offer it some afternoon shade, that would be best.

Soil

Plant your red button ginger in a soil mixture that is moist but well-draining. It will thrive best in a rich and moderately fertile soil mix. You can up the nutritional value of your soil by amending it with organic matter. Additionally, red button ginger can thrive in a soil mixture with a pH level that ranges from neutral to acidic.

Water

Red button ginger plants love water and should be soaked regularly to maintain moist soil, requiring at least 1 inch of water per week (a little over a half gallon). A once-weekly deep watering is sufficient in most climates, but you may need to increase your watering cadence if you're experiencing especially hot or dry weather. Ultimately, never let the soil dry out completely.

Temperature and Humidity

Red button ginger loves warm and humid temperatures due to its tropical nature. If temperatures remain above 50 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, there's a good chance it will flower continuously. Red button ginger is heartier than it's given credit for, and it can survive (though not flower) during chilly temperatures. After light frosts, it generally wilts and bounces back. After a hard freeze, it can sometimes grow back from its roots.

Fertilizer

Your red button ginger plant can thrive without fertilizer if you've planted it in enriched soil with organic matter like compost. But, for an extra boost, you can periodically feed it a balanced, liquid fertilizer blend once a month.

Types of Red Button Ginger

Two types of Costus woodsonii include the primary specimen and the dwarf type. More than 80 species belong to the Costus or spiral ginger genus.

  • Costus woodsonii 'Dwarf French Kiss': Smaller, more compact variety, grows from 24 to 36 inches tall; orange-red flowers
  • Costus comosus var. bakeri or Red Tower Ginger: Formerly Costus barbatus; perennial grows 6 feet tall in zones 9 to 11
  • Costus specious or Crepe Ginger: Widely grown, Malay ginger (or crepe ginger) is root-hardy; ruffled 3-inch white to pale pink flowers with a yellow center; leaves are up to 12 inches long with fine, short-haired undersides; cultivar 'Variegatus' (sometimes called variegated crepe ginger) has large, soft, variegated leaves on red stems emerging from the ground

Pruning

Regularly pruning red button ginger throughout the year is a good way to keep disease and overgrowth in check. Foliage damage can occur during periods of drought or frost. If leaves or stems appear discolored, use sterilized pruning shears to remove the damaged branches or leaves.

Deadhead or remove faded flowers by snipping or pulling off the dead flowers from their base, including any attached leaves. Also, cut or remove dead, browned leaves at the stem. Prune the tops of any drooping stems.

To keep a plant from overgrowing its location, trim it to your desired height and width using pruning shears. Snip off any remaining leaves and stem offshoots that make the plant too wide. If pruning right before winter, cut the stem down to the ground; it will have a better chance of surviving the cold and re-flowering in the spring.

Propagating Red Button Ginger

To propagate red button ginger, you can use division, stem cuttings, or separate offshoots from the parent plant and replant them in a separate container. It doesn't matter the time of year you propagate as long as the plant's temperature and lighting are hospitable. However, spring is generally regarded as the best time of year for propagation. When pruning to thin out your bushy plants, you can use healthy stem cuttings to grow additional red button ginger plants.

However, root division is the fastest and easiest method of reproduction. The root of red button ginger is a rhizome—a thickened tuberous-looking root that grows horizontally just under the soil line. If your plant is in a container, you likely need to repot it since it's a fast-growing plant that quickly outgrows its container each year. Instead of repotting your plant, you can divide it, giving you two plants instead of one. Similarly, if your plant is in the ground, you can control it from outgrowing its margins by division.

To propagate by stem cutting:

  1. You will need a container, sterilized pruning snips, moist potting soil, and a clear plastic bag. Also, using the sterilized pruners, cut off a 6- to 8-inch healthy stem, cutting at an angle. The cutting should have leaves at the top. Remove the bottom 1/3 set of leaves from the clipped end.
  2. Fill the container with moistened potting soil. Plant the cut end about 1 to 2 inches below the soil line.
  3. Cover the container with a plastic bag and set it in a bright (but not direct sunlight) area. Open the bag for about an hour each day to allow air circulation. Keep the soil moist throughout the growing period.
  4. The plant should root in about 2 to 3 weeks.

To propagate by root division or offshoots:

  1. You will need a potting container, sharp knife, moist potting soil, running water, flat surface, and garden fork (optional, inground plants).
  2. Upend the container to remove the rootball from the container. Or, if in the ground, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the root. In combination with the garden fork and your hands, gently pull up the rhizomatous rootball; it may go down about 6 inches deep. Or, if you notice offshoots growing along the plant base, gently separate the shoot from the parent plant. It should have its own rhizome.
  3. Using a hose or faucet, wash away the clinging soil. Using a sterilized knife, cleanly cut through the root. Ensure each portion has several eyes with roots. Cut away and discard any dark brown or black rhizome or roots. Allow the cut ends to dry out for a day, laying flat. Also, if using an offshoot, wash it off and allow it to dry out for a day.
  4. Replant each divided portion of the offshoot in moist potting soil.

How to Grow Red Button Ginger From Seed

The plant's white fruit produces black seeds, which, in the wild, are eaten and spread by birds. This plant reliably reproduces by seed. Seeds are harder to source. And, plants grow from seeds can take two to three years before flowering. In general, stem cutting and division are faster routes of propagation.

  1. You will need a moistened seed-starting mix or a soilless, moisture-retaining medium to sow red button ginger seeds.
  2. Soak the seeds in room temperature water overnight.
  3. Pack the germination container within 1/2 inch of the rim.
  4. Push the seed into the top layer of the potting medium and sprinkle a thin layer of the seed-starting mix on top, just covering the seed.
  5. Finely mist the germination container and place a clear plastic wrap on top.
  6. Put the container in a warm, bright spot (not direct sun). You can use a heating mat to keep the soil temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination can take up to 2 to 6 weeks.
  7. Remove the plastic wrap for about an hour each day to circulate air, but make sure the potting medium stays moistened. Remove the plastic wrap entirely when you see any signs of new growth.

Potting and Repotting Red Button Ginger

If you're choosing to pot up your red button ginger, group several plants together in large containers that are at least 3 gallons in size with multiple holes to allow for excellent drainage. It's a vigorous grower and will likely need repotting annually. Keep the same pot, add fresh soil, and divide the rhizome to propagate new plants.

In cooler parts of the world, red button ginger can be cared for indoors as a houseplant. Keep in mind that plants housed in a container will dry out more quickly, so up your watering cadence to at least once a week (maybe even twice, depending on the location and size of the plant).

Overwintering

Red button ginger is cold tolerant to 30 degrees Fahrenheit with mulch protection against frost. Though the plant can tolerate a light frost for short periods, if you get freezing temperatures, mulch the roots heavily to protect plants from freezing or bring the plant indoors to overwinter.

Water and feed sparingly during the cold months and maintain temperatures above 50 F, if possible; otherwise, it will not flower. In subtropical climates, the plant will go dormant in the winter but will return with the warm weather.

Common Pests

While it's generally resistant to disease, red button ginger can be a bit of a magnet for pests. When growing it in your garden, you may come across insects such as aphids, scale, mealybug, cardamom thrips, Chinese rose beetle, slugs, and more. While there is no single remedy that will eliminate all these critters, you can control pests with a horticultural oil like neem oil. Additionally, other natural pest control methods, like introducing ladybugs to your garden or manually removing the insects from the plants, can help. Insecticides are also an option, though there probably isn't a blend that will tackle all these pests at once.

How to Get Red Button Ginger to Bloom

Red button ginger has exotic, vibrant red-orange, waxy spiraling blooms along thick, upright stems. Its flowers are not known for being fragrant, but it produces extrafloral nectar from flower spikes, attracting ants that harvest the nectar. In turn, the ants protect the plant from the larvae of flies and other flying insects that lay their eggs in the flowers. If its conditions are suitable, red button ginger will bloom year-round.

If your plant has problems blooming, make sure that it is not exposed to temperatures below 50 F. To maintain its blooms or increase the chances of flowering, bring the plant indoors during the winter season. If you want an increased chance of flower production, select a fertilizer higher in nitrogen. Deadheading makes the plant look nicer, but it does not encourage new blooms.

Common Problems With Red Button Ginger

Red button ginger is relatively disease- and pest-free. Usually, a change in environmental conditions will bring on a plant's health issues.

Browning on Leaf Edges

If your plant develops brown leaf edges, it may be underwatered or is exposed to cold temperatures or drafts. Give more water, raise the humidity, remove from drafts, or bring the plant indoors to remedy the condition. If all growing conditions are adequate, you may also give it balanced fertilizer to help the leaves rebound. It's normal for a red button ginger's leaves to turn brown and dieback once temperatures plunge lower than 50 F.

Leaves Curling or Rolling

Bacterial wilt causes leaves to curl and roll, first starting with the lower leaves. The leaves may turn yellow then brown within three to four days as the disease progresses. Early shoots may become soft and rotted. You might also have stunted growth and a waterlogged, grayish-brown discoloration of the rhizomes and stems. In severe cases, the root's rhizome will rot. If you have bacterial wilt, you'll notice a slimy ooze when you make a small cut of the stem at the base of the plant.

Plant Turning Yellow

Bacterial wilt can turn a plant yellow, but leaves will quickly brown. Another reason for full-on leaf yellowing is dry rot or rhizome rot. It's a fungal disease that usually occurs after too much watering, soggy soil, or overly humid conditions. If your plant has this disease—which leads to mushy, decomposing root rot—you will need to pull up the plant and destroy it. This fungal disease is soil-borne and can affect nearby plants.

FAQ
  • How long can red button ginger live?

    When tended to properly, red button ginger can live for up to 10 years.

  • Can red button ginger grow indoors?

    Red button ginger can be grown indoors and kept inside in non-tropical climates. It will likely need more water when kept indoors since interiors have less moisture and containers do not retain water and in-ground conditions.

  • What's the difference between red ginger and red button ginger?

    Red button ginger is a spiral ginger in the Costaceae family with one-sided leaves and terminal, cone-shaped inflorescences with colorful, closely overlapping bracts. It differs from red ginger or Alpinia purpurata, a true ginger (Zingiberaceae family) and native Malaysian plant with showy plume-like flowers on long brightly colored red bracts. Unlike true gingers, Costus species do not have aromatic oils and no culinary value.


Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MaasCostus woodsonii . Global Biodiversity Information Facility.