Growing Gingers in Colder Climates

This article was contributed by Mike Underwood, who has successfully grown gingers in a northern climate without a greenhouse!

Where I live in Michigan, the temperature drops to 20 degrees below zero in the winter, which is very long. Growing cannas and gingers is a way to add a tropical look to my garden. The cannas can be dug and stored as bare roots in the cellar over winter and do well but gingers are slower to start to grow in the spring and need a longer growing season to bloom.

Most of my experience is with about 40 different Hedychium gingers. I find that most Alpinas and ALL Etlingeras need more heat than I can provide here. With just a slight chill they go dormant and often never re-emerge from dormancy or at least emerge too late each year to produce. The Kaempferias do well as pot plants, but are too small to give a tropical look in the landscape. The Globbas grow well but take way too long to break dormancy to be of any use here. I am still considering the Costus and Curcurmas.

I now keep all of my Hedychiums in 5 gallon buckets year round and place them out side as soon as I can in the spring. They may need to be covered for a few late frosts in the spring , but the added growing time will be appreciated in the fall when they start to bloom with only a few weeks to spare before winter sets in. I use a rich compost potting mix and set the buckets in a few inches of water all summer long. They like the moisture and tend to dry out too much when not standing in water as a potted plant needs more water than one planted in the ground. Since they are in tall buckets, the top of the soil, where the roots are, stays moist but does not get too wet, although many varieties can grow well slightly under water. The buckets provide a lot of room for the roots and are a lot less expensive than pots of the same size. They even come with convenient handles. They need to be in full sun to grow fast and bloom before fall.

Then in the fall, I move any still blooming plants into the house and the rest go into the basement. They can either be cut back to a few inches above the soil level and stored cool (35-45 degrees) or to get a slight jump start in the spring, leave the foliage on and give them a little light from a florescent bulb. As it is cool and low light , they do not grow but stay in a sort of dormancy until moved back out in spring. If foliage is cut off, keep the soil quite dry all winter but if kept under lights, a little water is needed--but not much. If it gets too warm the plants will start to grow and the weak growth will drain the roots of energy and will die in the full sun in the spring any way.

Most plants will need to be divided every year or two and the divisions can be planted in the garden to grow and then be left to freeze in the fall. It is not easy to get gingers to bloom with such a short growing season ( around 100 frost free days per year), but it can be done.

If you would like to contact Mike to ask questions, share experiences, swap plants, or donate money ..., you can e-mail him at

Copyright © 1999 Dave Skinner