If you’re looking for a unique and easy-to-grow plant, look no further than turmeric. From its vibrant yellow color to its unusual taste and medicinal properties, turmeric is an excellent addition to any home garden. But if you’ve never grown turmeric, you might wonder how to care for it and where to start. Here are my top tips for how to grow turmeric.
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Getting Started Growing Turmeric; Plan Ahead!
Turmeric is simple to grow but requires a long (frost-free) growing season of about ten months. In most areas, it’s best to start your turmeric indoors before planting outside. I begin pre-sprouting my turmeric in early January in the low desert of Arizona (zone 9b).
Purchase organic turmeric for planting. Look for firm, healthy roots. Avoid turmeric with soft spots or bruises. Ideally, each turmeric piece will have several nodes (this is where the sprout will form). Look for organic turmeric at a farmer’s market or grocery store.
Pre-sprout turmeric in sterile potting soil to determine which rhizomes are viable. If it is warm enough to plant outside, plant the turmeric (see the next step). If you still have time before your last frost, pot up the sprouted turmeric in 6-inch pots. (These are the pots I use from Bootstrap Farmer.)
For more detailed information about how to sprout turmeric, read this blog post.
To pot up turmeric:
- Use high-quality potting soil (I use the raised bed mix from Arizona Worm Farm) and fill the pots about ¾ full of soil.
- Place the sprouted turmeric (sprouts facing up) on top and then cover with 1-2 inches of soil.
- Keep pots well-watered and provide heat (with a heating mat) and light until it is time to plant outside.
- Harden off turmeric transplants before planting outside.
How to Plant Turmeric
- Look for an area in your garden that receives shade naturally, especially if you live in a hot summer climate. Provide additional shade if necessary.
- Turmeric grows best in loose soil with plenty of organic matter and a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
- When planting, allow each tuber some space (about 8 inches apart), so the roots can spread out and grow into healthy plants.
- Tumeric grows well in raised beds, grow bags, and containers. A soil depth of at least 12 inches is best.
- Plant turmeric 2-4 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. For square foot gardening plant 3-4 turmeric per square.
How to Care for Turmeric
Water at least once a week during the growing season (more often in hot climates), letting it dry out a little between watering to prevent rot. Turmeric also benefits from regular fertilization; I use this fertilizer about once a month during the growing season for optimal growth.
The leaves may look stressed out during the summer if you live in a hot summer climate. That’s ok. They are used to tropical conditions and humidity – the dry heat is stressful. Provide shade and regular water, but take care not to overwater (or they may rot).
When Should I Harvest Turmeric?
When harvesting your turmeric, keep an eye on the leaves of the plants; when they start turning yellow, that’s a sign that your plants are going dormant and the tubers are getting close to harvest! The yellowed leaves will eventually wither away as the tuber matures below ground level.
Harvest turmeric before your first fall/winter frost. I harvest my turmeric in late December or early January in the low desert of Arizona (zone 9b). When harvesting, if you leave a piece or two in the ground, new growth will begin again in the spring.
Cut back on watering about two weeks before harvesting so the tubers can mature and become full-size beneath the soil surface.
Harvest turmeric by carefully digging down in the soil near the roots. Then, use your hands to loosen the soil and pull up the plants carefully.
Once you’ve harvested them, spray the rhizomes off with a hose and snip any long roots.
How to Preserve Turmeric
After harvesting, separate any cloves you intend to plant next season. Because turmeric has such a long growing season, it’s often time to begin pre-sprouting turmeric not long after the harvest!
Preserve turmeric in the following ways:
- Freeze-dry turmeric (learn more about freeze-drying in this post)
- “Cure” turmeric by placing it in a single layer (not touching) in a warm, humid area for several days. Curing thickens and tightens the skin, allowing the turmeric to last longer. Store cured turmeric in a plastic sack in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
What I’ve Learned About Growing Turmeric
- If needed, harvest immature turmeric anytime during the growing season by carefully digging down and breaking off a piece from the main root.
- Turmeric may take several seasons to grow to the desired size. You can leave turmeric in the ground year-round in mild winter areas and treat it as a perennial.
- You may get volunteer plants from pieces that break off when harvesting. Yay for volunteers!
- Turmeric stains! Be mindful of this when using.
- I only had to buy turmeric rhizomes one time. In subsequent years, I save part of the harvest to plant again.
Growing turmeric can be an enjoyable experience for both beginner and experienced gardeners. Not only does it add beautiful color and flavor to your dishes, it also offers fantastic medicinal properties. So now get out there and get planting!