Turmeric is a tropical plant native to India and southern Asia and is considered a superfood for its high levels of curcumin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Aside from its health benefits, it's just plain delicious, often included in curries, rice dishes, teas and other drinks, including golden milk. Luckily, you don't have to live in the tropics to learn how to grow turmeric; you can grow it in any climate with a bit of care, indoors or out. There are two basic ways to grow turmeric: outdoors, if you live in a warm climate, or indoors, if you live in an area that experiences frosts and freezing weather.
How to Grow Turmeric Indoors
If you live in an area colder than hardiness zone 8, you'll need to plant your turmeric indoors to give it a head start on the season, and then move it outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Or, if you don't have an outside space, you can grow it indoors from start to finish, as long as you have enough space and a sunny window.
If you're growing turmeric indoors, you can plant it whenever you'd like.
There are a few tricks to growing turmeric indoors.
- Turmeric needs a bright, sunny spot to grow well. A south or west-facing window is ideal. Turmeric foliage can grow to three feet tall, so make sure you have a large enough space.
- It needs to be planted in a container that's at least eight inches deep, and fairly wide. When growing turmeric, the underground rhizomes are what you'll be harvesting, and those need plenty of room to grow.
- It needs well-drained, good quality potting mix.
- Turmeric is a heavy feeder, so you'll want to feed it weekly with a diluted balanced fertilizer.
- Plant the rhizomes no deeper than four inches, with the little bumps on the rhizome (these are growth buds) pointing up.
- Provide turmeric with as much warmth as you can. A heated room or a seedling heat mat would be beneficial. Heat helps it start sprouting.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
Growing Turmeric Outdoors
To grow turmeric outdoors in the garden or in containers, the process can vary depending on where you live.
- If you live in a cold climate, you'll need to sprout your turmeric indoors and keep it there until all danger of frost has passed.
- If you live in a warm climate (hardiness zone 8 or above), you can just plant your turmeric outside whenever you like.
Growing Turmeric Outdoors in a Cold Climate
There are some additional steps if you live in a cold climate, but it's a straightforward process. In most areas (anywhere colder than USDA hardiness zone 8) you'll need to have your rhizomes planted between December and March--the colder your zone, the earlier you'll need to plant, since it takes seven to ten months from planting to harvest.
- Plant the rhizomes in containers of loose, fertile potting mix indoors until they can be planted outside in the garden or in larger containers. This will allow you to get a head start on sprouting it. Turmeric takes seven to ten months from planting until harvest, so starting it indoors is essential in areas with shorter growing seasons.
- The first containers you plant them in don't need to be very deep; six to eight inches of depth will be more than enough. They should be wide, since, once the rhizomes start growing, they'll be spreading out in the soil and a narrow container will be too constricting.
- Be sure you plant the turmeric rhizome with the growth buds pointing up.
- During this initial indoor phase, light isn't important, but warmth is. If you can provide the rhizomes with plenty of warmth and keep them evenly moist, but not soggy, those are ideal conditions for sprouting.
- The only other thing required during this time is patience; it can take five to six months for turmeric to sprout, even in the most temperate climates. All you can do during this time is keep the rhizomes warm and evenly moist, and eventually, you'll be rewarded with green shoots.
- Once the shoots appear, you'll need to place your turmeric in a spot that has bright light.
- Move your turmeric outside after all danger of frost has passed and plant it either in a wide container that's eight to twelve inches deep and sturdy enough to handle the plant's lush top growth, or directly in your garden in an area that gets full sun.
Growing Turmeric Outdoors in a Warm Climate
If you live in a warm climate, just plant the turmeric rhizomes either directly into your garden or in large containers with plenty of space for them to grow. They grow best in full sun, but if you live in an area that gets intense heat (consistently warmer than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) it would be good to plant it in a spot that gets afternoon shade.
Turmeric is a heavy feeder, so be sure to feed it monthly with topdressing of fresh compost or kelp meal and a watering every week or two with seaweed extract, compost tea, or fish emulsion will keep turmeric happy and growing well.
Tips for Growing Turmeric
Whether you're growing turmeric indoors or outdoors, there are some things to keep in mind.
- Once turmeric has sprouted, it will grow quickly, and it will require regular fertilizing since it's such a heavy feeder.
- Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
- While the plant is happiest with plenty of sun, it can be prone to sunburn if it's very sunny and temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). If your garden or window regularly reaches temperatures that high, it might be a good idea to grow your turmeric in a spot that gets a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day, or move it further away from the window if growing indoors.
- As turmeric grows, it unfurls large, lush, oval-shaped leaves and eventually a flower stalk will often appear. The blooms of turmeric are quite pretty, funnel-shaped bracts that vary from white to pink. These, like the leaves, are edible, and are a wonderful addition to stir-fries, soups, or salads.
- After around seven to ten months of growth, the leaves will start wilting and turning brown and dry. This is how you know that your turmeric is ready to harvest.
Once the leaves turn brown and papery, and before your area experiences a frost (if growing outdoors) harvest your turmeric by gently lifting it from the soil. Don't pull on the above-ground stalks; most likely, they'll just snap. If you're growing turmeric in containers, the easiest way to harvest is to tip the entire thing over onto a tarp or flattened cardboard box and harvest the rhizomes that way.
- If your turmeric has been growing in a garden bed, dig down about eight inches away from the stalk of the plant, preferably with a garden fork, and carefully tilt it back to lift it from the soil. You may need to do this a few times to figure out exactly how deep and how wide your rhizomes grew, but eventually you should be able to lift the rhizomes out of the soil and set them aside.
- Once the turmeric has all been dug up, cut the stems of brown foliage off, brush off any large clumps of soil, and then leave the rhizomes in a dry, shaded area with decent air flow for a few days to cure. Once it's cured, you can store any rhizomes you plan to use in the kitchen in the crisper of your refrigerator, or you can freeze or dehydrate them for long-term storage.
- This is also the time to set aside any seed rhizome you want to keep for next year's crop of turmeric.
Sourcing Turmeric Rhizomes
When planting turmeric, what you're actually planting is a small piece of the rhizome, and the plant will root and sprout from that. There are a couple of ways to obtain turmeric rhizomes.
- The first is to look at garden centers and in seed catalogs. Catalogs tend to offer more variety than garden centers do.
- The other way to source turmeric is to visit your grocery store. You can grow turmeric from grocery store rhizomes, but for the best chance of sprouting, look for organic turmeric. Conventionally produced turmeric is often treated with anti-sprouting agents, so if you try to grow those, you may be disappointed. Organic turmeric isn't treated with these compounds, and will sprout more readily.
If the rhizomes you have are particularly long, or have many individual "fingers" coming off of the main rhizome, divide it into smaller pieces for easier planting. Just be sure each section has at least two growth buds.
Worth the Wait
Growing turmeric is definitely an exercise in patience. It will likely be months before you even see a sprout, but once you do, the plant will reward you with lush, tropical beauty for your garden, and delicious, healthful leaves and rhizomes for your table.