Ginseng is one of the most sought-after herbs in the world. It is used medicinally to alleviate fatigue and improve stamina. Unfortunately most ginseng is gathered from wild populations. Ginseng is now extinct or on endangered and threatened lists in most of its native habitat. Wild ginseng is found in hardwood forests, primarily in the Appalachian mountains, on northern and eastern slopes. Cultivated ginseng is hardy in zones 3 to 7 and requires a moist, well-drained spot in almost full shade.
Planting ginseng seeds
Use stratified ginseng seeds to save planting time and hassle. To stratify a seed requires nicking or softening the seed coat to allow the seedling to emerge. It can take up to two years to prepare ginseng seeds for planting.
Sow ginseng seeds in fall through late winter (September through February) as long as the soil can be worked.
Choose a spot that receives 20 to 30 percent dappled sun (or an area that is 70 to 80 percent shade). Areas under hardwood trees like oak, or the north or east sides of buildings are good. Ginseng will not grow in direct sunlight. The soil pH should be 5.5 to 6.0. If you have alkaline soil, mix sulfur or pine needles into the top 6 inches to make the soil more acidic.
Rake aside leaf litter and remove weeds and brush.
Mix 4 to 5 inches of compost into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil using a hand trowel. Ginseng requires well-drained, slightly acidic, loamy (rich) soil.
Broadcast the ginseng seeds over the prepared area. You can also plant ginseng in rows, spacing the seeds 1 to 6 inches apart and the rows 6 to 9 inches apart. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of compost. Tamp down with the back of the rake.
Water the seeds in well and cover with 1 inch of mulch. Shredded leaves or bark works well as mulch. Seeds will germinate mid- to late spring.
Planting ginseng rootlets
Prepare the soil as you would for ginseng seeds. Ginseng rootlets must not be planted where they will receive full sun.
Plant the rootlets at a 30- to 45-degree angle with the bud (the growing tip) pointing up. Dig a hole just deep enough to place the bud 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the soil. Space rootlets 3 to 12 inches apart. If planting in rows, space the rows 6 to 12 inches apart.
Water the rootlets well and mulch with 1 to 3 inches of shredded leaves or bark. The rootlets will germinate mid- to late spring.