If you are looking to add some homegrown zing to your garden recipes this year, try growing your own turmeric. It’s related to ginger, and its roots have a warm, peppery flavor. Turmeric is the primary flavoring ingredient in curry powder, and it gives color and flavor to your ballpark variety of mustard. This makes turmeric a worldwide favorite that’s easy to grow right at home in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 8 through 10. It can also be grown in areas with cooler, shorter summers — the plants will just have to be moved indoors before the last frost.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is native to certain tropical areas of Asia. It is a pretty plant that grows to about 3 feet high. It has large green leaves and its flowers spike above the plant in bright pink. The turmeric plant adds texture and interest to garden beds. They grow well as container plants, too. The plant is most often grown for its bright orange, flavorful roots. The medicinal properties of turmeric have been revered throughout history too, and turmeric is used today by folks across the globe as an anti- inflammatory, to battle skin conditions, and to boost gastrointestinal health. Turmeric is a unique plant to grow, and it makes for an interesting conversation piece for those who make room for it in their gardens.
How to Grow Turmeric
Turmeric is grown from roots that are also called rhizomes. Fresh rhizomes should be planted in the spring. You may have to search around a little to find rhizomes, but once you find one, you will be able to grow several plants from it. You can plant the whole rhizome for one plant. Or, each rhizome has “fingers” that can become individual plants. So, you can snap individual fingers off of the rhizome and plant them. If there are any buds or sprouts on the pieces, face them upwards. Space the pieces 12 inches apart and plant them 2 inches deep. Just press them gently down into the soil and smooth the soil over the area.
Choose a location that provides sunshine in the morning and some afternoon shade. Turmeric is a heavy feeder, so a rich supply of soil or compost are important for this plants’ ability to thrive. And turmeric enjoys moist soil, but it does not like wet feet, so be careful not to overwater.
In warm, humid, tropical zones the turmeric prefers, allow your plant to grow for 8 to 10 months. When you notice the plant has begun to yellow and shrivel, harvest the roots by digging the whole plant up. Separate the rhizomes away from the rest of the plant. Set some aside to plant next year.
Another option is to leave the roots in the ground for the next growing season. They will sprout new flowers in the spring.
On the other hand, if you are growing turmeric in colder climates, you should transplant your turmeric into containers and move them indoors before the first frost until it is mature. Since your indoor plant will enjoy more humidity than most home environments provide, mist it with a spray bottle to keep it happy. When your plant has matured, it will begin to yellow and dry up. That is your cue to harvest those roots. Again, remove the entire plant from its container, separate the roots apart, and set a few aside to plant again in the spring.
Your roots can then be stored in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for up to 6 months. Turmeric can be frozen, too. Turmeric has a strong, warm flavor when grated or chopped and used in soups and stews.
Pests and Problems
Outdoor turmeric is a low-maintenance plant that is resilient to many problems and pests. However, it is prone to root rot if it receives too much water. In general, it is a tropical plant that cannot withstand much more than a touch of frost, so if you choose to try and plant it anywhere other than in the warmest of climates, make sure to protect it from cold snaps. Also, under ideal growing conditions, turmeric can be a rampant grower, but most do not consider this to be a problem.
Indoor and outdoor turmeric may attract aphids and mites. Both of these pests can be rinsed off the plant with a spray of water. This may be a challenge with your indoor plant.
Here are some additional resources about turmeric:
How to Plant and Grow Turmeric (video) – iCultivate
How to Grow Turmeric – The Rainforest Garden
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of h-bomb