By Andrew Philips
A Short History
The spring of 2005 was the first year I tried to grow ginseng...American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolium). I planted both stratified seed and 3-year old rootlets. I spent a lot of time preparing the planting bed, and put the roots in the ground in early April. When the shoots started coming above ground, we had a hard frost and I covered them with a healthy layer of dried leaves. This kept them from freezing, but most of the stems were unable to come up through the leaves which became wet and matted. The ones that did emerge were quickly trampled by the active neighbor kids, and I finally dug them up (the ginseng, not the kids) and transplanted them into a large whiskey barrel full of dirt. Not long after that, the shoots dried up and died. I dug up a few of the roots this August, and they seemed to have formed a new bud for next spring and appeared to be alive. I am now in the process of putting barbed wire (I couldn't locate any razor wire) around the ginseng garden and will soon replant the roots. The seeds didn't have a very high germination rate...about 50%. I planted 1 oz. (about 400) of seeds, and only ended up with about 200 or so plants. The 1 year old plants have roots about 1" long. You can also see the small green bud on the top, which will remain dormant until the spring.
Once again, I ordered 2 oz. of stratified, American Ginseng seeds from wildgrown.com (see Sources of Seeds and Roots below). They arrived three days later, October 9th, and looked very healthy. Many of the seeds showed early signs of sprouting, the shell was cracked and a little of the root inside was visible. From what I have read, this is normal in ready to plant, stratified seed. I went out to my 4'X8' plot, which is now a 6" raised bed, surrounded by 24 of burlap which is supported by treated lumber (see picture), and started to prepare for planting. I think the neighbors may have been a little offended by the big KEEP OUT sign, which is clearly visible from across the street, but then again, they are the reason I had to put the sign up in the first place.
The soil in the garden was great! The previous fall, I had lawn-mowered bushels and bushels of dried leaves and twigs, and mixed it in with the soil into a huge heap and let it compost the entire summer. The result was rich, non-clumping, easily tilled, organic soil...ideal for ginseng. I raked it smooth, and removed about 1/4-1/2" of soil and set it aside. I then planted my 9 remaining 4-year old roots which survived from the spring (see first paragraph), and the 12 1-year old ginseng plants which I grew from seed. There are probably more of these plants still in the ground in front of my house which I didn't dig up because a lot of the plants entered dormancy and lost their leaves and stalk before I could dig them up. I planted these in rows 6" apart, and placed the plants 5" apart from each other. I then sprinkled the seed over the remaining area of the garden. The soil which I set aside was spread out over the seeds, covering them to a depth of 1/4-1/2". The final addition to my ginseng garden came from a fellow by the name of Mike Lee (see "Sources of Seeds and Roots" below), whom I discovered while searching for a source of live ginseng roots on the internet. It was nice that I didn't have to order a minimum of 100 roots as most sellers require. They came exactly when he told me they would, were in great condition, and were obviously "fresh out of the soil". I ordered 20 of these 3-year old roots, someof which are shown relative to my hand in the picture.
Notice the root on the left which has two dormant buds, which means this plant will have two stems and twice as many seeds next year as normal. I strongly recommend buying from him if you decide to buy some live root stock. Anyway...once everything was planted, out came the 2 cubic foot bag of hardwood bark mulch, which I spread out evenly on top of the soil about 1" deep. A final shower with the water hose and I was done for this fall.
Sources for Ginseng Seed and/or Planting Rootlets
WildGrown.com: This company sells many ginseng products including ginseng seed and rootlets. They seem to be reliable and one of the cheapest source of seeds and live roots, and are based in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Mike Lee: This fine gentleman treated me well. He was un-annoyed by my annoying emails, and was happy to sell me as much or as little ginseng roots as I wanted. As I mentioned above, the roots arrived in excellent condition, and appeared to be extremely healthy and fresh. He also sells stratified ginseng seed ready for fall planting.