Author: Penka Matanska, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton; published with permission

Testing the boundaries of what can be grown in Ottawa, Canadian climate Zone 5a, brings a thrill of excitement – especially when the attempt is successful. I would like to share my experience with growing ginger plant (Zingiber officinale), while providing a few tips of what worked well for me.

Three factors play a key role. These are: selecting a plump ginger root with several ‘eyes’, using good quality soil, and providing plenty of warmth and sunlight.

Identifying the Right Ginger Root

The first step of the growing process is to find an organic ginger root in the store with ‘eyes’ (circled in red in the picture). Some ginger roots are treated with root inhibitor, so it is important to see signs of sprouting when selecting the starting root. Beginning this process in early March is crucial if you are planning to grow the plant in the garden during the summer months. Once you have the ginger rhizome, the root flesh with ‘eyes’ can be severed into pieces of approximately 5 cm (2 inches)

Ginger root. Note the red circles around the ‘eyes’

Planting Ginger with Organic Matter

The second step is planting the ginger ‘eyes’ in a loose soil amended with organic matter, such as manure or compost. Pre-mixed options are readily available. Three to five ‘eyes’ can be planted in a large pot, one inch apart. Each ginger segment should be completely covered with a few centimetres of soil. The soil should be kept moist, but it is important that it not be soggy. The root will rot if there is too much moisture. I keep my pot in a warm place with some sun exposure. Sprouting is a long process; it will take three to four weeks before new shoots emerge. Not all ‘eyes’ will take, but a few will. 

Ginger Leaves

Mist Ginger Leaves Daily

Since the plants like high humidity, once the leaves start growing, they must be misted every day. The new growth will have narrow fibrous leaves resembling tall grass. A slow-release organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion, can be applied every two weeks.

Transplant outdoors

Once the soil has warmed up outdoors (around the same planting time for peppers), the ginger plants can be transplanted into the garden in a bed with lots of organic matter and protection from the midday sun. In a couple of months, the roots will plump up and will be ready for harvest. The ginger plant must be removed from the garden before the weather becomes colder and frost threatens. At this time, the ginger root can be harvested or transferred to a pot to continue growing indoors.

My experience has been better with harvesting the ginger root after several months in the vegetable garden and restarting a new growing cycle the following year. It is possible to keep the ginger plant in its pot during the summer and to bring it indoors in September and let it grow more. I have not had any luck with moving the plants indoors for continuous growth; my plants lost their leaves soon after bringing them indoors. All that said, it does not mean it isn’t possible.

Ginger is a versatile spice for many types of food and drink. It is wonderful to explore the possibility of growing it in your own garden. Fresh ginger root is much juicier and milder in flavour than a store bought one.

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