We love growing ginger and galangal in our garden. They're also pretty plants with lush summer foliage that can be planted in the ground or grown in containers to turn your porch or outdoor space into a culinary paradise.
Growing Ginger and Galangal
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and galangal (Alpinia galanga) are tropical understory plants that grow best in hot, humid climates with dappled sunlight and moist, nutrient-rich, well-draining soil.
Well-draining soil is important because you don't want the rhizomes to rot and you want them to have enough room to spread around and grow. Be sure to water more often in times of drought (especially if growing in raised beds), as the plant may cannibalize its rhizomes if the soil stays dry for too long. However, you don't want the soil to be so wet that that it's water-logged. If you can’t tell with your finger how wet or dry your soil is, a cheap moisture meter is a helpful tool to have around.
You'll want to choose a spot that's in partial shade or afternoon shade so the leaves don't get scorched by the hot Texas sun (especially when temps exceed 100). You can grow ginger and galangal plants strategically under the shade of taller plants or, if in containers, move them to a shadier place in the garden during the hottest months of the year. Top dress with compost and mulch throughout the growing season to keep the soil moist and fertile with nutrients.
For ease of harvesting, we prefer growing our ginger and galangal in big containers (grow bags or big metal tubs with holes drilled through the bottom work well). Another benefit of containers is that you can move them around to see where the plants are happiest.
Harvesting Ginger and Galangal
Ginger and galangal need a long growing season of 8-10 months if they‘re to produce a good-sized harvest. It’s easy to replicate these growing conditions in Central Texas. You can plant fresh ginger and galangal rhizomes in the ground as soon as freezing weather has passed, or if you start with plants in the summer, you may want to wait a year to harvest them so the rhizomes have ample time to spread around and grow. You can also pull off a small piece for use and put the rest of the plant back. It's up to you.
Fall is the best time to harvest your ginger and turmeric plants. You can do it just before the first frost once temps are consistently in the 50s, so in Central Texas, October or November. You'll notice the leaves starting to dry and brown as the colder weather sets in, and that's a good indication that it's time to harvest. Some people like to harvest all of the plant and store the rhizomes in a bucket of sand for future use and/or planting. Or you can harvest just what you want to use and leave the rest in place.
Don't forget that you can use the leaves too, which you can harvest anytime. Just be sure to leave most on the plants so they can photosynthesize and grow.
Pictured below is some ginger and turmeric we harvested last year. We'll write a separate post soon about turmeric, but turmeric's growing conditions are the same.
Protecting Ginger and Galangal Plants from Freezes
Since winter is the dormant time for ginger and galangal, you'll want to cut back on watering and prepare them for their winter dormancy underground.
If your ginger and galangal plants are in the ground, you'll want to keep them well-mulched. If the roots are well-protected, the plants should die back in a freeze, but emerge again in the spring. Last year we interplanted broccoli and ginger, and that worked well. Since the two have completely different growing seasons, the broccoli was up while the ginger was dormant underground. Then by the time the ginger's leafy green growth emerged in the spring, the broccoli was already gone from the garden. We'll keep updating this post as we try more companion planting experiments.
If your ginger and galangal are planted in pots, they will need some extra protection to survive a deep freeze. A frost blanket will help. You can also move the pots up against the warmest side of your house or overwinte them in your house, shed, garage, or greenhouse. The plants will be dormant and it'll look like you just have some empty pots for awhile, but as soon as temps are warm again, you'll start to see new green growth.
Working with Ginger and Galangal
Ginger is a favorite plant for sure, and it's not just for the kitchen. Fresh or dried, we love ginger in curries, teas, tinctures, oil, syrups, fire cider, and oh so many ways. Ginger baths are amazing in the wintertime! Make some tea and drink it while steeping your body in it too. Ginger is a helpful ally for tummy upsets, cramps, after dinner digestion, muscle spasms, and so much more. We could write a whole book about ginger and why it's great, but those are some ideas. We'll add to this post as time allows.
Galangal is similar to ginger, but it has a distinct citrusy flavor that is often found in Thai cuisine. It can be hard to find at the grocery store unless you're by a well-stocked Asian market, so we love to grow our own.