Choosing The Correct Location To Plant Ginseng
The first decision that must be made before any work is done is determining where the ginseng should be planted. Ginseng is a very difficult plant to raise because it is susceptible to disease and other problems that can affect the crop. Choosing the correct piece of land is the first step in preventing these problems.
Drainage of the land is one of the most important criteria that should be looked at. The reason for this is that the diseases that affect the roots will develop and spread more rapidly in land that is saturated with water. Freeze out is also another problem that increases in wetter areas in many portions of the United States where frost is a problem. The type of subsoil is a determining factor in deciding if the land is suitable for ginseng. Most types of rocky or sandy subsoil do provide adequate drainage. It also helps if the land is sloped so that the water can be drained away from the ginseng when heavy rains occur.
Ginseng requires shade to grow. Wild ginseng is most often found in the hardwood forests throughout a large portion of the United States. Determining if the correct amount of shade is available is not an exact science. Ginseng will usually grow best in areas where there is approximately 60% - 80% shade provided during mid day. A way to determine if the correct amount of shade is available in a given woods is to look at the ground vegetation below the trees. Ground vegetation of around 1-3 feet tall that is scattered and not very dense usually indicates that the shade present is about correct to grow ginseng. If the ground vegetation is very dense it usually indicates that there is not enough shade and the ginseng will probably not thrive and grow well. Areas that have virtually no ground vegetation indicate that the forest canopy is too thick and it is probably too dark for the ginseng to sprout and survive. Areas like this may be suitable for ginseng if some of the trees are removed to "open up the woods" and provide more light.
Preparing The Soil
After deciding on a given piece of land, the land preparation is next on the agenda. The degree of land preparation will be determined by what your goals and objectives are. For many people this step will involve nothing more than raking back the leaves and "scratching" the ground slightly before planting the seed. For others it may involve tilling the soil and forming beds to plant the ginseng seed in.
When planting small amounts of seed it often works best to plant the ginseng on small knolls or on hillsides where there is proper drainage. Simply rake back the leaves in an area suitable for ginseng (assuming you are in the woods) and scratch the surface slightly using a rake. This area is then ready to be planted. Planting ginseng like this will allow the ginseng to grow as wild ginseng and future care will be very minimal until harvest time.
For people interested in planting larger amounts of ginseng it may work best to till the soil slightly and form raised beds to plant the ginseng in. Beds are formed by shoveling or plowing dirt from what is termed a path into a bed. The beds are usually 2-4 feet wide and can run any distance as long as there is adequate drainage for water to run from the area. They are usually about 5 inches high. The most important reason to form beds is to raise the planting surface above ground level so that the ginseng plants and roots are not submerged in water when heavy rains occur. It is important to note that tilling the soil will probably be necessary to help form the beds. However, it is recommended that the soil be tilled the minimum amount necessary to minimize disturbing the natural growing conditions.
Planting The Seed
Once the area has been prepared the ginseng seed is ready to be planted. The ginseng seed can be broadcast by hand. The normal planting rate for planting ginseng in the woods is usually about 40 pounds per acre of planted area. This means that the seed will probably be about 3 inches apart when distributed. After the seeds have been scattered they can be raked gently into the ground or simply stepped on to press the seeds slightly into the soil. Ginseng seed should never be planted more than 1/4" deep. Once the seed has been planted leaves can be raked back over the seed to help protect the seed from drying out (unlike most seeds, ginseng seed can "dry out" and die if left exposed to sunlight or very dry conditions) and also hide the seed from rodents and other predators. If there are not enough leaves available or you are planting a larger area straw may be used as mulch. A covering of approximately 1"-2" of loose straw should suffice. There are three main reasons for covering the ginseng bed at this time and are listed below.
1.) To eliminate the ginseng seed from drying out. The straw or mulch covering will provide shade and keep the seed and ground cooler and moist.
2.) To help control germination of weeds in the ginseng bed.
3.) To prevent freeze out of the ginseng in subsequent winters.
Once the straw or mulch covering has been placed over the ginseng bed, the actual planting of the ginseng is finished. The seed should be protected from drying out unless a long period of very dry weather is encountered.
Planting Ginseng Rootlets
Planting ginseng rootlets involves the same steps as planting seed except that a mature root will be planted instead of seed. Ginseng rootlets are a good alternative to planting seed for those people interested in having a mature plant immediately. 3, 4 and 5 year old rootlets will provide seed bearing plants immediately.
When planting rootlets dig a trench or hole deep enough for the rootlet to be placed in and cover with approximately 1/2" to 3/4" of ground. Pack the ground firmly around the root. Using leaves or other mulch place a covering of mulch over the ground to help protect the root during the winter months.
Natural Enemies of Ginseng
Mice or moles may seem quite harmless in most vegetable gardens or fields. But when planting ginseng, damage caused by rodents can cause a noticeable difference. Rodents cause the most damage between the time that the seed is planted in the fall and when the seedlings sprout in the spring. Their appetite for seeds make ginseng beds a paradise when they are discovered. It is often times difficult to determine where damage is occurring until the spring when there is no seed left in sections of the bed to sprout.
Once the seeds begin to sprout in the spring, the pest focus shifts to slugs, grubs, and certain types of worms. The predominant pests normally encountered in a new seedling patch are slugs. Slugs will attack the new shoot on a seedling plant or the stem itself once the plant has developed.
Turkeys and other animals usually don't eat the ginseng seeds. However, they can scratch or dig in areas where the ginseng has been planted and cause damage to the new seedling plants. As the plants mature and berries develop turkeys have been known to harvest your berries prior to you getting the job done.
Taking Care Of Your Ginseng
If the ginseng seed or rootlets have been scattered around the woods and left to grow as wild there is virtually no work that needs to be done. However, for the person that got more involved and planted larger amounts of seed or rootlets you may need to spend some of your free time caring for the ginseng.
One of the most tedious jobs associated with raising ginseng is weeding. However, it is recommended to keep the beds free from weeds since this will inhibit the growth of the ginseng plants and can choke off the seedling plants.
Rodents or other pests may be a problem for seedling gardens in particular, but disease can affect any age of ginseng. There are three main diseases that normally affect ginseng. These consist of two types of blight which affect the leaves and stems and one type of root rot which is very prevalent in ginseng. The two types of blight are known as alternaria and rhizoctonia. Phytophthora root rot is the most common disease that affects the roots. Decisions on where the ginseng is planted and some of the other items that have been discussed all play a role in what disease will develop and to what extent it progresses in a patch of ginseng.
Harvesting Of The Ginseng Seed
Once the ginseng reaches three to five years of age, a lot of the plants will begin to bear seed. Blossoms will usually develop around June and the seed will ripen around the middle to the end of August (this may vary some depending on your location in the United States).
Once the berries turn red they can be harvested by hand. These berries can then be placed in a burlap bag and the pulp allowed to rot away. It may be necessary to water the seed during this time to ensure that the seed does not dry out. After much of the pulp has rotted the seeds can be washed and dried slightly and are ready to be stratified.
Stratified means that the seed is mixed with sand and placed in boxes made of wood and screen. These boxes usually have a fine mesh screen on the top and bottom with the sides being constructed of wood using 2"x10" or 2"x12" boards. They should be buried in the ground where drainage is very good and in a cool shady place. It is often recommended to place several inches of sand or gravel underneath the box to aid in drainage before the box is buried. The boxes are then ready to be filled with seed and sand.
The seed will remain in the box until the following fall when it is ready to be planted. This seed is then considered stratified seed and will sprout the following spring.
Reaping The Rewards - Harvesting The Ginseng
Normally ginseng planted in the woods will need to be a minimum of five years old and often times seven to ten years old before it will reach harvestable size. The harvesting of ginseng involves digging the roots out in the fall after the seed has been harvested from the plant. The anticipation of what the time and money invested has produced makes digging an enjoyable and exciting time. Care must be taken not to damage the roots when digging them out.
After the roots have been dug, the dirt must be washed from the roots. When washing the roots, be careful not to remove the skin of the root or wash the roots too clean. The subsequent color of the dried root is
affected by how much the root is washed. The next step in the harvesting process is to dry the roots. The drying of the roots is very crucial, especially when large amounts are being dried. Initially the roots should be dried off rapidly so mold is not a problem. Forced air over the roots aids in this. When drying large amounts, temperatures of 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit are reached in the dryers along with circulating air. The average drying takes between 9-14 days to complete. If a small number of roots are being dried, it is often easiest to leave the roots set out in a place that is as warm as possible. When ginseng was first harvested, people used the attics in their houses where temperatures were much higher on a sunny day to dry the roots.