Edible ginger only a few of species
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - August 8, 2005
When you think of ginger do you think about the spice you find in grocery stores or do you think of beautiful tropical perennials grown in Mississippi gardens? Chefs and great culinary artists are well aware of ginger, but gardeners are just beginning to learn about this fantastic group of tropical plants.
Edible ginger represents only a few of the nearly 1,300 species of plants in the Zingiberacea family. Prized for their tropical look and durability, gingers have been used and enjoyed for centuries in the Far East. However, it's only recently that lustrous leaves and exotic ginger flowers have caught the eye of curious Southern gardeners.
There are eight common kinds of gingers available in the marketplace today. These include Alpinias, Costus, Curcumas, Globbas, Hedychiums, Kaempferias, Siphonochilus and Zingibers. The plants in these groups range in size from ground cover to several feet tall, require shade to full sun, include those with large attractive flowers or small, discreet blooms. If you look long enough you will likely find a ginger for nearly every garden spot or situation.
Butterfly ginger (Hedychium) is probably the most widely grown ginger. Its fragrant butterfly shaped blooms are readily found in gardens where tropical plants are featured. As a group, butterfly gingers grow four to seven feet tall in full to medium sun and are frequently used in combination with other annuals, perennials and woody shrubs. Most of us have seen the beautiful white flowering version of butterfly ginger, Hedychium coronarium, but there are other outstanding butterfly gingers with flowers of yellow to peach, delicate orange, flaming orange, and white with yellow center.
Besides butterfly ginger, the most recent additions to my garden are two from the Curcuma group. Last summer I added Curcuma cordata (Hidden ginger) and Curcuma alismatifolia, (Siam tulip). This growing season, the foliage of both gingers emerged in May from the rhizomes planted last year. Gingers need warm soil, above 55 degrees (F) to get them started.
The Siam tulip bloomed first and was cut for a beautiful, long lasting fresh flower in mid-July. The hidden ginger, so called for the way the blooms "hide" below the leaves, is blooming now. Everyone who sees these gorgeous flowers wants to know what they are and how to get them.
Plant ginger in loose soil or directly into a pot at the same depth they were previously growing as indicated by markings on the rhizome. Water thoroughly. From then on keep moist, but not wet. Tropical blend fertilizers are available or use one with a 3-1-2 ratio in spring and summer.
Ginger leaves will turn yellow in the fall and typically die back at first frost. To increase plants, divide in the spring. Add gingers to your landscape this summer for a truly dazzling effect. Rhizomes are usually not available during the dormant period, November through January. Happy gardening!
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These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.