Turmeric is a popular spice that is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. Medicinal benefits of turmeric have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Turmeric supplements come in pills, tinctures, powders, and teas. However, you can grow this herb in your house both indoors and outdoors.
This tropical plant is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). They both have similar showy flowers. Sometimes it is called Indian saffron but it is not related to saffron. Turmeric blossoms in July or August in the northern hemisphere. Its flowers are yellow with large bracts that are white with pink. Its attractive green foliage makes it a suitable ornamental plant. This plant grows about 3 feet in height and width above ground. Rhizomes mature underground that resemble finger-like tubers.
How to Reproduce Turmeric
This plant is grown by its fleshy roots, similar to ginger or potato. It does not produce seeds. Some nurseries sell “seed rhizomes” which should be untreated. They may also sell established plants. Buy “hands” which are numerous tubers placed together. It is also possible to start growing turmeric from individual pieces bought from the supermarket or farmers market.
Cut rhizomes into sections with two or three buds on each section. Place each finger horizontally in a seed tray that has good drainage. Face the finger upwards if it has bumpy protuberances or has sprouted. Cover them with two inches of potting soil. It is important for the temperature to stay between 80-85 F (26-29 C) so place a heat mat if you live in a cold area. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet.
Work the soil down to 8 to 12 inches before planting. Add compost to enrich the soil and improve drainage. Put the tubers into the soil at a depth of 4 inches with one or more with the sprouted parts facing upward. Space tubers 3 to 4 feet apart and cover them with soil.
Dig the rhizomes in the fall and remove the foliage. You can store them in a slightly moist medium such as vermiculite or sawdust. It is also possible to sprout them indoors during the winter if you live in a cold area. Place them outdoors as soon as the last frost occurs.
How to Grow Turmeric
This herb can be grown in USDA zones 8 through 11. Those who live in fringe zones can apply a thin layer of mulch during the dormant winter season. This plant won’t tolerate temperatures colder than 65 F (18 C). Make sure the plant has adequate drainage to prevent rotting. If you live in a colder climate you can grow this plant as an annual, letting it die at the end of the season after harvesting.
Turmeric grows best in full to partial sun. It loves moist and humid conditions, since it can survive the monsoon season in India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Water well, at least 1 inch per week if there is no rain. Soil must have good drainage, otherwise the roots will rot. This plant tolerates a wide range of pH (4.5 and 7.5) from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.
Well balanced fertilizers work best for this plant that has a heavy feeding appetite and needs a lot of nitrogen. Do not plant it next to members of the nightshade, or Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants since they will compete for nutrients. Good companion plants are cilantro, ginger, and cardamom. Peas and beans work great since they fix nitrogen in the soil.
How to Grow Turmeric in a Pot
Pay attention to your plant since it will dry faster than in the ground. Water regularly to maintain even moisture. Make sure to have ample drainage holes in your pots which should be large enough to accommodate a spread of 3 to 4 feet. Roots are shallow, so a depth of 18 to 24 inches is enough.
Turmeric Pests and Disease
Keep the garden weeded to promote optimal airflow. Weeds will also compete for water. Allow space between plants so there is good airflow. This plant doesn’t suffer too much from insects or diseases. Aphids and mites may cluster on the leaves, but they can be washed with a spray of water or insecticidal soap. Other pests include thrips, slugs, snails, shoot-boring caterpillars, nematodes, leaf rollers, grubs, rhizome flies and scale.
Disease that may affect turmeric include bacterial wilt, and pythirum. Make sure there is proper drainage to avoid all kinds of rotting including dry rot, bacterial soft rot, fusarium rot, and rhizome rot. Leaf spot or blotch is a fungus that will start as brown patches on the leaves, that will eventually turn them yellow and make them to drop off.
How to Harvest Turmeric
Most people grow turmeric for medicinal purposes or as a spice. It takes between 200 and 300 days (8-10 months) for the plant to mature. Remove a portion of the rhizomes at the end of the growing season, in the fall after the first frost. This will cause the leaves to yellow and dry out. The rest of the plant can be brought indoors if you were going to keep it as an ornamental. You can also harvest the whole plant. Do not worry if the plant flowers since this won’t have any effect on the root harvest.
To make turmeric spice you must first boil the rhizomes, then let them dry out. Grind them into a powder once they are dry. Use gloves since this spice will stain your hands. Store unpeeled roots in an airtight container for up to three to six months in the refrigerator or freezer.