Growing White Ginger

By Mick Travis , last updated April 14, 2011

White ginger, also commonly known as butterfly ginger, butterfly lily, ginger lily and garland flower, is a sweet-smelling perennial plant which grows in Southeastern Asia. Despite its tropical origins, the white ginger plant can be cultivated in USDA climate zones 7a-11b, and can survive light frosts. It reaches a height of anywhere from seven to over ten feet and a width of up to three feet. The beautiful flowers which bloom in the summer and early fall are white with splashes of yellow, orange and red, and are anywhere from six inches to half a foot long. Because of the wonderful fragrance white ginger flowers give off, a sort of sweet and mildly citrusy scent, white ginger is often planted close to homes and backyard decks where their fragrance can be better appreciated. The large, pointed leaves are shaped like elongated ovals and grow up to two feet long. These leaves are shed with the onset of the winter season.

If growing white ginger outdoors, choose planting areas that receive a great deal of full-on sun exposure with brief periods of shade. Areas near still water are ideal, as white ginger plants thrive in consistently moist soil, though the soil should also have decent drainage to prevent any root rot. If starting new white ginger plants indoors during a period of colder weather, use large containers with proper drainage at the bottom and place the plants in a warm greenhouse environment until such time as they can be moved outdoors in the late spring or summer.

Prepare outdoor soil by incorporating nutrient-rich humus into it or, if planting indoors, use a soil-based potting mix. Plant the seeds from one and a half feet to three feet apart from each other, cover lightly with topsoil and water generously. Indoor white ginger cultivation requires soaking the seeds in warm water for a few hours prior to any planting. After soaking, white ginger seeds designated for indoor planting should be stored for three to four weeks at a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees F to properly germinate. If you're starting your white ginger plants indoors for eventual outdoor transplantation, make sure to do the transplanting about a month and a half after the last spring frost when temperatures are not likely to drop below 40 degrees F and kill the fledgling transplant. Your white ginger plants will need to be watered liberally during the late spring and summer growing months. You will also need to apply a liquid fertilizer to your white ginger plants once a month during the warmer growing season for healthy growth. White ginger plants grown outside year-round will need an autumn mulch as a blanket for insulation from the cold and any extreme frosts. During winter months, the soil around established white ginger plants will not need as much water, requiring only a periodic moistening.

After the flowers have bloomed, the underground stems of your white ginger plant should be exposed and divided for propagation into two or more parts. Each of these sections should have its own root system and shoots or "eyes." The root that's being severed for propagation should be cut in eight inch-long pieces, which can in turn be easily replanted to grow new white ginger plants. This division and propagation process will need to occur often for continued healthy growth, as white ginger plants grow quickly and aggressively once established. Flowers will bloom beginning in the late spring or early summer and will continue blooming into the fall. The flowers can be easily harvested with sharp gardening shears without harming the plant. If left on the stalk, the flowers are eventually replaced with a dry fruit pod that releases its bright red seeds by bursting open when ripe. Old stems should be pruned during the winter.

When growing white ginger, spray your plants with spider mite and aphid repellent, as white ginger is particularly susceptible to infestation from these insects. White ginger is also highly susceptible to root rot, making the delicate balance of keeping the soil moist yet well-drained essential. Extreme frosts will kill a white ginger plant down to its base, though most plants will revive in the spring, particularly those somewhat protected by an autumn mulch.

For variety, consider planting white ginger alongside other plants from the same family, Zingiberaceae. Specific plants from this family that pair well with white ginger include shell ginger, dancing girls ginger and pinecone ginger. Combining these plants together creates a lovely tropical garden motif right in your own backyard!

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