Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (2024)

Wild ginger (Asarum spp.) is a low-growing native plant that thrives in moist, shady places. This stemless plant features dark green heart- or kidney-shaped leaves with visible veining and cup-shaped purple-brown spring flowers that are often hidden beneath its foliage. It is not a relative of culinary ginger; grow it for ornamental use only. Wild ginger spreads slowly by rhizomes and creates a lush groundcover in shady areas. It's also deer resistant.

Although wild ginger is grown more for its foliage than its floral display, its small blossoms are intriguing. The flowers develop at ground level, so they are often hidden from view. They can be various shades of brown, purple, black, yellow, and white; many feature unique patterning on the petals. This coloring helps attract their pollinators. Some species have larger flowers than others. Wild ginger native to the United States has simple green foliage, but other species have leaves veined in silver and patterns similar to a cyclamen.

Although wild ginger is not listed as a toxic plant, the USDA warns that scientists have determined that the plants may contain toxic compounds.

Wild Ginger Overview

Genus NameAsarum
Common NameWild Ginger
Plant TypePerennial
LightPart Sun, Shade
Height6 to 12 inches
Width6 to 18 inches
Flower ColorGreen, Purple, White
Foliage ColorBlue/Green
Season FeaturesSpring Bloom, Winter Interest
Special FeaturesGood for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
PropagationDivision, Seed
Problem SolversDeer Resistant, Groundcover, Slope/Erosion Control

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Where to Plant Wild Ginger

Plant wild ginger in a wet, shady area. Wild ginger makes a good groundcover for woodland gardens and shady wildlife gardens. It can also be planted in containers, which allows its low-growing flowers to be admired more easily.

How and When to Plant Wild Ginger

Early spring is the best time to plant wild ginger nursery plants or transplants. To provide your plants with ideal growing conditions similar to a woodland area, add plenty of compost to the soil at the time of planting. Dig a hole slightly larger than the rootball and position the plant in the hole at the same level as it was in its container. Backfill the hole and water thoroughly. Space the plants 12-24 inches apart. During the spring, add an additional layer of compost to provide extra nutrients. Wild ginger prefers acidic soil but can tolerate neutral soil.

Wild ginger can be grown from seed, but the seed requires a period of cold stratification, so fall—up until a month before the last heavy frost—is the best time to sow them in the garden. For spring transplants, start the seeds indoors by adding them to a bag of moistened planting medium and putting it in the refrigerator for a month. Sow them in small pots or seed flats and put them in a warm area until they germinate. Move them to larger pots in a warm area to continue growing. When the outdoor weather warms, transplant them to their permanent location.

Wild Ginger Care Tips

Light

Wild ginger prefers to grow in part shade to full shade. Some species can take more sun, but be careful with those with intricate leaves, as they can burn and dry out.

Soil and Water

Wild ginger grows well in medium to wet, well-drained soil. Due to its slow-growing nature, it may take several years to establish and make a substantial clump.

Temperature and Humidity

When planted in deep shade, wild ginger can handle hot summer temperatures, but when planted in partial shade, the leaves may burn on hot days. Wild ginger tolerates both average and high humidity.

Fertilizer

The only fertilizer wild ginger needs is an annual top dressing of compost each spring.

Pruning

These low-growing plants require no pruning, although removing any dead or damaged leaves improves the plant's appearance.

Potting and Repotting Wild Ginger

Growing wild ginger in a container makes it easier to appreciate its flowers. Choose a container with drain holes and fill it with organic potting soil. Add the plant and water thoroughly. Place the container in a part shade or full shade location, and keep the soil moist or wet; it will likely require daily watering on hot days. Wild ginger spreads by rhizomes, but the container will limit its expansion, so it won't need repotting every year.

Pests and Problems

Low-growing wild ginger is a welcome sight to the slugs and snails that feed on it on spring nights. Gardeners can pluck these pests off when they see them or put out a shallow bowl of beer to attract and drown them. If the problem is extensive, remove any mulch and spread diatomaceous earth on the soil around the plants.

How to Propagate Wild Ginger

Divisions are the easiest way to propagate wild ginger. Propagation with seed works but requires patience.

Division: The rhizomes of wild ginger grow close to the surface, making it easy to divide the plant. Early spring is the best time to divide wild ginger, just as new growth appears. Remove some of the soil around the plant to reveal the rhizomes. Use a sharp shovel or a knife to cut a section of rhizome and new growth and immediately move the section to a prepared bed. Plant it so the soil line on the new growth is the same as before the division.

Seed: Wild ginger is difficult to propagate from seed, but it can be done. Locate the seed pods; they are hidden by the foliage and close to the ground. As they mature, the pods disintegrate to release the seed, which is then disbursed by ants. Monitor the pods for the first sign of disintegration and harvest the pods before the seeds are scattered. Place them in a plastic bag until they turn mushy. Add them in a jar of water and shake it to separate the seed from the pulp. The viable seeds sink to the bottom. Harvest those seeds and don't let them dry out. Either plant them immediately in the fall or place them in a small bag of moist planting media and put the bag in the refrigerator.

The seeds require a period of two or three months of warm moist stratification followed by two or three months of cold moist stratification to break their dormancy. Gardeners who harvest and plant the seed in the fall don't have to worry about the cold stratification period; nature will do it for them. When planting, press the seeds 1/2 inch deep in prepared garden soil and barely cover them. The plants will be small in the first year as they develop their rhizomes.

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Types of Wild Ginger

Canadian Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (1)

Asarum canadense is a North American native with medium green downy leaves. It requires regular moisture to look its best. It has better heat tolerance than European wild ginger. Zones 3-8

Chinese Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (2)

Asarum splendens is an easy-to-grow Chinese wild ginger that is evergreen in mild climates. It has arrowhead-shaped leaves with silver mottling and dark purple flowers in spring. Zones 5-9

European Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (3)

Asarum europaeum bears striking evergreen leaves that have a glossy sheen. Zones 4-8

Wild Ginger Companion Plants

Astilbe

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (4)

Astilbe brings a graceful, feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates, in the northern third or so of the country, can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun. Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer, depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.

Hosta

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (5)

This plant, hardly grown 40 years ago, is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white, or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plantain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shaped or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slugs and deer.

Japanese Painted Fern

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (6)

One of the most elegant ferns available for your garden, Japanese painted ferns are washed with gorgeous silver and burgundy markings. Lady fern is equally elegant, though not quite as showy. Either will add interest and texture to your shady spots. Closely related to each other, Japanese painted fern and lady fern are sometimes crossed with each other to create attractive hybrids. Unlike most ferns, these toughies will tolerate dry soil, and they will tolerate some sun if they have ample water.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How quickly does wild ginger spread?

    The rhizomes of wild ginger grow outward at a rate of about 6-8 inches a year.

  • What insects pollinate wild ginger?

    Early flowers are pollinated by flies and beetles. However, wild ginger is self-fertile and can produce seeds with or without outside pollinators. It also reproduces via its rhizomes. Some moths and butterflies use wild ginger as a caterpillar host plant, but they don't participate in pollination.

Wild Ginger Makes a Pretty Groundcover for Shady Areas and Woodland Gardens (2024)

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