Turmeric. It’s one of those exotic and mysterious crops that so many gardeners lust after. Most people are familiar with turmeric as a golden, good-for-you ground spice in curry, but aren’t sure how it grows – or even what the plant looks like! While it is certainly unique, turmeric is not all that difficult to grow! With a few adaptations, you can grow turmeric successfully in most climates. We’ve been growing our own turmeric for years!
Read along to learn all about how to grow turmeric. We’ll discuss where to source turmeric “seed”, ideal growing conditions, planting instructions, ongoing care, and the most exciting part – how to harvest it! I’ll also share some of our favorite ways to use it in the kitchen. Truth be told, turmeric is easiest to grow in mild to warm climates, since it can be grown completely outdoors there. However, folks in colder climates can also grow their own turmeric – as long as it is in a mobile container.
How Does Turmeric Grow?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial herb, closely related to ginger. That said, most all of these growing tips apply to ginger as well! Though ginger can be a little more finicky. Turmeric doesn’t have typical tiny “seeds” that you imagine for most plants. Instead, pieces of the root system called rhizomes are planted, which in turn produce above-ground foliage as well as more, larger rhizomes in the soil below. Those precious rhizomes are the very thing we after when growing turmeric! Each seed rhizome is often referred to as a “finger” – because when fresh turmeric is harvested, the cluster of rhizomes around a center node resembles a hand!
Consuming Turmeric & Curcumin
Turmeric powder, nutritional supplements, or other edible extracts are made from the rhizome. It is also used whole, grated or sliced in many cooking applications – and is where most of the plant’s flavor, color, and nutrients are stored. The rhizomes also contain arguably the most important active ingredient in turmeric: Curcumin.
Thousands of scientific studies show that curcumin is one of the most beneficial medicinal herb compounds in existence! With its strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, curcumin has been proven to reduce inflammation, improve memory, prevent and slow cancer development, boost antioxidant activity, regulate blood pressure, and more. It is truly phenomenal stuff! We consume as much turmeric as we can, including taking these supplements daily. I am so enamored with curcumin that I will be preparing an article dedicated to its amazing health benefits – coming soon.
That’s all fine and dandy, but did you know that the leaves are edible too?! Yep. The leaves can be added to dishes whole, dried and ground into powder, or steeped in water to create an infused liquid to use in cooking. Additionally, fish can be wrapped within turmeric leaves to roast or grill, similar to the traditional use of banana leaves for this purpose.
While they aren’t quite as magical as the rhizome, the leaves are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants as well! I don’t suggest removing too many leaves while the plant is growing, as it needs them for photosynthesis. Harvest some sparingly, or use the choice leaves left after harvesting the rhizomes!
Where to Obtain Turmeric Seed
You can source turmeric seed rhizomes a few different ways. If you are able to find organic turmeric in the produce section of your local grocery store, you’re in luck! Because you can absolutely successfully grow turmeric from store-bought rhizomes! Truth be told, this is our preferred way to source turmeric seed these days! It’s just too easy. Do seek out certified organic rhizomes though. Non-organic produce is often treated with substances designed to inhibit sprouting. Natural food stores or Asian markets will be most likely to carry turmeric.
If you cannot find fresh organic rhizomes locally, or if you want to try growing specific varieties, you can also order turmeric seed rhizomes online. The main source that I am aware of is Hawaii Clean Seed. We have ordered turmeric (and ginger) seed from them many times in the past, and were very pleased! However, their ordering system takes a little navigation. You must order as soon as they go on sale (November 1st), because they sell out fast! There is also a minimum order to commit to, and the seeds are shipped in February to March.
Once you are growing your own turmeric, you can save seed rhizomes from your harvest to replant! Or, use it all and buy more.
Different Turmeric Varieties
The turmeric that you will find sold in stores is almost always the deep orange variety of Curcuma longa. Here, we usually see it as “Hawaiian Red”. We have experimented with growing a couple other varieties as well, including Indira Yellow and White Mango. The photo below shows a harvest of all three of those turmeric varieties. We have come to prefer the deep orange color and sweeter flavor of the Hawaiian Red, and have been planting less and less of the other two. The yellow is a bit more pungent and spicy, and the white mango tastes similar to a green, underripe mango.
As it turns out, the darker orange varieties are actually better for you! Little did I know when we first began growing turmeric, how deeply orange the color is a direct indication of how much curcumin it contains! So while the yellow and white varieties are unique and fun to grow, they don’t pack the same punch in regards to nutritional benefit.
TURMERIC GROWING REQUIREMENTS
Climate & Temperature
Turmeric is a tropical plant, native to India. Therefore, it is most happy when it is provided ample sun, moderately warm temperatures, and regular water. Many places can provide these conditions… in the summertime, that is! Yet one of the trickiest parts of growing turmeric is the fact that is has an extremely long growing season. Turmeric requires 8 to 10 months of frost-free growing, from planting to harvest. It is usually planted in the winter, and harvested the following fall to early winter.
Turmeric can be grown outside year-round in USDA zones 8 and higher, in the ground or in containers. We like to grow ours in several wine barrels, which allows us to easily control the soil quality and moisture level. In zones 7 and lower, growing turmeric is still possible! It will simply need to be planted in a mobile container indoors, and brought outside when the weather warms. Note that if it sprouts while it is still inside, it will need ample light or sun.
Not sure what growing zone you are in, or when your first frost dates are? Use this easy search tool!
Turmeric likes the sun, but is a little sensitive to scorching. It will grow well in full sun to partial shade, but will benefit from some afternoon shade in the hottest climates (when over 90 degrees). For example, I have seen Arizona gardeners utilize shade cloth to protect their turmeric plants in the late summer. Here on the temperate Central Coast of California, we don’t find that necessary.
Turmeric will need the most water while it is actively growing, but not nearly as much before it sprouts. Actually, the unsprouted rhizome seeds are prone to rotting if they’re in standing water or overly-soggy soil. When planted directly outside, it can take many months for turmeric rhizomes to sprout and begin to grow! Therefore, choose a planting location that has good drainage, and where you can easily adjust the moisture they are receiving – especially early on. For example, avoid planting them in a location in the ground where you know water pools in the springtime.
If you are planting your turmeric in a smaller, mobile container, you can move your container around your garden to ideal locations as needed! Similarly, when it is time to bring the turmeric inside in late fall (for climates expecting frost), you can choose a sunny window for it to live near. On the other hand, if you are planting your turmeric in the ground, in a raised garden bed, or in a heavy, less-mobile container (like a wine barrel) keep the above things in mind to choose the best planting location.
When you’re searching for the perfect container to grow turmeric in, don’t skimp on size! Get something as large as you reasonably can without it being a burden. Or, plan to have several smaller pots. Turmeric doesn’t need particularly deep soil though. 10 to 12 inches is adequately deep. Width and surface area is what matters most, if you want a decent amount of turmeric to harvest! The rhizome seeds you plant will need several inches of space between them to grow well. Thus, narrow containers will limit the amount you can plant.
Like all plants, turmeric will only be happy in a container that has adequate drainage. Meaning, the chosen pot must have holes! Maybe a few of them. In addition to wine barrels, we have also grown turmeric in wide fabric Smart Pots – which have superior drainage! They will dry out a little more quickly though, so keep that in mind when you’re establishing your water routine. Add drip trays as needed to catch runoff, especially for indoor containers.
Wine barrels (or whiskey barrels) do make awesome planters, but usually need a bit of modification – to grow any type of crop in! They are designed to hold liquid in after all. So to promote drainage, we drill at least 6 to 10 half-inch holes in the bottom of the barrel, line the bottom with a layer of landscape fabric (so the holes can’t get clogged), then a couple inches of large 1-2” rocks, another layer of landscape fabric on top of the rocks, and then soil on top of that.
Speaking of soil…
The ideal soil for growing turmeric is loose, well-draining, free of big clumps or rocks, and fairly rich in organic matter. Established raised garden beds likely already have these properties, making them a great choice. Native ground soil may need to be worked, loosening it to at least a foot deep and amending the area with aged compost. Or, if you’re filling a brand new container just for turmeric, you can customize it with the right stuff from the start! Turmeric does prefer just slightly acidic soil, which most bagged potting mixes are already.
For a container, combine approximately 70-80% organic potting soil (or similar raised bed/container soil blend) with 20-30% well-balanced compost. Do not use fresh animal manure! It is too “hot” and high in nitrogen. Choose something that is properly aged. We use either homemade compost from our passive compost pile, worm castings from our worm bin, our favorite organic bagged compost, or some combination of the three. To promote good drainage, most bagged potting soil already has pumice or perlite. We add a small amount of 3/8″ volcanic rock as well.
The rhizomes won’t need (or appreciate) excessive fertilizer prior to sprouting. However, we like to set them up for future success by working in some mild, slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time. In addition to compost, our go-to fertilizers are alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and neem seed meal. For a boost of micronutrients, we also add a sprinkle of rock dust and oyster shell flour. These are the same things we use in most all of our garden. Follow the instructions on your product of choice, erring on the light side.
Okay, now that we know what turmeric likes and dislikes, are you ready to talk about how to actually plant the stuff?
HOW TO PLANT & GROW TURMERIC
Preparing Turmeric Seed for Planting
If you happen to have big hands of turmeric on your hands….tehee… or other large pieces, they should be broken down to create more seed pieces! Do this at least a few days to a week prior to planting, so the cuts have time to scab over and reduce the chance of rot and disease developing. Use a clean knife to cut the hands or rhizomes at the narrowest junctions (where the fingers meet a base, or “palm” of the hand) to create several seeds.
Each seed piece should have at least two to three nubs or fingers left behind – because that is what is going to sprout! After cutting, set the turmeric pieces in a location with good airflow to promote drying of the exposed areas.
Prior to planting, store turmeric seed in a temperate, dark area. We usually leave ours in partially open cardboard box in a spare room. Another option is to store them in a warm, shallow, damp layer of peat moss, coco coir, or light fluffy soil like seedling start mix – to encourage early sprouting. If you are starting your turmeric indoors, this can give you a jump start on the season! A seedling heat mat can also be used to warm the soil medium if needed, during pre-sprouting or after planting in a pot.
We haven’t found pre-sprouting to be necessary. One year we did pre-sprout our rhizomes indoors before planting outside, but it didn’t result in any larger or earlier of a crop. In fact, it was one of our least abundant seasons! It may have just been a coincidence, but it was enough to tell us that the effort of pre-sprouting isn’t needed in our temperate climate.
How to Plant Turmeric Rhizomes
For folks growing turmeric exclusively outside, it is best to plant rhizomes when the soil is regularly 55 degrees or warmer, with daytime air temperatures close to 70°F . We usually plant our turmeric in March and harvest in late December. If you need to start your turmeric indoors, think about when your first fall frost is, and then count backwards about 10 months! That means you might be starting your turmeric indoors as early as December or January.
Plant each seed rhizome about 2 to 4 inches deep, spaced at least 4 to 6 inches apart. To avoid breaking the fingers, I usually dig a little hole, pop it in, and gently cover it back over – as opposed to shoving it down into the soil as I may when planting garlic cloves. In the planting hole, place the rhizome with any small fingers or nubs facing upward. The sprouts will grow from the nubs, so this sets them up in the right orientation from the start. Water to moisten the soil around them.
Notes for Starting Indoors
For those in USDA zones 7 and lower that are starting turmeric indoors, keep those pots inside for now! Sunlight isn’t a concern yet, since they haven’t sprouted. Therefore, you can keep them in any sheltered, warm location in your home. Once they do sprout however, you’ll need a plan to provide ample bright light – either in a sunny window or by using grow lights.
Bring the pots outside after your last risk of spring frost has passed, but keep an eye on the forecast for the next few weeks! Again, the rhizomes cannot freeze. When you do bring the containers outdoors, they will need a gradual transition to acclimate to the difference from indoor to outdoor life. This process is called hardening off, and it is important!
Read more about hardening off in this article. In summary, plan to bring them out for short durations in a sheltered and shady location for a few days, gradually increasing the time and sun exposure over the period of a week. Don’t just plop them down in direct hot sun right away! They will freak out on you.
After planting, the waiting game beings. As I mentioned before, turmeric not only takes a long time to grow – but also a surprisingly long time to sprout! If you’re starting your turmeric indoors, it may sprout faster than ours. Yet when we plant rhizomes outdoors in February or March, our first sprouts don’t usually poke through the soil until July, and some as late as August!
Even though I know what to expect, it still stresses me out every year. I always think they’ve crapped out on us! Warmer climates may experience earlier sprouting, because we do have a really cool spring and early summer, but at least you’ve been forewarned. Be patient. Don’t worry.
Ongoing Turmeric Plant Care
Before the turmeric sprouts above the soil, it doesn’t need much in terms of care. Provide occasional water – as frequently as needed so that the soil is maintained mildly damp, but not soggy. Use your finger to probe a couple inches into the soil to assess the moisture level if needed. To reiterate, those precious rhizomes are prone to rotting if they’re overly wet! Occasional spring rain and foggy weather means we hardly water our un-sprouted turmeric at all, until things start to dry out and warm up.
After the turmeric has sprouted and is actively growing, continue to provide water to achieve that same moist but not soggy soil condition. Chances are, this will mean watering more frequently than you were before – as it is now summer weather, and the growing plant will be drinking more water.
As fall to winter sets in, cut back the water a bit again, particularly if you are receiving rain. When you are one to two weeks away from your chosen harvest date, you can stop watering all together. If you aren’t sure, this step isn’t required. We have simply found it easiest to gently uproot the rhizomes in semi-dry soil.
While it is actively growing, turmeric is a fairly heavy feeder. It will enjoy compost, and a few applications of well-balanced fertilizer throughout the season. Aged pelletized chicken manure is a popular choice to feed turmeric. To keep our turmeric happy and healthy, we give it a few different treats throughout the year. Once or twice during the mid to late growing season (summer and fall), we top-dress the soil around the plant stalks with a light sprinkle of alfalfa meal and kelp meal, plus a fresh 1 to 2-inch layer of compost, and then water it all in.
Additionally, we provide a couple of mild liquid fertilizer offerings. One is actively aerated compost tea, which we use to water the turmeric with every other month or so – in place of its routine watering. To learn how we make our compost tea, check out this tutorial! During the alternate months, we may water with a dilute seaweed extract solution instead. That option will be easier for folks who don’t have homemade compost or the equipment to make compost tea.
How to Harvest Turmeric
Turmeric leaves will start to turn yellow-brown and dry when it is time for harvest. Some of our outermost leaves change, but others not so much. See the leaves in the harvest image below. In addition to leaf appearance, use time as way to determine when to harvest – an average of 10 months after planting.
Come harvest time, do not just yank up on the stalks! You’ll risk breaking your hands that way! Using a trowel or your hands, gently dig down in a wide pattern around the turmeric stalks to loosen the soil, taking care not to stab and damage the rhizomes. Once the soil is more loose, you can either gently pull up on the stalks or scoop them out from below. If you meet resistance, you may want to dump the container over sideways and gently sift through the contents instead. See the example below, showing how we tip the wine barrels on to a tarp for easy clean-up.
After harvesting, rinse off the rhizomes to remove the dirt. Carefully cut the rhizome hand away from the stalk. Also, they will have some odd long roots attached to them, which can be cut off with clean scissors or snips and composted. Then, allow the skins to thoroughly air dry before putting them away in storage.
Congratulations! You just grew your very own turmeric!
How to Store & Preserve Turmeric
To eat fresh, it is best to use turmeric within a few weeks of harvest. Store dry rhizomes in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. If your intention is to replant some of the rhizomes, those can be kept out in a cool, dark location and for a longer period – since you’re hoping they’ll eventually sprout anyways! I assume you won’t want to immediately eat or replant all that you grew, so you’ll want to consider a couple ways to preserve your turmeric harvest as well.
To preserve turmeric, we freeze a portion of our harvest and also dehydrate some to grind into homemade turmeric powder! To freeze turmeric, simply freeze the whole rhizomes in an airtight container and plan to use them within a year. The sooner you use them, the more fresh and bright the flavor will be. To use them, we just pop a rhizome out of the freezer and grate it up as needed for meals! Homegrown turmeric skin is so fresh and tender, we don’t even bother peeling it.
Using Turmeric in Meals
Dried, fresh, frozen, or fermented! There are so many ways to use turmeric. Grate fresh or frozen whole turmeric rhizomes and add it to beans, lentils, brown rice, mixed veggies, eggs, and more – for a curry-like pop. Additionally, we add it to fermented sauerkraut, fire cider, and even in kombucha! Click the links to see our recipes for each of those.
Use dried turmeric powder in many of the same ways! Another popular use for turmeric powder is to make golden milk. Golden milk is made by mixing your choice of milk (dairy, coconut, almond, or other) with turmeric powder, cinnamon, a little oil, and most often a natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup. Check out our quick and easy golden milk recipe here!
If you haven’t had turmeric on its own, keep in mind that it is not spicy like the classic curry you may imagine. Turmeric is a key ingredient in curry and does have a little sharpness to it, but it is nothing like pre-mixed curry powder. Those also include chili powder and other ingredients.
Finally, one important note: To reap the optimum health benefits, always add a dash of black pepper with your turmeric! Why? Because black pepper vastly increases the bioavailability and absorption of curcumin. Studies show that consuming ¼ teaspoon of pepper with curcumin increases the bioavailability by 2000%. Even with just a pinch of pepper, levels significantly increase. Consuming it as a whole food or root (even dried and ground) as opposed to curcumin extract, or consuming it with fats like oils or coconut milk, also significantly increases bioavailability.
Money may not grow on trees, but good health can grow in soil!
In closing, I’m sure you can see just how much we love growing turmeric around this homestead. I hope that you found this article informative, useful, and inspiring ~ so you too can discover the joy of growing turmeric at home! Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and spread the love by sharing this post.