There are several methods of planting that are used by the wild-simulated ginseng grower. Some growers take a very minimalist approach to clearing up the forest floor before planting. We are far more mechanistic, and we like our planting areas to be cleaned up, with the dead limbs and trees removed. We actually use the fallen limbs and trees as boundary markers for each 50-foot by 50-foot plot.
Because the ground isn’t mechanically tilled (or at least not much), the methods for planting have to get the seed into or onto the soil in such a way as to get the ginseng to grow in the spring. There are several different methods of doing so.
Rake and Broadcast
The easiest is to use is to rake back the leaf-litter on the forest floor and broadcast the seed directly onto the ground, step over it and rake the leaves from the next seeding area on top of the seeds you’ve just “planted.”
This isn’t a bad method of planting, and we’ve had good success with it. We think it works even better if combined with lightly raking the soil prior to scattering the seed onto the ground. The object is to get the seed into contact with the moist ground where it won’t dry out over the winter, and then cover it with the fallen leaves.
The drawback to this method is the seed is at risk of being eaten by rodents over the winter. Further, if the leaf cover is too heavy, the seedlings might not make it through the leaves when they germinate in the spring.
Rake, Trench, Seed and Cover
Andy Hankins advocated this method in his publication “Producing and Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in Forest and Agro-forestry Systems” Here is how he puts it:
"The only tools needed to plant wild simulated ginseng are a rake and a
garden hoe. Rake the leaves on the forest floor away from the 5 foot wide
bed right down to the topsoil. Using one corner of the hoe, make three narrow
furrows 18 inches apart, all the way down the length of the bed. The furrows
should be one inch deep and three inches wide. Plant ginseng seeds, by
hand, 3 inches apart in each furrow. About one ounce of seed will be needed
to plant three furrows, at this spacing, in a bed that is 5 feet wide and 50 feet
long. Cover the seeds with 3/4 inch of soil. After planting, carefully step down
each row to firm the soil around the seeds. Once the seeds are in the ground,
gypsum or rock phosphate may be applied over the surface of the bed as
needed. To finish the planting, rake one inch of leaves back over the bed as
a mulch. After a couple of rain storms, no one will be able to detect that any
planting has occurred. The site will look completely natural."
The problem with this advice is the roots from the trees and other plants make digging those trenches quite difficult. It is extremely frustrating and difficult work in rocky and rootbound soil. We would only recommend it for very small plantings (1/2 acre or less).
Rake, Scratch and use a Mechanical Seeder
When you start trying to plant larger quantities of seed, you begin to want a more efficient way of planting. Our solution was to rake the leaves back, scratch 3 rows about a foot apart, and use a mechanical seeder to drop the seed in the slightly loose dirt.
The plates have to be worked with until you get a good seed distribution. The problem is that the root system in the ground makes it difficult to use the seeder without working up a row in the dirt first. This would seem to defeat the purpose of a wild simulated planting, but it does not. The ground is not tilled, but rather scratched up for an inch or two deep, enough for the seeder to get the seed into the ground and cover it with dirt before raking the leaves back over them.
The advantage of this system is speed. A two-man team can plant a half-acre in a day without much problem, and two acres in a week (which allows time for Mr. Murphy to pay a visit). Murphy’s rule, for those that don’t remember, is that everything always takes longer than it should, and if anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible moment.
Plan ahead and Mr. Murphy won’t visit as long and won’t stay as long when he stops by.