Selecting a suitable planting site is very important. The properties of an optimal site for woods cultivation are the same as those for wild-simulated planting. The woodland site should be fertile with sufficient shade, soil moisture and drainage. If certain aspects are not as adequate, it is possible to create what the ginseng will need but it could get costly depending on what is needed to create a more favorable planting area for your ginseng. A very important characteristic of a potential site to look for is the existence of companion plants.
Ginseng has been known to grow in 65% to 90% shade, with 78% being ideal. Anything greater than 90% shade will result in extremely slow root growth and spindly plants. Too much sun can burn leaves and kill the plants and the excessive amount of heat will stress the plants and make them vulnerable to disease. Since there is no device to measure the amount of shade, look for signs. A sign of too little shade would be dense undergrowth making it difficult to walk through and incompatible to growing ginseng. An indication of too much shade would be a lack of undergrowth, thereby unfavorable for ginseng. You want an area with a mottled pattern of light and shadow on the forest floor with continuous changes during the day so that no areas are in continuous light or shadow.
The best type of soils for ginseng are humus-rich sandy loams rich in organic matter and high in calcium but ginseng can grow in various soil types, as long as excess surface water leaves the root area quickly after heavy rainfall. Ginseng likes moisture but does not do well in wet soil so avoid areas that holds water after rain. During a dry period, check a potential site to make sure the soil under the leaf litter retains some moisture. A soil test is strongly suggested.
Good drainage is very important for ginseng growth. Drainage conditions are difficult to create so pick a planting site with at least 2 degrees of slope (more than 5 degrees is better) on a north or east facing slope.
The following table is a visual assessment check list for a potential woodland site for growing growing. ** p. 93 table **PLANTING SITE PREPARATION:
Perhaps the hardest job for a woods-cultivated ginseng grower is preparing the planting beds. The extra effort spent in doing it right will be well worth it. The first task is to clear the land of everything you can (small trees, vines, dead limbs, rocks) leaving only the large trees needed for shade. Clearing the land properly will allow room for a tiller to operate. To maximize air flow, cut low hanging branches and clear the areas around the bed perimeter, especially at the bottom of the slope. After clearing the site, you can make mulch from the brush piles with a chipper or shredder. Prior to tilling, remove surface roots about a foot away from your shade trees so they don't get caught up in the tiller. Also, rake the topmost layer of leaf litter to use later as mulch. The remaining leaf litter will add organic matter to the soil as you till the beds. Use a rear-tined tiller with about 5 horsepower to better manage around steep and uneven slopes. Do not till in rain or if the soil is wet. Start at the bottom of the slope and till directly up the hill, breaking up about 6-8 inches deep of soil. Tilling deeper risks damaging or killing the trees you need for shade. Then back the tiller down the hill and repeat. The first run will cut up the roots and the second run will finish breaking up the soil. Leave any cut-up roots to decompose and enrich the soil. Work around and leave enough space near trees to allow them to grow. Then dig the trenches to the same depth that has been tilled and throw the dirt onto the center of your beds. Then rake the beds so that the center of the beds is at least 2 to 3 inches higher than the edges. This will help with drainage. Planting beds and trenches should run up and down, not across, the face of the slope to promote drainage of surface water during rain. Make sure trees don't block trenches between beds. The purpose of trenches is not only for drainage but to also serve as walkways to access your planting beds. Planting beds that are 4-7 feet wide will be accessible via walkways without needing to walk on them for weeding or other tasks. Make beds as long as you want or can depending on the land with trenches about 1 & 1/2 feet wide. At the top of each bed, join bordering trenches to form an inverted "V".If the soil is rich and nutrient, you don't want to alter it too much. Tilling in shredded or partially decayed leaves and bark will add organic matter to the soil. The only type of fertilization that might be required is gypsum to increase calcium levels. Have a soil test done and if the calcium levels are below 2000 pounds per acre, incorporate about 50 pounds of gypsum per 1000 square feet of bed space when you till the beds for fall planting. Test the soil again in late winter and if the calcium levels are still below 2000 pounds per acre, then top dress with 50 pounds of gypsum per 1000 square feet of bed space in the spring.
If the soil is not rich and fertile, fertilizer can be added. As you prepare the beds, in addition to organic matter and calcium, a balanced fertilizer can be incorporated. As little as 5 pounds per 1000 square feet can be added. Be aware that excessive or inappropriate fertilizer can cause problems with soil composition and disease. Although the ginseng might grow faster, the quality of the roots will suffer.After the beds have been made and the trenches have been dug, plant the ginseng seeds about 1/2" to 3/4" deep. Shallow surface planting risks attracting rodents and slugs. Planting deeper than 1 inch risks the sproutling not being able to reach the surface. There are 2 seeding methods for the woods grower: (1) delay digging the trench and hand-cast the seeds over freshly tilled beds. Then, dig the trenches and shovel the dirt to uniformly cover the seeds with about 1/2 inch of dirt. Rake smooth if needed. The disadvantage of this method You can either hand cast the seeds add 2 to 3 inches -as trees regrow their surface roots, there will be competition with the ginseng for water and soil nutrients but not a bad thing as this will create roots that look more "wild" -after seeding, add 2-3 inches of mulch -2 seeding methods for woods grower: (1) delay digging the trench, hand-cast the seeds over freshly tilled beds and then dig the trenches, shoveling the dirt to uniformly cover the seeds about 1/2 inch of dirt and rake smooth if necessary but this method loses the center crowning of the planting bed to help promote drainage and hand-casting makes controlling the density of planting hard to manage, helps to divide planting area into sections and measure out seeds to cast in each planting section, do not step on planting beds, walk along trenches (2)dig the trenches, crown the planting bed, rake the surface smooth, then sow with hand-operated garden seeder up the slope, this will yield more even spacing -spacing: closely spaced plants, roots will grow more slowly and are more vulnerable to disease but will increase the total potential yield in root weight obtained on a unit area of land...growth rate for individual roots is much faster when they are space widely apart -replanting: replanting on same site after first crop has to many failures because of unknown reasons but second plantlings seem more susceptible to any kind of stress, especially diseases, might work if first crop had vigorous growth and no diseases of any kind but any more replanting in the same area will be disastrous -mulching: as soon as seeds are planted, add mulch, mulching is essential to help the plants stay cool and retain moisture during hot, dry weather, reduce weeds, curtails erosion and protect the root top and next year's bud from damage by frost, in the spring, mulch regulates soil temperature by minimizing repeated cycles of freezing and thawing and preventing early hot spells from causing plants to emerge too early and die from a severe late freeze, as mulch decomposes over time, it acts as an organic fertilizer that maintains soil humus levels, prevents soil packing and reduce leaching of soil nutrients -best mulch are leaves, small-grain straw, weathered bark/sawdust mixtures, do not use pure sawdust b/c is compacts too tightly, reducing aeration and evaporation and preventing sproutling from emerging in the spring, hardwood leaf litter is the natural mulch of ginseng and readily available to the woods grower, using straw has drawbacks, it may contain grass and weed seeds which slugs love to live underneath and slugs will eat your newly sown seeds and buds and sprouts and foliage of older plants if left alone -spead mulch as evenly as possible, inspect every few weeks and add mulch to bare spots blown by wind, remove leaves and debris from trenches/walkways so surface water is free to drain away -gain experience by keeping a written record of what has been done, month and year of planting, mulching, seeding rate, fertilizer used if any, planting bed site characteristics, anything else of interest, any problems that arises -over the winter, replace any mulch that has been blown off the planting beds, clear dead limbs and other debris from beds and trenches and if signs are present of rodents nibbling on seeds or roots, set out poison baits/traps, clear small trees adn brush from future planting sites -ginseng starts to sprout mid-April thru early June so if there is extra mulch, remove before plant emerges, remove any weeds that may have grown in planting beds -