Growing Ginseng – Picking, Planting, Caring, Harvesting and Transplanting

There are people who love to plant wild American ginseng because it is a very prized plant. It’s very famous for its adaptogenic qualities helping your body to recover from stress and to deal with stress. a lot better as well as to give you more energy.

ginseng harvested

The useful part of this plant is the root and unfortunately digging up the root kills the plant. So there are many laws governing its harvesting. Before planting ginseng, make sure you know what your local and federal laws are regarding its harvesting.

However, if you are interested in growing ginseng, I will share with you all the things I know about this plant.

Selecting a Site for your Ginseng Patch

There are a couple of important factors to consider when choosing a site on which to plant and grow your ginseng crop:

1. First and foremost, if you plan to plant your ginseng seeds or rootlets in the woods you obviously need to select a site that is hospitable to the healthy growth of ginseng plants.

For ginseng to flourish it needs a wooded area with these specific traits: The forest floor needs to have approximately 80% shade from hardwood trees such as poplar, black walnut, and sugar maple. Also, the ground should be sloped facing north or east and be rather moist, yet have good drainage (this is NOT a contradiction as one might think).

2. Since ginseng roots bring a relatively high price when sold, it is imperative that your site is secure from poachers. Theft is the number one threat to any ginseng crop so you need to make sure that the site you choose for yours is hard to find and/or hard to get to undetected from roads and adjacent tracts of property.

Your options for suitable sites are virtually unlimited if you plan to grow your ginseng under artificial shade, therefore site security should be the number one factor to consider when making your choice.

Buying Ginseng Seeds

Most people will start to plant ginseng crops by buying ginseng seeds since it is the least expensive and easiest way to grow the plant.  You should ask the suppliers what kind of seeds they are supplying before ordering. For your information, most of them only sell stratified seeds.

ginseng seeds

Ginseng seeds are stratified by storing them for one year in a buried container holding several alternating layers of damp sand and seeds. Photo of ginseng berries. Stratification allows the seeds to go through the natural process of preparing for germination in a protected environment.

When ginseng plants reach 3-5 years of age, they begin to produce pods of green berries with each berry containing 2-3 seeds. In the fall the berries turn red (see photo at right) and fall to the ground a few days later, helping “re-seed” the forest floor to keep the ginseng population alive.

Many of the berries will be eaten by rodents and other animals before they have a chance to get covered up with leaves where they will be partially protected, and even the ones that get covered over are still subject to being eaten by rodents and dying from the disease.

All in all, since it takes 2 years for ginseng seeds to germinate, just a fraction of the ones produced in the wild survive long enough to germinate and develop into a ginseng plant.

By purchasing only stratified seeds (see photo at right), you will be planting seeds that will come up the following spring, greatly reducing the amount of time they will be vulnerable to animals and disease.

When your seeds arrive, be sure to check them to ensure that they are firm and in good shape. If not, send them back and ask for replacements or a refund. You can expect to receive anywhere from 7,000 – 8,000 stratified ginseng seeds for every pound ordered.

Collecting and Stratifying Your Own Ginseng Seeds

One of the best things about growing a crop of ginseng is the fact that you can collect the ripe red berries from your plants every fall and stratify your own seeds, reducing or even eliminating the need to buy seeds for planting your next crop.

Here are the steps to follow in order to stratify your own ginseng seeds:

  1. Collect the mature berries from your ginseng plants (after they turn a bright red).
  2. Drill 1/16 inch holes on the sides and bottom of a standard five-gallon plastic bucket.
  3. Dig a hole in a shaded, well-drained area and bury the bucket so that the top is three inches below the surface of the ground.
  4. Place a 1-inch layer of damp sand in the bottom of the bucket and then place a 1-inch layer of ripe berries on top of the layer of sand.
  5. Next, place another 1-inch layer of damp sand on top of the berries.
  6. Cover the top of the bucket with a sturdy piece of plywood.
  7. Repeat this process every time you harvest more ripe berries, alternating a layer of berries with a layer of sand until there are no more berries left to “pick” and stratify.
  8. After the last layer of berries has been placed in the bucket, place a final 2-inch layer of damp sand on top.
  9. Place the plywood cover on top of the bucket once again and cover everything with 3 inches of soil followed by a layer of leaves or mulch.
  10. Leave the bucket and its contents undisturbed until the following July, then dig up the bucket and retrieve the stratified ginseng seeds for fall planting.

4 Methods for Planting your Ginseng Seeds or Rootlets

Now that you have selected a site for your ginseng patch and procured your seeds or rootlets, it’s time to prepare for the planting process. The best time to plant ginseng seeds or rootlets is in the fall (September through November) or early spring (March and early April).

planting ginseng

The process for preparing the soil and planting the seeds or rootlets will vary greatly depending on how you plan to grow your ginseng crop. There are four popular methods of growing ginseng, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

1. Wild Ginseng

This is ginseng that occurs naturally in the woods without any human intervention whatsoever, and it is the most desired variety of all. Wild ginseng also takes the least amount of labor overall. You simply go ginseng hunting and dig up the mature roots as you find them (with the permission of the property owner and in accordance with state regulations of course). Wild ginseng can be harvested every year as long as you can find a plot of woods with a stand of mature plants. Wild ginseng commands top dollar when it is sold.

2. Wild Simulated Method

If you wish to use the “Wild Simulated” growing method (which is the method I recommend), there is very little site preparation required. All you really need to do is rake back the leaves over a spot just large enough to plant a single seed or rootlet, then dig a 1-inch hole. Place the seed or rootlet in the hole, cover it with soil, and then replace the leaves you removed earlier.

Most suppliers will instruct you to plant your seeds or rootlets in neat rows up and down the face of the hill, but I believe it’s best to plant them in a random fashion so that they will grow in a pattern similar to their “wild” counterparts.

Why? Because if you plant your ginseng in rows, anyone who might happen to stumble upon your ginseng patch will quickly recognize that something has been planted there, and after a little deductive reasoning they will realize that it is probably ginseng, even if they have never seen the plant before.

But if your ginseng plants are growing amongst the other natural foliage in a random pattern, all but those who are well-familiar with the look of the ginseng plant will pass right on through without ever even realizing that they happened to be walking through the midst of a plot of “green gold”.

Remember, even people who don’t know what ginseng looks like will often poach it once they realize what they have stumbled upon. After all, most everyone knows that ginseng roots command a princely sum of money when sold.

3. Woods-Grown Method

If you plan to produce your ginseng crop using the “Woods-Grown” method you will indeed want to plant your crop in rows in order to make the cultivation process easier and more efficient. Rake back the leaves in rows that traverse up and down the hill.

Each row should be about 3 feet wide with about 18 inches separating them. This 18-inch gap will allow plenty of room for walking between the rows to pull weeds and apply fertilizers and pesticides.

After you have removed the leaves, use a garden hoe to dig up any and all native plants so that you can start your ginseng growing with as little competition as possible. Next, use the hoe to dig several 1 inch deep troughs along the length of the cleared rows.

Leave about 12 inches of separation between each trough. After the troughs are dug, place your seeds or rootlets approximately 10 inches apart up and down each trough, covering them up with soil as you go along.

Finally, after all of your stock has been planted, either replace the leaves that you raked back earlier over the rows or cover the rows with hardwood mulch. In my opinion, leaves are better because they provide a more natural covering for the seeds or rootlets and for the new sprouts that will be coming up in the spring.

4. Field Cultivated Method

Planting a “Field Cultivated” ginseng crop is quite similar to that of the “Woods-Grown” method, except you will be tilling the ground extensively prior to planting and erecting some type of lattice device for shade.

The first thing you’ll need to do is plow and disc the plot of ground just like you would do for any other crop. Next “lay off” your rows with a garden hoe in a fashion similar to the one described in the “Woods-Grown” method above, then plant your seeds or rootlets. Cover up the plants with soil and then cover the entire plot with some type of mulch (chopped up leaves are best, followed by hardwood mulch).

The last step is to erect your device for shading. One option is to erect a structure with narrow boards on top spaced approximately 2 inches apart. This will allow the right amount of sunlight to strike the plants, simulating the natural shade provided by the tree canopy of a wooded lot.

Another option is to cover the structure with one of the many types of shading materials that can be purchased in rolls from your local farm supply store. The material should be dark, yet not opaque as the ginseng plants do require some sunlight.

Finally, as an option, you can erect a tall, sturdy fence around your ginseng plot to discourage poachers. See the page entitled Protecting your ginseng crop for tips on erecting a fence and other info on-site security.

Cultivating Your Ginseng Patch

ginseng plants

After your ginseng seeds or rootlets have been planted, you can expect them to sprout and come up the following spring. If you’re using the “Wild-Simulated” method, you’re done until it comes time to harvest your crop a few years down the road (except for the ever-present need to protect your crop from poachers).

If you’re using either the “Woods-Grown” or “Field-Grown” method, however, you have some work and a bit of expense ahead of you. First of all, you’ll want to periodically pull any stray weeds from around your ginseng plants to remove any and all competition they might face for nutrients.

You will also need to apply fertilizer (bone meal is best) and pesticides (consult your county extension agent for the most appropriate pesticide for your area) as recommended in the package directions.

You should also check for slugs lying on and under the layer of mulch every spring and remove any that you find. Also, be sure to check for and remove any un-hatched slug eggs. Slugs are one of the most serious threats to ginseng plants, especially in the early years and in the spring when the sprouts are small and tender.

Harvesting Your Ginseng Crop

Well, you have planted your ginseng seeds or rootlets, cultivated them as necessary, and watched them grow and flourish year after year until they are finally now ready to be harvested and sold. Congratulations on a job well done! This page will explain how to efficiently and safely dig up your ginseng roots and prepare them for drying.

harvest ginseng

The best time to harvest your mature ginseng roots is in the fall after the berries have ripened but before the plant tops have withered away for the season. Note: Be sure to harvest any ripe berries before digging up the roots!

If your ginseng patch is located on a hillside, it is best to start digging up the mature roots at the lowest point and move your way uphill until you reach the top. If your plants are in rows, follow each row from bottom to top, then move on to the next row. Working uphill will ensure that the soil you remove while digging up the roots won’t bury the plants/roots below you.

I have found that a sturdy hunting knife is the best thing to use to dig up ginseng roots. The blade can be used to gently scrape away the dirt from around the root and cut away any stray roots from nearby plants or trees that happen to be growing over the ginseng roots. Simply start at the point where the plant top exits the ground and carefully remove the soil until the root is free of the ground. Take care not to cut or break the roots, and keep as many of the small hair-like branches attached as possible.

You can use a carpenter’s apron to hold the roots that you remove from the ground, or you can simply use a bucket or basket. Either is fine, but I prefer the apron as it just seems more convenient.

When your apron, bucket or basket is full, immediately place the harvested roots in a cool, shady place to prevent them from drying out and/or sunburning.

Every year a few of your ginseng roots will lie dormant (they won’t sprout new tops in the spring). This is perfectly normal behavior and not indicative of a problem with your crop. What this means though is that you won’t be able to harvest all of your roots in one year. You can always harvest the inevitable handful of strays the following fall!

Drying and Packing Your Ginseng Roots

After you have harvested your ginseng crop you need to clean and dry them in preparation for selling them. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Carefully wash the roots under cool running water, removing all loose soil except for the little black “rings” of soil that is stuck in the shallow indentations. Leaving these small rings of soil will enhance the value of the roots.
  2. Place the clean roots on the bed of screen wire located in a cool, dry shaded room. Do not attempt to dry them in the sun or in an oven as this will surely discolor them and render them virtually worthless.
  3. Allow the roots to air-dry until they become brittle and threaten to snap when bent. Depending on the size of the roots, the drying process could take from a few days to a week or more.
  4. If you plan to sell your roots locally you can simply place them in an open brown paper bag or cardboard box, then store them in a cool, dry, shady place until you’re ready to take them to the buyer.

If you’ll be shipping your roots to the buyer, place them inside a waterproof plastic bag, then pack the bag inside a sturdy cardboard box for shipping. If possible, send the package “overnight” to reduce the chances of loss or damage. Always ensure your packages of ginseng roots for the maximum allowed by the carrier.

Note: It is always safer to deliver your roots to the buyer in person if at all possible.

Buying Ginseng Rootlets For Transplanting

For several reasons, my preferred method of starting a ginseng crop is planting stratified ginseng seeds, but there is one big advantage to planting rootlets instead: You get a one to two year head start on growing your crop which means you’ll be able to harvest it and bank the proceeds that much faster.

The big downside to buying rootlets instead of seeds is the cost. As of this writing, you can buy stratified seeds for as little as $40 per pound (7,000-8,000 seeds), but just 20 one-year-old rootlets will set you back around $15! And if you prefer to buy two-year-old rootlets it will cost you almost double that amount.

Of course, not all of those 7,000-8,000 seeds in a pound will end up sprouting and growing into a ginseng plant, but even if only 1/3 to 1/2 of them make it you’ll still end up with anywhere from 2,300 to 4,000 viable ginseng plants for your $40 initial investment. That’s just a tiny fraction of what you would have to pay for that many rootlets.

All of that being said, many people do prefer to plant rootlets instead of seeds, and that’s fine. Just make sure you purchase your ginseng rootlets from a reputable supplier as determined by you after asking for and checking out several references for each.

At $40 per pound for seeds, you can probably afford to take a chance on almost any supplier, but when you’re laying out a lot of cash for enough rootlets to plant a decent size ginseng crop you need to be extra careful.

Here are a few questions to ask the suppliers:

1 – How long have you been in the ginseng business? You’ll want to steer clear of any fly-by-night operations regardless of the prices quoted.

2 – Are your rootlets grown under natural shade or man-made shade? When it comes to growing ginseng, natural is always better than man-made.

3 – What kind of guarantee do you offer to back up the sale? At a minimum, they should offer to replace any rootlets that fail to come up the first spring after planting.

The following are questions that you should ask the references (customers) that the suppliers refer you to:

1 – Was the ordering process fast and easy or did you have problems getting information and assistance when requested?

2 – Was the order shipped promptly (or at the shipping time quoted when the order was placed)?

3 – Were the rootlets packaged securely and discreetly (and did they arrive in good shape)?

4 – If any problems arose, did the supplier work with you to resolve them to your satisfaction within a reasonable length of time?

5 – Overall, how satisfied are you with your purchase from this supplier, and would you buy from them again?

When planning to purchase ginseng rootlets, a little homework can go a long way towards ensuring that you receive what you pay for and that any problems are resolved as quickly a possible. It will also provide a little “insurance” for what could easily turn into an expenditure of several thousand dollars.

Finding Wild Ginseng Roots for Transplanting

A popular alternative to buying stratified ginseng seeds or rootlets to plant in your ginseng patch is to simply find and harvest roots in the wild. When you harvest wild ginseng roots, there are no laws that say you must sell it. Instead, you can transplant them into your own patch! The advantages of this approach are:

1 – The ginseng roots you find and harvest are virtually free (you typically pay only for the gasoline required to get you to the wooded area where you plan to search for wild ginseng).

2 – The regulations for harvesting wild ginseng in most states require that you dig only mature roots (plants with a minimum of three “prongs’ of five leaves – refer to your own state’s regulations for harvesting wild ginseng to be sure). This means that your ginseng crop will be ready for harvesting in a much shorter period of time than if you had planted seeds or purchased rootlets.

3 – You can begin harvesting your own ginseng seeds in the fall after your transplanted roots first come up.

Of course, there is a downside to starting your ginseng crop with roots harvested from the wild as well: It will usually take you several ginseng harvesting seasons before you have enough roots in your patch to make a decent size crop. Therefore, starting a ginseng patch with wild roots is a viable alternative only for those who are in no particular hurry to harvest and sell their crops.

Selling Your Ginseng Roots

Now that you have harvested, cleaned, and packed up your ginseng crop, the time has come that you have worked so hard and waited so long for. You’re finally ready to sell your ginseng roots!

There are several things to consider when it comes time to sell the fruits of your ginseng labors, and the most important one of all is the safety of your dried roots. You have worked way too long and hard only to lose it all right here at the end, so it is imperative that you choose wisely when deciding who to sell to and how to get the roots from your hands into theirs.

If you happen to live in an area where ginseng grows in the wild, there are probably a number of local buyers who will pay cash on the spot for your roots. The problem is, these folks are most likely just middlemen who buy from folks who hunt ginseng as a hobby and then resell their roots to another buyer a little higher up in the food chain located someplace else. The advantages of selling to these local buyers are:

1 – You get your money right away, and…

2 – The risk in transporting the roots to them is virtually nil since you haul them yourself.

But there is a downside as well: the price you’ll receive for your roots will be less than what you could expect to get if you sold to a buyer higher up in the food chain yourself.

The problem is, in reality, you probably have little choice except to sell to a local dealer because the larger ones prefer to deal with tons of ginseng instead of mere pounds. So unless your ginseng crop was on a massive scale, those primary dealers probably won’t want to deal with you.

But what if you live in an area where there are no local ginseng buyers? In this case, you will have to find a dealer elsewhere and ship your roots to him via UPS or load them onto a truck and deliver them yourself. If at all possible I believe it’s best to deliver the goods yourself then to trust the fruits of years of your labor to a third party.

Either way, the first step is to find a reputable buyer. Your county extension agent should be able to help, but probably the easiest way to find one is via the Internet.

After you have decided who to sell to, you’ll have to decide how you will get the roots to them. Again, if possible you should strongly consider delivering them yourself. But if this isn’t practical and you end up having to ship them, ensure that the packages are waterproof, secure, and insured for the maximum amount allowed by the carrier.

Be aware that ginseng is highly regulated and a license might be required in order to deliver or ship your roots to a dealer in another state. The dealer should be able to help you determine whether such is the case and how to go about getting a license should one be required.

The Health Benefits of Ginseng

Note: Before using any herb, including ginseng, you should always seek the advice of a medical doctor in determining whether its use can be beneficial to you and what dosages will be safe and effective.

The people of the orient have known about the many health benefits of ginseng for thousands of years, and they are quite willing to pay a hefty sum for the precious American ginseng root as they believe it to be more potent than their own domestic varieties.

The benefits of ginseng are now becoming well-known throughout the western world as well, increasing demand for the herb and making it even more valuable than ever before.

Studies have shown that one of the most significant health benefits of ginseng is its apparent ability to help reduce stress levels in both men and women. Ginseng also seems to help boost mental efficiency and increase the ability of the immune system to ward off colds, flu, and other maladies.

Although there is no conclusive clinical evidence to back it up, the Chinese have believed for centuries that the regular use of ginseng increases strength and stamina while helping lower blood pressure and improve a number of other vital health characteristics.

Planning Your Next Ginseng Crop

If you’re like most ginseng growers, you’ll likely want to grow another crop after your current one has been harvested and sold. In actuality, the best time to begin planning and preparing for your next crop is while your current one is growing!

The first thing you should be doing is collecting and stratifying the ginseng seeds from your plants after they mature every fall (see the page entitled Collecting & stratifying your own ginseng seeds for step-by-step instructions).

You should also be thinking about where you will plant your next ginseng crop. For whatever reason, ginseng doesn’t do all that well when you plant a new crop in the same spot as a just-harvested one.

You might also want to consider planting your next crop while the current one is growing. In fact, some ginseng growers plant a new crop every year which ensures that they will have a crop to harvest and sell every year (after their first crop has matured and been harvested of course).

Growing ginseng can easily turn into a full-time job if you want it to, but it will take a lot of work, patience, and perseverance to deal with and overcome the inevitable setbacks that will occur from time to time. And never forget that you must be ever vigilant in preventing poachers from stealing your livelihood if you allow your ginseng business to evolve into your sole means of support.

ginseng in box

Protecting Your Ginseng Crop From Poachers

With the high prices paid every year for mature ginseng roots, poachers present far-and-away the biggest threat to your crop. Here are a few tips for protecting your ginseng patch from those who would invade it if given the opportunity (you can spend as much or as little you can afford):

1 – Silence is golden. Never tell ANYONE that you are growing a crop of ginseng.

2 – Locate your ginseng patch in a place that is hard to get to undetected and as far away from the nearest road or hiking/biking trail as possible – the closer to your house the better.

3 – Place “No Trespassing” signs all-around your property, and place them at the property lines, not on the perimeter of your ginseng plot. Prosecute any violators to the fullest extent of the law to send a loud and clear message to the community that you are deadly serious about enforcing your “No Trespassing” policy.

4 – If you are growing your ginseng crop using the “Field-Cultivated” method, you can erect a tall, sturdy fence around your patch and have a single sturdy gate that can be locked and unlocked as required. A tall chain-link fence topped with an angled section of barbed wire or razor wire works very well. A fence will also help keep out deer, turkeys, and other wildlife that might eat or otherwise damage your ginseng plants.

5 – If practical, secure the perimeter of your ginseng patch with several security cameras. These cameras are very affordable nowadays, and there are even models that transmit the video signal via the airwaves if your patch is close enough to your house to allow it.

6 – Physically monitor your ginseng crop as much as possible, and at varying times throughout the day. Avoid following a set routine to keep any potential poachers who might be staking out your patch from determining a “best time” to encroach on your property and your ginseng crop.

7 – Leave home as little as possible, and when you do have to go out try to leave at least one person at home to serve as a pseudo-guard.

8 – Keep at least one large, ferocious-looking dog who likes to bark at everything under the sun on your property, and make sure his kennel or doghouse is within easy view of your ginseng patch.

9 – Did I mention that silence is golden?

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Growing Ginseng – Picking, Planting, Caring, Harvesting and Transplanting

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