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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Enamored with the Ginger

Alpinia zerumbet
Common Names: variegated shell ginger, pink porcelain lily

Large leafy plants are needed at Hoe & Shovel to fill in the big spaces. There are other requirements as well. We are always on the lookout for great performers that look good all year long. It's been a work in progress but gradually we are seeing this idea come to fruition around here.

I'm a big fan of layers upon layers of plantings using varying heights, foliage, texture, color, vertical movement, pathways and other stationary materials (seating, hardscape, potted plants) all within the same space. Being that we are working towards a tropicalesque feeling in most of my garden, layers of lots of lush plantings fit right into the plan.
Front garden looking from driveway to the south. The shell ginger is the elongated stripy leafed plant. Also visible in the above photo is oodles of liriope- giant and variegated (a staple around here- it doesn't need any attention- we like that), xanadu, azalea, red sister dracaena, caladium, impatiens (planted and volunteers), asian jasmine and of course the stand of oak trees.

Happy was the day when we added the variegated shell ginger to the front planting bed. It curves along the full length of that bed to the South of the driveway dipping in and out of the St. Augustine grass line and situated right in front of the giant liriope. The liriope borders the azaleas that weave through a circling stand of oak trees. A natural pathway leads from the front walkway/driveway to the back garden-- it is lined with giant liriope on either side... this behind the ginger if you're looking toward the house. As with all plantings at Hoe & Shovel this massive bed has evolved over time.

I just love the contrast the extra large, strikingly variegated leaves of the ginger make with the deeper greens of the slender giant liriope and ruffled leaves of the xanadu under the shade of the oak trees. This plant performs beautifully all year long right through the winter months. So even when my seasonal annuals in front of the row of ginger might not be looking great, I can count on the ginger to make a statement from the street and from the driveway.

This closer shot displays the arching, dangling blooms a little better.

When placement is being determined for layers you might want to consider ...
1) how tall each plant will get
2) will it require trimming or will it naturally grow to a desired height/width
3) which direction/angle will your eye be viewing the plantings
4) color and texture of foliage- how well will it mix with other plants in the grouping
5) you probably don't want to block any other views such as to/from interior windows or for instance if a planting bed is in the middle of the garden consider whether you want to be able to see past it.

You might notice and question why the liriope behind the ginger is shorter than the ginger in front of it. I don't mind in this case because this is one of those places where your eye sees the entire planting no matter which direction you are coming from... walking up to the house or walking from the house. So in this case that design works.
Shell Ginger blooms a wonderfully pink tipped, white bulby cluster, arching forward and drooping downward from the top leaves. Typically you can count on these profuse blooms every May-- but only on mature plants.

There are many wonderful varieties of ginger. In Florida you can find any number of them growing with abandon in the garden. I have some other varieties I'll feature in another post.

Something I've noticed about shell ginger (it became all the rage a few years back) is the unfortunate placement many home/business owners have chosen for it in their landscaping. More often than not these wonderful perennials are in the wrong place and/or are not cared for properly. Sadly I often see them located in full sun where strong winds and/or our hot sunny days ravel or bleach out the deep green and yellow striped leaves causing their appearance to be less than desirable.

Good Housekeeping Tips
At least twice a year, using hand pruners I cut out the tops of my shell ginger as they can get up to 6 feet tall. For our purposes here they need to be kept at around 4 feet in height. It's okay with me for them to get as wide as they will. The last time I pruned them was in the beginning of March. The next time will most likely be around October or November, possibly once in the summer if needed.
I also make sure to cut to the ground any browning or fading stalks. One might not be too inspired to do this at first as it can thin out the individual shrub quite a bit. Keep in mind sometimes it is just a faded or scraggly leaf that needs to be cut off at the stalk. Like all good pruning habits these methods will encourage new stalks/growth and keep your perennial plant happy for many seasons/years to come.

After the bloom hangs from the stem for a few days each little pod further opens and reveals this more fluffy, colorful leafy burst of bloom that resembles something like a hibiscus flower.

A view of a portion of the back ginger planting looking SE from the back to the front of it .
Once the ginger proved itself a sure winner for our front garden, I decided I liked its care-free habits enough to plant it elsewhere. It wasn't long before I created another more densely layered planting in one of the back beds at the rear of the property.

A view of a portion of the back planting looking from the front of it to the west. Also visible in this photo: variegated liriope, penta, red sister dracaena, croton, plumbago, split leaf philodendron, mexican petunia.

In this grouping some of the ginger was purchased yet many of the plants were moved/transplanted by digging out a stalk or two from an existing clump. This is easy to do and now I don't purchase any new plants. I am continually stretching/enlarging this back planting by adding more dug up ginger and propogated dracaena.
What about you? Has anyone else discovered the beauties of this wonderfully performing ginger and with very little attention? Or maybe you have another plant/plants that looks good all year long like the ginger. Would love to hear about it and maybe I'll get some more ideas for taking up space at Hoe & Shovel.
Some helpful information:
Light: Prefers light shade or filtered sun.
Moisture: Needs moist, well drained soil.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 12.
Variegated shell ginger is root-hardy in Zone 8, but it won't flower if its gets frost.
Propagation: Pieces of the rhizome, division of clumps or seed.


  1. What a lovely and informative post. And I'm the first commenter! (It's been a long time since that's happened...some speedy readers out there!)

    Anyway, thanks for all the tips and how-tos. I realize you wrote the post in English, and I recognize each word, but I still don't understand what you're saying. :o) I need to enroll in a "Gardening for Dummies" course!

    But I do know enough to know your garden is gorgeous!

  2. I love this ginger for its color and flower. It's a real standout in shade. Does it become a problem in spreading outside of its boundaries? I, too, love liriope. I don't believe one can ever have to much of this stalwart in their garden. It always looks great! Also, I left a message for you on my "May Blooms" post re: the Lotus begonia. Please check it out.

  3. This post is one of the reasons I love your blog - so many interesting plants I've never seen or even heard of! That shell ginger is a real beauty!

  4. A very nice looking garden. You can tell you spend a lot of time & TLC in your garden. I like the look of the Shell Ginger--the varying colors. I have the Pinecone Ginger. Have you seen that one? Mine is at the back of my house under roof over hang then a huge oak tree that shades most the yard.It does spread & gets about 6/7'. So thick I'm in process of trying to thin it out. Grows faster than I can dig it

  5. I forgot to mention that it dies back in winter. So no foliage at all in late winter.

  6. Ahhhh ginger...first, I won't be envious that yours looks absolutely lovely and mine is just alright. I have been impressed with my little pot since it has managed to survive a year with me and indoors. I will also admit that I learned a lot from your post and my pot will get a little TLC this weekend to see if I can spruce it up a little more.

  7. What an exotic looking plant! Your posts make me want to move to Florida...It's an exciting idea to garden year round and with the wealth of plant material you have access to! Wonderful post Meems.


  8. I can see why you like the shell ginger so much. It is a beauty. I love the way the buds open to a completely different looking flower.

  9. mlm: You're my funny girl.I'm so honored that you commented and couldn't we each use a dummy course in something or a few things actually! You are so brilliant at so many other things -- if you knew about gardening well... it would make you just too perfect!

    Susan: I must have the right amount of shade creating that perfect filtered-light condition ---the ginger is right at home here and has become a favorite of mine for so many reasons. I think because I have such large spaces for it I don't consider it as "spreading outside its boundaries". It does get quite wide (and tall)so to know that habit before planting it is helpful. I'll be over to check out the begonia message.Thank you.

    amy: I'm honored you love my blog... gosh! who wouldn't want to hear those words? You are very sweet to visit often.I too find it remarkable how many plants I have never heard of when I read the northern blogs. It's very educational and fun isn't it?

    lola: Are you in Florida? I DO have some pinecone ginger. Only just planted it last summer as it was a pass along plant from my neighbor. I knew it disappeared in the winter but in the spring when it didn't return I was actually concerned about its survival until finally a couple of weeks ago it popped back out. I LOVE it. I'm very excited to use the bloom in some fresh arrangements... do you do that?

    Jane: I've just put some of my ginger in a pot for the first time. AND it's a blue glazed pot so the contrast is making me happy. I probably should have included a photo of it in this post... but then the post would have been even LONGER... can you imagine? My container is outside.

    I am impressed that you even have one growing inside at all... REALLY. Plants don't really like a/c 24/7 and yours does fine given the conditions. Your secret I think is that nice sun room.

    gail: you know what? I think you should. hee-hee... AND if you do we should be neighbors! You might miss your cold winters though and the rest you take from gardening those months. Florida really is a great place to live all kidding aside. I personally HAVE to be where I can enjoy outdoor activities all year long... I guess it's all in what you get used to. Gardening all year long has its perks... like ginormous ginger plants that never die back. :-)

    lisa: it is certainly an added feature when a plant looks great all year long and then right on time it blooms for you. Then on top of that the bloom evolves and changes with each passing day... so intriguing... I can't get enough of it!

    I sure hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!

  10. The variegated ginger looks great!

  11. You have a most beautiful garden. The ginger is a stunning plant, I can see why you would use them in your garden. It is lovely to see a garden in a different part of the informative, Thank you for the information on the peace lily, I will try this and see.

  12. What a beautiful plant, and it's gorgeous the way you have it here with the croton and liriope! What a beautiful yard you've created.

    I've been afraid to plant it because of its watering needs and because I have very little filtered sun in my yard (unfortunately).

  13. Forget turning green. I think I just died of envy! I keep looking for some variegated shell ginger to have as a houseplant, but... well, even if I find it, it will never look as good up here as it does down there in your garden!

  14. Yes, I live in NE Central. I have several plants that make it through the colder times.
    Sorry I have not used the flower in arrangements yet. Also did you know that you could use the sticky fluid in the flowers of the Pinecone to rinse your hair? It leaves a light sent of ginger to your hair. I plan to do that to see. Mine are already almost 5' tall. Yes, the roots stay ok where I have mine planted. They do grow fast once established. You will have to look under the plants to find the flowers as they come out of the ground on stalks. They are very unusual. Hope you enjoy yours.

  15. Wow, Meems. I never knew shell ginger was so gorgeous and so detailed. Wish we could grow them here, but they aren't hardy for us. I could grow it as a potted plant, I guess, but I've got so many of those the way it is that I have to bring in. I'll just drool over yours!

  16. katarina: Thank you!

    cheryl: I guess every garden finds the plants that work best and in my case I use them in several places. The ginger just seems to love it here so I love it here. It IS so interesting to learn of other climes and habitats in various parts of the world... my favorite part of blogging. Thanks for all the compliments, Cheryl.

    Laura: You are right you wouldn't want to invest in ginger if you don't have some shade. For me, I haven't noticed that it needs extra water. The soil its planted in is quite dark and rich so maybe that's why. I now find myself wishing I had more sunny places for those perennials that love morning sun...

    lola: Great to know... I always get extra excited about other Florida gardeners. Are you zone 8?
    I just love the way the flowers come up out of the ground just like the stalks of variegated greenery on the pinecone ginger.You've taught me something about the hair rinse... I'll have to try that.

    I forgot to mention about the shell ginger how lovely a fragrance it puts out when any part of the plant is cut. Sometimes I'll cut off a leaf just to take a deep breath of the clean fresh smell.

    Kylee: I know what you mean about so many container plants. I don't bring mine inside but I am a sucker for them outside!

  17. I love the ginger-especially your variegated ginger. I tried to overwinter mine in the ground here in zone 6-7. I don't think it came back but some gardeners in town have had luck-and even a bloom after about five years. Lovely plant in your Florida garden.

  18. blackswamp girl: shhh! if you don't tell anyone they'll never know the difference. I am imagining the shell ginger stays shorter and more compact indoors which would add a very nice touch! I say, go ahead and give it a try.

    tina: I guess you can tell I love it too. I can see why it wouldn't make it in Zone 6-7 winter... someone must have just the right conditions for it to flower in that zone. Hey-BTW iI know I've said this before but IMO never enough... thanks a million to you for your service to our country. On this weekend of remembering I'm honored to say thanks to a blogging buddy!

  19. Yes, I am in zone 8 or 8B. Some things I can get to grow that are from somewhere else. I even have plants I brought back from Tn & N.C. as they are my 2 favorite places.

  20. I too love variegate plants - and have a nice stand of variegated ginger hiding a pallet of unused roof tiles. I have never pruned it but think I need to thin it out a bit (hmmm - where could I start a new planting of it?) Mine looks just like yours but I don't think the bloom has that cool yellow shell shape. I'll be heading out there for a closer look . . .

  21. I'm embarrassed to admit I had NEVER looked closely at my ginger blooms. They do have those beautiful (and colorful) hibiscus looking shells you described.

  22. This post made my night! I planted a ton of variegated ginger this year after realizing it was the only plant that stayed pretty and perky through this year’s frosts. Your garden is what mine wants to be when it grows up. Honestly, we have a lot of the same plants, only mine are smaller. Does that mean I’m on the right track? I certainly hope so.

  23. I live in Houston, Tx (Zone 9) and have the same variegated ginger in my flower bed. I just planted them in July and believe I've erroneously planted them in a too sunny area as the leaves are turning brown. I notice how the leaves curl up to protect themselves on sunny days but I guess the all day sun is just too much. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  24. Anonymous: I was cleaning out my e-mail and realized I missed your comment and question.

    Without seeing exactly where you have planted your ginger it is hard for me to say. But if you have some shade I would suggest you move them... not now... it is too hot. But in the fall... maybe the end of September or beginning of October.

    No matter what it is crucial you keep them well watered every day until they are well established and get used to the sun. They are letting you know they are stressed by their curling leaves.

    Good luck with them... hope they bring you years of enjoyment like mine continue to do year after year.

  25. Meems - wow - your ginger is beautiful. We have them around the pool and they do get huge and they are so dramatic, but mine have never bloomed...or at least not yet. Some are 4 years old, then I have some younger ones that are 2. Wonder if they have to be more mature to bloom? Do you feed yours?

  26. I have a ginger that is almost 3 years old, over 6ft tall and 5ft wide. I live in Houston. How do I separate it to plant around the yard. I am a novice gardener.


  27. I live in Houston and have a Ginger that is almost 3 yrs old and is over 6ft tall and 5ft wide. I am a novice gardener and would like to plant some of this around the yard without damaging the plant. How do I separate the ginger and can this plant take direct sunlight?

  28. I live in Houston and have a Ginger that is almost 3 yrs old and is over 6ft tall and 5ft wide. I am a novice gardener and would like to plant some of this around the yard without damaging the plant. How do I separate the ginger and what are the soil requirements.

  29. I live in Houston and have a Ginger that is almost 3 yrs old and is over 6ft tall and 5ft wide. I am a novice gardener and would like to plant some of this around the yard without damaging the plant. How do I separate the ginger and what are the soil requirements.

  30. Hi Denise, Thank you for your visit and your question. I will tell you what I do and what I know and hopefully it will help you also. Let me start by saying I cut out the tops of my gingers about 3 x's a year. This keeps them from getting too tall and lanky. I like to keep them between 4 and 5 feet tall for where I have them.

    I dig up the entire plant when I am separating one. You will see they have a very thick rhizome type root system that adapts very well to cutting in either in half or even three times depending on the size of the plant. I find a place where I will lose the least amount of stem and cut to divide. I leave part of the plant in the original spot. You can either dig holes where you want to locate them and transfer immediately or you can put them in 3 gallon pots before relocating them. Regardless, I always fill the hole that I've dug for their new home with a good soaking of liquid fertilizer to give them a good start in the ground.

    I don't recommend full sun. I've seen ginger in full sun and they get bleached out and ragged looking to me. Partial sun is best.
    I hope this helps. Meems

  31. What an informative article!! Thank you so much for answering all of the questions I had about my newly purchased ginger plant. I was doubting the planting area I had selected for the front yard and was delighted when I found your article, which let me know I had indeed selected the wrong location for my ginger plant. Now I'm moving to Plan B, which is to plant it in the moister, half-sunny area in the back yard instead. Happy plant = Happy gardener!


Have a blessed day,

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