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Ginger Adds Spice To Mississippi Gardens, Too
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Even though the dog days of summer make many of us cast a wishful eye toward the Arctic for relief, late summer is also when gingers really strut their stuff.
Scads of books will tell you that ginger can only be grown in coastal areas which have the mildest winters. Yet as I travel through Mississippi and other Southern states, it is definitely clear that much of Zone 7 and 8 can grow gingers with the best of those gardeners in Zone 9.
I once thought that if I couldn't grow torch ginger then there was no ginger worth growing. Obviously, I was young and wrong because there are lots of other gingers we can grow that are just as pretty.
For the past several years, I have visited the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and have come back impressed with scarlet gingers known as Hedychium coccineum. Lest someone think these growers have cornered the secret, I also found the same plants in Yazoo City.
Gingers love dappled shade but also work quite well in full sun with plenty of water. They prefer deep, well-prepared, well-drained beds rich in organic matter.
The scarlet ginger is very exotic looking with 10-inch long orange to red floral spikes produced on 6- to 7-foot canes. The blooms don't last very long but produce for a long time.
Another ginger I always wanted to grow but couldn't get to bloom is the Alpinia purpurata, or red flame ginger. But we have one just as pretty called the Crepe ginger, Costus speciosus.
The crepe ginger produces white flowers in a 4-inch bracted red cone. After the flowers have dropped, the red bract cone remains pretty for a long period of time, similar to the way the yellow shrimp plant performs.
For fragrance, you'd want to award the butterfly ginger, Hedychium coronarium. The white, butterfly-shaped flowers produced this time of the year are full of fragrance. The plant is one of the easiest to grow and hardiest for Mississippi.
My favorite is the hidden ginger or Queen Lily, Curcuma petiolata. With canna-like leaves, this plant produces one of the prettiest blooms rivaling the bird of paradise, heliconia or bromeliad. Tucked down in the plant, the flower is quite showy. The bloom is a colorful pinkish-purple, cone-shaped bract with yellow and white. Some gardeners tell me this plant is invasive. If so, I think it is like having too many $20 gold pieces because the plant is that appealing.
For years, I've grown a ginger with striking foliage, the variegated shell ginger Alpinia zerumbet variegata. The leaves have a green and zebra-like band of creamy yellow. Although it blooms from time to time, these are merely a conversation item when compared to the foliage. While it comes back yearly in Mount Olive, those of you in Zone 7 may want to dig it up and grow it in a container during the winter. Yours will almost surely bloom then.
I have only mentioned a few favorite gingers you might try, but there are many others. One producer in South Mississippi lists more than 60 gingers, including one called the peacock ginger, which I will tell you about some other time.