Planting & Growing Ginseng Seed
This article teaches how to plant and grow woods-grown ginseng, also known as wild-simulated ginseng, in a forest. Planting ginseng seed is different from sowing most other plant seeds and requires specific shade and soil conditions. Ginseng seeds grow inside ginseng berries and the seed within the ginseng berry must be properly treated before it is ready to plant. Also, instead of planting in the spring, ginseng must be planted during the fall.
Buying Ginseng Seed
Unlike other seeds, ginseng has live seed which means it must be planted the following season after stratification, so it is important to get seeds that were harvested only one year prior to planting. Also, ginseng does not start to germinate until two full winters after the seeds are first harvested. It is important to buy stratified ginseng seed. Stratified seeds have been properly stored in cold conditions for one full winter so it is ready to germinate the following spring after it is planted. When buying seeds, also make sure the seeds have been float-tested, which means that nonviable seeds have been removed. Nonviable seeds have a dry embryo, causing them to float to the surface when they are submerged in water. The remaining viable seeds should have a germination rate of about 70 to 80%. When estimating the amount of seed needed, it can be assumed that 1 ounce contains about 400 to 500 seeds. High quality stratified and float-tested ginseng seeds can be purchased directly from our family owned farm.
Caring for Ginseng Seed Prior to Planting
After purchasing ginseng seeds, they must be cared for properly prior to planting. If the seeds are not planted right away, they should be refrigerated or stored in a cool, moist area such as a basement. Do not store the seeds in the freezer as this may cause the seeds to germinate
prematurely when they are planted in the fall. The seeds must be kept moist to prevent them from drying out, but not too moist or it will cause mold to grow. To further prevent mold growth, the seeds should also be stirred daily. If the seed sticks together while stirring, it is too wet and should be left uncovered to dry. If the seeds are starting to turn white, they are becoming too dry and should be lightly misted with water.
When Ginseng Should be Planted
Ginseng must be planted in the fall, usually between mid August through the end of October. Planting shortly before the leaves fall off of the trees will provide good natural cover for the seeds. In addition, planting ginseng later into the fall provides less opportunity for it to be eaten by wildlife, however it should ideally be planted before the first frost and must be planted before the ground freezes.
Where Ginseng Should Be Planted
Ginseng is a plant which requires about 80% shade coverage as direct sun will cause the plant to burn. It can be planted in forests with many fallen leaves and rich topsoil. Since too much moisture can lead to disease, the plant grows best in well-drained soil and on slopes which allow excess water to run off. If possible, ginseng prefers growing on the northern or northeastern facing slopes as this further limits sun exposure. Ginseng especially likes slightly acidic solid and growing near sugar maple trees which provide a good source of calcium for the plant. Some indicator plants that demonstrate ideal growing conditions are herbaceous perennials such as ferns, baneberry, wild ginger, Jack-in-the-pulpit and foamflower.
How to Plant Ginseng Seed
First, clear the intended area for planting the ginseng seeds. Rake away leaves and remove any rocks or branches. Remove all weeds or other plants which may compete with the ginseng.
Method #1 Scattering Seeds
Use a garden rake to loosen the soil and scratch up the ground. Next, scatter the seeds such that there are about 5 seeds per square foot. Use a garden rake or hands to cover the ginseng seeds with the loose dirt and step on top of the seeds to ensure they are firmly planted into the soil. Finally, completely cover the seeds with lightweight mulch such as loose leaves or straw.
Method #2 Individually Planting Seeds
Planting the seeds individually takes more effort, but prevents the seeds from being eaten by birds, rodents or other wildlife, giving each seed a higher probability of successful germination. Use a finger or a stick to make small holes in the soil about 1/8th to 1/4th inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Then, place a seed into each hole. A tube can also be used to place the seeds into the holes to avoid bending over to place each seed by hand. Another tool which can make this process easier is a spring and funnel planter which can be used to simultaneously make a hole in the soil and place the seed. Next, cover the seeds with dirt using a rake or by stepping on the soil to pack it down. Once the seeds are all planted, they should be completely covered with leaves or straw with a lightweight mulch.
Caring for Ginseng Plants
Over the next 2 to 4 years, some plants will die off naturally, and the remaining plants can be manually thinned such that there is approximately 1 plant every square foot. Allowing plants a significant amount of room will prevent disease from spreading from one plant to another. In addition, it is important to note that it is not advised to add compost or fertilizer to woods-grown or wild-simulated ginseng as compost and fertilizer may cause the roots to become blighted or diseased. It is best to allow the plants to grow naturally.
Harvesting Ginseng Roots
Ginseng will take over 3 years to mature and can grow for much longer before harvesting as the ginsenosides content within the plant’s root increases with age. The most potent wild ginseng roots are over 10 years old. It is also best to harvest ginseng in the late fall after the leaves and stalk of the plant has turned brown as this is when the ginsenoside content is highest.
Whenever the ginseng is ready to be harvested, carefully dig a wide area around each plant to prevent damaging the root. Roots may be worth significantly less if they are marred during the harvesting process. Carefully remove each root from the soil, ensuring the entire root and all the prongs are removed in a single piece.
Cleaning Ginseng Roots
Ginseng roots can be cleaned by gently rinsing with water. Never scrub the ginseng roots. Scrubbing the ginseng roots to clean them could potentially damage the root skin and reduce the overall market value.
Drying Ginseng Roots
When drying the ginseng roots, they should be dried at temperatures no higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and not exposed to direct sunlight. Temperatures higher than 100 ° F could result in uneven drying and discolor the interior of the roots. Direct sunlight may also cause discoloration of the roots. The roots typically take 1 to 2 weeks to dry in a heated dryer and up to 6 weeks to dry in the open air.