Among the Panax family of perennial plants, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is valued for its leaves and roots, used extensively in herbal medicine, teas and supplements. American ginseng is a challenge to grow as it develops slowly and isn't ready for harvest for four or five years. In addition, this plant is prone to fungal and pest infestations. The correct location and soil type are essential to success of growing ginseng.
Plant ginseng in a location that has heavy to mottled shade. Ginseng may thrive beneath the spreading boughs of trees or under constructed shade canopies or screens. This plant adapts well beneath sugar maple trees, black walnut trees and tulip-poplars. The ginseng plant favors the north and east sides of the trees, where the natural light is indirect and filtered.
Work the soil well by tilling before planting, and add organic compost, dried leaves or peat moss to lighten heavy or clay-type soils. A gently sloped area is ideal to reduce the risk of standing water. Add lime or composted manure to increase nitrogen in the soil.
Plant ginseng seeds or root divisions in the fall in prepared beds for sprouting in the spring. Root divisions offer a better chance for plant growth, but they are substantially more expensive than seeds. Spring planting, while possible, may result in lower germination.
Sprinkle ginseng beds lightly with water after planting to keep the soil moist but not soggy for a week or two. This will allow the seeds and plants to settle into the bed. Begin watering again in the spring as soon as the first shoots appear.
Treat ginseng plants with chemical or organic fungicides that are safe for use on edible vegetables. Rodent populations may threaten seeds, roots and young ginseng plants. The plants are subject to nematodes as well as fungus infestations.
Harvest or separate ginseng roots in the fall after the leaves wilt. Divide mature roots at the natural forks in the root for replanting, or wash and dry the roots in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight in preparation to sell.