by Jennifer Poindexter
Would you like to grow a historical plant in your garden? Mandrake is a plant with deep roots both literally and historically.
This plant dates to Biblical times when it was thought the root of the plant had medicinal purposes. Today, some still incorporate it into modern religious ceremonies or even involve it in modern day witchcraft.
Regardless of why you choose to grow mandrake, it’s important that you know what to do when growing this plant around your home.
Here’s what you should know to grow mandrake.
Growing Conditions for Mandrake
Mandrake enjoys typical growing conditions. You should select a growing location which receives full to partial sunlight.
Since it has a deep root, ensure you plant in well-draining soil that’s also loose. This will allow the root to easily dig deeper into the soil.
Mandrake is hardy in planting zones six through eight. If you live in a cooler climate, you may grow this plant in a container indoors.
It can take up to two years for mandrake to bloom or produce fruit. The plant won’t be ready for harvest for three or four years after planting.
Once the plant reaches maturity, it will bloom in the spring and produce an inedible fruit in the summer.
Whether growing the plant in the ground or in a container, ensure you prepare a space with adequate depth. Mandrake will only grow to be two to six inches tall. However, the root can grow as deep as four feet.
Take this information into consideration when selecting an adequate growing location. This should help start mandrake off on the right foot in your home or garden space.
How to Grow Mandrake
There are multiple ways to grow mandrake. The first method is to start the plant indoors from seed. Realize, mandrake is known for having spotty germination.
Therefore, it’s wise to start a few more seeds than you want in plants. You may purchase the seeds or collect them from overly ripe fruit in late summer or fall.
Either way, be sure you plant mandrake seeds within six months as they don’t store well. Prior to planting the seeds, they must go through a stratification process.
You complete this process by storing the seeds in a freezer bag that’s filled with damp sand. Seal the bag and keep it in the refrigerator for one month.
Once the stratification process is complete, the seeds should germinate within two weeks. You may allow the seeds to germinate in the bag or in soil.
Mandrake has a long root which doesn’t enjoy being disturbed. For this reason, it’s recommended to start the seeds in a biodegradable pot after they’ve gone through stratification.
Fill each pot with loose, nutrient-dense soil that’s well-draining. Ensure the seeds are grown in a warm location. Once the seeds have sprouted, move them beneath a grow light.
A grow light is recommended as it will provide both light and heat. If you provide light from a window, this could leave room for drafts to occur which would be counterintuitive to the growing process.
When the plants are large enough, you may move them to an outdoor growing location or plant them in a container.
If you move the plants outdoors to grow in the ground, pick a location with all the necessary growing conditions.
Dig a hole deep enough to support the biodegradable pot. Place the pot in the ground, backfill the hole with soil, and press firmly around the base of the plant.
The next method for growing mandrake is to place fresh seeds into an ideal growing location in the fall. This method only works if you live in a mild climate.
By directly sowing them into the growing location, the seeds will naturally go through the stratification process.
Be sure to till the area going as deep as a foot or foot and a half. The seeds should be planted a ½ inch deep beneath the soil. Ensure you leave one foot of space between each plant.
Our next method to growing mandrake is in a container. It’s best to start the seeds indoors and transfer them to a container once they’re mature enough or order a mature mandrake plant online.
Dig a hole deep enough to support the root ball of the purchased plant or the biodegradable container the seedling was started in. When growing in a container, pick one that’s two times the width and depth of the plant.
The planter can be placed outdoors and brought inside to overwinter, or you may grow mandrake indoors year-round as long as it’s in a location which receives full sunlight.
Be mindful that mandrake plants which are grown in containers, may fall dormant during the hottest portions of the year.
The final method to growing mandrake is via propagation of the plant’s root. This method shouldn’t be attempted on plants younger than three years old.
Assuming that your plant is grown in a method where it won’t go dormant until winter, this is the ideal time to harvest some of the root.
Dig around the edge of the plant and remove a slice of the root. Firmly press on the soil around the plant once you’re done removing as many pieces of the root as you desire. This will ensure the original plant continues to grow.
Take the pieces of the root and plant them in a prepared bed or container. If you grow them in a container, fill it with damp sand.
If growing mandrake in a garden bed from a piece of root, ensure the bed remains weed free. Keep the growing area (the bed or container) evenly moist throughout the growing process. The new mandrake plants won’t be ready to harvest for another three to four years.
Mandrake is a plant which takes patience to grow. However, you have many methods to choose from. Pick the option that works best for your comfort and skill level if you desire to add mandrake to your landscape.
Caring for Mandrake
Mandrake is a low-maintenance plant that prefers to be left alone for the most part. The only things it will need from you is fertilizer and water.
You should only fertilize mandrake one time per year. Use a balanced fertilizer and apply it in early spring to give the plant the boost of nutrients it needs to bloom.
When watering mandrake, it’s best to use the deep watering method. This is important because too much water can lead to disease.
Therefore, by applying larger amounts of water, fewer days of the week, you lessen the risk of this occurring.
Don’t apply any more water to the plant without testing the soil first. When the soil is dry to your second knuckle, it’s time to water the plant deeply again.
This is all that’s required of you to care for a mandrake plant properly. Enjoy this low-maintenance plant as they’re few and far between.
Garden Pests and Diseases Which Could Impact Mandrake
Mandrake is a toxic plant. For this reason, you must be careful where you plant it to avoid accidentally harming pets or children.
However, their toxic trait serves them well when deterring pests in the garden. The only pests which are known for bothering this plant are snails and slugs.
They enjoy munching on the young blooms of the plant. You can deter these pests by spraying mandrake with an insecticide.
You may also sprinkle diatomaceous earth or coffee grounds around the base of the plant. The caffeine in the coffee deters the pests while diatomaceous earth creates a difficult terrain for crawling.
Mandrake also faces issues with fungal disease such as root rot. This typically occurs because the plants aren’t grown in ideal conditions.
It’s vital that mandrake is grown where the soil drains adequately and receives ample sunlight. Fungal disease thrives in areas with cold, wet soil. Avoid these conditions and your mandrake should be fine.
As you can tell, mandrake doesn’t face many threats. Yet, it’s vital that you stay alert to these potential risks to ensure your plant remains healthy.
How to Harvest Mandrake
I want to be clear, again, in this portion of the article. Mandrake is a toxic plant. You should never harvest this plant with the intention to ingest it.
However, I did want to cover how you can harvest the root and leaves should you desire them for other purposes.
Plus, it’s important to address some of the rumors around harvesting mandrake. To start, mandrake root is harvested by digging around the base of the plant.
Once the soil is loose, you should be able to gently remove the root from the ground. Brush the dirt from the root and store it in a cool, dry, safe location until you’re ready to use it.
You may also harvest the leaves of mandrake by gently plucking them from the plant. They, too, should be stored in a cool, dry, and safe location.
It’s wise to wash your hands and wear gloves anytime you’re gardening. This is especially important when handling a toxic plant.
Now, to address the rumors around harvesting mandrake. Mandrake has a dark history. The root is said to look like a human. People once harvested it because it has hallucinogenic effects.
Many years ago, before the development of modern medicine, doctors would prescribe small amounts of mandrake to prepare someone for surgery.
However, if you took too much of the root, it could lead to death.
When people would harvest the root, it was said that the root would scream. Whoever heard the scream, would instantly die.
People would even go to the length of having an animal dig the root up for them, so it would die and not a person.
In truth, the root doesn’t scream and there are no modern reports of anyone passing away due to harvesting the plant.
You now know how to grow, plant, care for, and even harvest mandrake. This plant produces a pretty bloom and vibrant, though inedible, fruit.
Mandrake should be treated with respect because it’s a toxic plant. However, if you’d like to grow a plant with a rich history, mandrake could be for you.