When Can You Plant Ginseng? It Depends.

When can you plant ginseng? It depends on whether you are planting seeds, rootlets, or plants. If you’re looking for information on WHERE to plant ginseng, then this article might be more helpful: How to Find Ginseng. It’s about the proper habitat, which is as important for knowing where to plant it as it is for knowing where to find it.

Seeds

I usually start planting seeds in October and continue until it gets too cold to be comfortable out in the woods doing it. As long as the ground isn’t covered with snow or frozen, it’s a good time to plant seeds.

stratified ginseng seeds
Stratified ginseng seeds have already spent one year in storage, usually with the berries still encasing them. A common way to stratify them is to put the berries layered in sand in a bucket with drainage holes. This bucket is kept in a cool, moist, and shady location until the following year. Then the sand is sifted through screens which trap the seeds. The berries have decomposed and all that’s left are the seeds, debris, and sand. The seeds pictured are “smiling”, which means they’re getting ready to sprout. After stratifying for one year, then planted the following autumn, the seeds will sprout in spring, usually in late April here in the Ozarks. So seeds naturally falling from a plant will take two years before emerging as a seedling. Purchased seeds have usually undergone the first year in a bucket, if you’ve bought “stratified” seeds.

Sometime around January, sometimes later, if I haven’t planted all of my seeds yet, they’ll begin sprouting in the house. I don’t keep the seeds in the refrigerator, but in a cellophane (important-not plastic) bag in an unheated room. I keep them in a closet in my office. You can’t let the seeds dry out, so I put some of our native moss in there with it. That keeps them happy for weeks if I spray the moss with a spritzer bottle every so often.

When the moss begins to lose color, I’ll swap it out for fresh moss.

Once the seeds begin to sprout, they’re very fragile. When the two halves of the seed begins to separate, they’re called “smiling”. You can still plant them if you’re careful not to break off the little root that starts to appear. Try to have all of the seeds planted before March.

smiling ginseng seeds
“Smiling” ginseng seeds

Rootlets

Rootlets (bare root) can be transplanted any time the ground isn’t frozen or too dry.  I only ship these in fall because the unplanted rootlets can be stored in the refrigerator until spring, if necessary. Once the tops die back on them in October, they are dormant and don’t need light. As long as they’re kept cool and moist, they’re like carrots in the vegetable crisper.

I ship them nestled in live moss, and they do very well in the cellophane bags surrounded by moss.

A labeled first year ginseng rootlet from Wild Ozark.

Don’t transplant during drought or right before heavy rains. If you plant when it’s too dry, the plants will shrivel up and die before they have a chance to adjust. If you plant them right before heavy rains, the plant may become dislodged and exposed. If that happens, they’ll die once they dry out.

Plants

Once they come up in spring, usually at the end of April, they I sell and ship them out as potted plants. These can be planted anytime the ground isn’t too wet or too dry. The pots can be ‘heeled’ in under forest canopy and stay there until fall if you’d rather wait until fall to plant them.

They can wait until fall in the pots if you “heel” them in, in a shady area with good leaf cover and protection from wind. I keep the nursery stocked with potted ginseng by terracing my hillside in the woods with rocks.

I put the pots in the small terraced beds directly on the ground then cover them with leaves so that the plants are above the leaves but the pot and soil in the pot are all below the leaves. The leaves cut down on how often I have to water them, but I do water if it’s a long dry spell.

There is a lot of shade on my nursery hillside, and it is sheltered from wind by the hill and the trees. So you can plant them easily within a few days or longer depending on where you have to keep them.

Predation

Squirrels do sometimes get into my pots and dig around in them, uprooting the plants. Deer will browse on the leaves, too. If you have a lot of squirrels or deer, you might want to put a chicken wire cage around them. We do have a lot of deer and squirrels, but we also have a lot of acreage of woods so the ginseng isn’t the only thing for them to eat nearby.

First year seedling
A seedling with the ground covered with dead leaves. The pot is underneath the leaf cover. This keeps the soil moist and cool.

Type of Leaves

It’s important that the leaves come from trees that are not exclusively oak or hickory. Oak and hickory leaves form a dense mat that the plants can’t push up through. The trees in the nursery habitats are a mixture of maple, elm, ash, beech, ironwood, oak, hickory, and pawpaw. There are under-story trees like redbuds and dogwoods and shrubs like spicebush, too. All of these leaves combined make a ground cover that keeps the soil moist and friable, even during dry spells.

When can you plant ginseng?

In general, plant the seeds and bare-root in fall, and transplant seedlings in spring. The most important thing to remember is to give your ginseng the best chance of survival by planting when conditions are best. Too dry or too wet are the most important. Too hot can affect them, but not as badly as being too wet or dry. Bare-root seedlings can be planted any time of the year if they are just being moved from one location to another quickly.

Order your Seedlings Now

I’ll start shipping out the seedlings in May and will continue until it is too hot for the plants to ship, probably around July. Bare-root rootlets will begin shipping in October and continue until it is too cold, probably around end of November.

When can you plant ginseng? It depends on whether you're planting seeds, bare-root, or transplanting potted plants. I'll cut the top off of these rootlets before boxing them up. Plants or bare-root come with certificate and instructions.
When can you plant ginseng? It depends on whether you’re planting seeds, bare-root, or transplanting potted plants. I’ll cut the top off of these rootlets before boxing them up. Plants or bare-root come with certificate and instructions.

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