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Scarlet ginger – easy to grow by all gardeners

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Many gardeners shy away from exotic -looking plants with a mistaken fear related to their personal lack of horticultural skill. One such plant in bloom now is the scarlet ginger also known as  Hedychium coccineum.  This beautifully delicate ornamental ginger may look difficult to grow or even fussy, but it is in fact an easy-to-cultivate perennial suited to all gardening experience levels.  I picked up some at a plant sale years ago as tiny four-inch pot starter plants and have they grown into a success!

There are many hybrids to the original scarlet ginger which came from southern China, the Himalayas and Nepal.  In the winter this ginger may dieback a bit, but otherwise it is perfectly hardy for our area and north to zone 8.  Scarlet ginger does best in sun to part-shade with emphasis on part-shade.  Morning sun and afternoon shade would offer ideal growing conditions.  Growing upward to six-feet tall, the scarlet ginger, a multi-caned plant, sends shoots out from a rhizome just at, or slightly below, the soil surface.  Generally, most of the new shoots will produce a flowerhead at the very end tip.  Scarlet ginger is also called “butterfly ginger” as the flowerhead is composed of many separate flowers resembling petite butterflies.   Emerging from green bracts, the petals plus the long anthers and stigmas, combine to form a frilly stack of flowers reminiscent of a bottlebrush revealing its other name, “Orange Bottlebrush Ginger”.  The color is normally dark orange to orange-red.  In addition to the breathtaking flowers, many cultivars are also fragrant.

Propagation is an easy as dividing larger clumps into smaller divisions for replanting or as giveaways.  Complete the divisions in the spring when you can see the sprouts and make sure that each new planting piece has three to five buds to ensure success.   Plant divisions in well-drained soil high in organic matter.  If needed, scarlet ginger can be grown in large pots, but make sure the containers are big as they will quickly fill the available space.

There are many other species of Hedychium including ones with yellow, white, orange and reddish flowers.  A noted orange cultivar called ‘Disney’ is a commonly available.  While collectors are a sure source of varieties, on occasion the garden center box stores may have common types available.  Family-owned local garden centers are more likely to carry flowering gingers as are Internet mail-order companies.

Don’t shy away from this exotic-looking plant!  It is tough and will bring eye-appeal and satisfaction for years to come!  For more information on growing all types of flowering plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.  Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Carey D. & Avent, T.  (2010) Hedychium – A Hardy Ginger Plant for the Garden. Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.  https://www.plantdelights.com/blogs/articles/ginger-plant-lily-variegated-hedychium-lilies.
Hedychium coccineum  (2018) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedychium_coccineum.
Hubbuch, C.  (2018) The Genus Hedychium Family Zingiberaceae. Gardening in the Coastal Southeast.  http://southeastgarden.com/hedychium.html.
University of North Florida (2018) Hedychium hybrids – Butterfly ginger. http://www.unf.edu/physicalfacilities/landscape/plants/Hedychium_hybrids_-_Butterfly_ginger.aspx.
Dave’s Garden (2018) Orange Bottlebrush Ginger, Red Butterfly Ginger – Hedychium coccineum. https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/1967/.

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