Ginseng seedlings normally start to sprout between late April and early June with a small stem supporting 3 tiny leaflets. In about 4-5 weeks, the leaves will be fully developed and the seedling will be about 2-5 inches tall. During its first growth season, the ginseng plant will look like a wild strawberry plant. Under the ground, the tiny plant will develop a small skinny root over the summer months. The root will survive the winter, freezing as the ground freezes.
During the fall, the foliage will turn a rich yellow-orange-reddish yellow color. In its second year, the ginseng plant will be at least 5 inches tall and normally will have 2 prongs branching from the central stem. Each prong will have 3-5 leaflets with saw-toothed edges ending in a sharp point. Every year, the number of prongs, each with about 5 leaflets, will increase with age under good growing conditions. The 2 smaller leaflets will be less than 2 inches long and the other larger leaflets can be 3-4 inches long. Eventually, the ginseng plant will grow to over 2 feet tall. When the foliage falls off in the fall, the stem base breaks off leaving a scar at the top of the root. The remaining bud will grow into the stem, prongs and leaves the following spring and will develop on the opposite side of the scar. This scar will start to produce the ginseng "neck" and the annual scarring will tell the age of the ginseng.