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 yellow-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 three to four feet.
Native to Central America, red button ginger is a flowering ginger, including 52 genera and more than 1,300 species.
|Common Names||Red button ginger, Indian head ginger, scarlet spiral flag. red cane|
|Botanical Name||Costus woodsonii|
|Plant Type||Perennial, herbaceous, rhizome|
|Mature Size||3–6 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|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 reduces the need to divide plants in the future. It looks great alongside plants with similar growing conditions, such as mondo grass, bush lily, hosta, Brunfelsia, and aralia.
Red button ginger is an invasive species in four tropical locations: Marshall Islands, Palau, Cook Islands, and St. Lucia. "Invasive alien species are animals, plants or other organisms that are introduced into places outside their natural range, negatively impacting native biodiversity, ecosystem services or human well-being," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Red button ginger grows in partial sun or partial shade. Plant your red button ginger somewhere that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. Red button ginger is also susceptible to sunburn if it's in direct sunlight for too long, so if you can offer it some afternoon shade, that would be best.
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 increase the nutritional value of your soil by amending it with organic matter. Additionally, red button ginger can thrive in a soil mixture with a soil pH level that ranges from neutral to acidic.
Red button ginger plants love water and should be soaked regularly to maintain moist soil, requiring at least one inch of water per week. A once-weekly deep watering is sufficient in most climates, but you might need to increase your watering cadence in 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 more hardy 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 root system.
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 150 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 six feet tall in zones 9 to 11
- Costus specious or Crepe Ginger: Widely grown, Malay ginger (or crepe ginger) is root-hardy; ruffled three-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
Regularly pruning red button ginger throughout the year keeps 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. 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, use pruners to trim it to the desired height and width. 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 if environment conditions are right. 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 surface. If your plant is in a container, you likely need to repot it because 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 planted in the ground, you can control its size by dividing it.
To propagate by stem cutting:
- You will need a container, sterilized pruners, moist potting soil, and a clear plastic bag.
- Use the sterilized pruners to 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.
- Fill the container with moistened potting soil. Plant the cut end about 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.
- 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.
- The plant should root in about two to three weeks.
To propagate by root division or offshoots:
- You will need a potting container, sharp knife, moist potting soil, running water, flat surface, and garden fork (optional, for inground plants).
- Upend the container to remove the root ball from the container. Or, if the plant is growing in the ground ground, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the plant . In combination with the garden fork and your hands, gently pull up the rhizomatous root ball; it might be growing to a depth of six inches. Or, if you notice offshoots growing along the plant base, gently separate the shoot from the parent plant. It should have its own rhizome.
- Using a hose or faucet, wash away the soil. Using a sterilized knife, cleanly cut through the root system. Ensure each portion has several eyes with roots. Cut away and discard any dark brown or black rhizomes 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.
- Replant each divided portion of the offshoot in moist potting or garden 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 grown from seeds can take two to three years before flowering. In general, stem cutting and division are faster routes of propagation.
- You will need a moistened seed-starting mix or a soilless, moisture-retaining medium to sow red button ginger seeds.
- Soak the seeds in room temperature water overnight.
- Pack the germination container within 1/2 inch of the rim.
- 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.
- Finely mist the germination container and place a clear plastic wrap or bag to create a moist environment.
- 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 from two to six weeks.
- 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 three 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 grown outdoors in a container will dry out more quickly, so increase your watering schedule to at least once a week (maybe even twice, depending on the climate, amount of sunlight, and size of the plant).
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 it is exposed to 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 degrees Farhenheit, 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.
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, it can be infested with 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 pests, 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 control all these pests at once.
How to Get Red Button Ginger to Bloom
Red button ginger has exotic, vibrant yellow-orange, waxy spiraling blooms along thick, upright stems. Its flowers are not known for being fragrant, but it produces extra floral 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 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 phosphorus. Deadheading makes the plant tidy, but it does not encourage new blooms.
Common Problems With Red Button Ginger
Red button ginger is relatively disease- and pest-free. A change in environmental conditions might result in some health issues.
Browning on Leaf Edges
If your plant develops brown leaf edges, it might be because it has been underwatered or is exposed to cold temperatures or drafts. Provide more water, raise the humidity, remove from drafts, or bring the plant indoors to remedy the condition. If all growing conditions are adequate, you can feed it with a balanced fertilizer to help the leaves rebound. It's normal for a red button ginger's leaves to turn brown and die back once temperatures plunge lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leaves Curling or Rolling
Bacterial wilt causes leaves to curl and roll, first starting with the lower leaves. The leaves can turn yellow then brown within three to four days as the disease progresses. Early shoots can 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 rhizome will rot. If it is infected with bacterial wilt, you'll notice a slimy ooze when you make a small cut to a 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.
How long can red button ginger live?
Red button ginger is perennial in its hardiness zone, reaching full growth after two to three years. When tended to properly, it will continue growing for years to come.
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 because interiors have less moisture and containers do not retain water as well as 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) with showy plume-like flowers on long brightly colored red bracts that is native to islands in the southwestern Pacific. Unlike true gingers, Costus species do not have aromatic oils and have no culinary value.
Costus woodsonii. Hawaii Ecosystems at Risk Project, University of Hawaii.
Spiral Gingers. IFSA Gardening Solutions.
Costus scaber - Spiral ginger. University of North Florida.
Bacterial Wilt of Edible Ginger: Pathogen, Symptoms and Management. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Meenu, G., & Jebasingh, T. Diseases of Ginger. In (Ed.), Ginger Cultivation and Its Antimicrobial and Pharmacological Potentials. IntechOpen, 2019. doi:/10.5772/intechopen.88839