In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2011
Regional Report

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The blooms white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) release a wonderful gardenia-like fragrance.

I Love Ginger

I love ginger. No, not the one on Gilligan's Island. I'm talking about the plant or I should say, plants. There are almost two thousand types of ginger in the world. Most are from tropical and subtropical environments making them a great fit for our sultry southern summers.

This genera of plants offers us everything from culinary harvests to attractive foliage and gorgeous blooms. Most need a shady location, with bright shade being ideal. They need dependable soil moisture, especially when the weather is hot. Provide them with shade and moist soil that has been amended with some compost and they will reward you with tropical beauty, with many types returning as perennials even in zone 8, especially if provided a thick mulch cover over the winter season.

If you haven't tried growing ginger you're missing out on a great plant for those shady areas where colorful options are somewhat limited. Here are five genera that are among my favorites.

Culinary or edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a great addition to shady areas. Reaching about 3 feet tall, is often doesn't bloom in the Lower South, and when it does the blooms are not very impressive. However it is fun to grow your own ginger root. You can start with a plump, firm section of root from the grocery store. Plant it in a shady spot and maintain soil moisture. By the end of the growing season you can dig and harvest some of the roots. The rest can go back in the ground or be kept in a cool spot for spring planting.

The "dancing ladies", genus Globba, are another favorite of mine. They are small plants reaching only a foot or two tall. Globba winitii 'Mauve Dancing Girl' produces arching bloom stems with dangling flowers in beautiful shades of purple and yellow. Globba shomburgkii 'Yellow Dancing Lady' is another great choice that bears all yellow flowers. Globbas make great, long-lasting cut flowers. Give these gingers a bright shade to filtered sun location and well-drained soil, especially during the winter months.

Butterfly gingers, in the genus Hedychium, may actually be the "must have" first choice. Hedychium coronarium, known as white butterfly ginger, is a common species and a great one to start with. The large white blooms atop 4 to 5 foot tall stems are amazingly fragrant, with a gardenia-like scent that fills the air! Butterfly ginger is easy to grow and breaks the full shade ginger rule by needing a few hours of sun to thrive and bloom well. There are numerous other Hedychium species and cultivars in a variety of colors in the pink and coral to orange and yellow range. Some are fragrant, but all bear show-stopping flowers that are great for cutting to bring indoors.

There are numerous species of Alpinia ginger. A great starter plant is variegated shell ginger, Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'. It is grown for its variegated yellow and green foliage that forms a dense clump about 3 to 4 feet tall. It likes a bright shade to a few hours of morning sun.

Rounding out the quintet of my favorite gingers are the peacock gingers of the genus Kaempferia. Peacock gingers are grown primarily for their large leaves and low growth habit, generally under a foot high. They make a suitable replacement for hostas, which often struggle in the heat of the Lower South. Foliage varies from green to bronze with a variety of markings in white, silver, black, and maroon in various patterns. Several also produce attractive blooms. There are many great Kaempferia species including Kaempferia pulchra and Kaempferia rotunda. Give peacock gingers a deep shade location.

Try one of these five ginger genera in your landscape. You may fall in love and soon be adding some of the other great gingers that are well adapted to our hot summer weather.


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