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Emperor's foliage, flowers should capture your heart
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The new ginger known as Emperor has caused quite a commotion at my house. Everyone loves it.
First, let me admit I have never been a huge fan of variegated plants. There are some cannas, hostas and tropical crotons that have captured my heart, but this ginger took me by surprise.
Emperor is a variegated form of the hidden ginger and is known botanically as Curcuma petiolata. It has dark green leaves with creamy yellow variegation on the margins.
The blooms are exquisite and exotic looking. They look like porcelain, white with a blush pink. Then as the petals drop on the older portion of the bloom, you are left with yellow cups. Actually, the ginger bloom is made up of bracts, but let's not go into a botany lesson now.
More Mississippi gardeners should be growing gingers because they absolutely love it here. If you thought ginger was an herb or spice, you are right: it is both. The edible ginger you buy at the store and grate for those zesty chicken dishes is Zingiber officinale. The spice Tumeric comes from the ginger known as Curcuma longa, a species related to Emperor.
Believe it or not, all gingers are edible according to Madelyn Hill and Gwen Barclay, authors of “Southern Herb Growing.” They do warn, however, to go lightly at first to see if you like the particular flavor of the ginger you are using.
Most ginger-growers have no intention of eating the roots or rhizomes. We want the lush, tropical-looking foliage and spectacular blooms that the Curcuma genus has to offer. This genus also is noted for cold-hardiness.
The Siam Tulip Curcuma alismatifolia can be grown over the lower third of the state and even dug for winter protection in the north. It is shipped all over the world as a cut flower.
If you decide to give them a try, know that gingers thrive in dappled shade or filtered light. Occasionally I see some looking good in almost full sun, but this is the exception and not the rule. They do prefer deep, well-prepared, well-drained beds that are rich in organic matter. Soil preparation will pay big dividends in your ginger bed.
Think about the areas around your home that are microclimates, offering a few degrees of added winter protection. Look for places under large oaks or a protected area next to a wall on the south or east side of your home.
Gingers need plenty of moisture and fertilizer to keep them growing vigorously. Feed them in early spring and again in mid-summer with a slow-release 2-1-2 fertilizer or 12-6-6 with minor nutrients. Remove frost-bitten stalks in the fall, and add a protective layer of mulch.
Gingers combine wonderfully with bananas, cast iron plants, coleus, elephant ears, ferns, philodendrons, hostas, caladiums, impatiens, begonias and many more.
Why grow gingers? When the dog days of summer make many of us cast a wishful eye toward the Arctic for relief, and our gardens are looking tired, the ginger really starts to put on a show.
Try some like the new variegated Emperor, and you may become like song writer and singer Jimmy Buffett and have a Caribbean soul you can barely control.