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Growing ginseng

Choosing a site

Ginseng needs at least 75% shade. It also needs a well-drained, moist soil. These conditions are often best found on a north or east- facing slope with a canopy of mature hardwood trees.

There are several plant species that naturally occur in areas that are suitable for ginseng. These indicator plants include blue cohosh, black cohosh, goldenseal, solomon's seal, mayapple, various ferns, spicebush, ramps, trillium, wild ginger, wild yam, and bloodroot. Tree species that ginseng seems to do best under include sugar maple, poplar, black walnut, beech, and pawpaw. Ginseng will grow under oaks if the soil has enough organic matter, but the oak leaves will need raked back in the early spring as the ginseng sprouts are about to emerge, as oak leaves tend to be too heavy for the seedlings to push through. If you are serious about planting a large area, you should have a soil test done. This can usually be done by your county extension agent. You mostly want to know the pH, organic matter content, and calcium level. Ginseng has been shown to thrive in acidic soils high in calcium and organic matter. Organic matter is best increased by adding leaf compost or sphagnum peat, and calcium is best increased by adding gypsum (not lime).

Woodsgrown ginseng

Woods-grown ginseng is usually harvested after 6-8 years from seed, or less from rootlets. To use this method, prepare planting beds by clearing underbrush from the forest floor and then tilling the area to be planted. Make your beds about 4 feet wide, and situate them so they run up and down your slope to promote better drainage. Most woods growers till their ground and then shovel the loose soil from the wallkways onto the top of their beds, creating nice raised beds with good drainage and deep soil. Often growers will add a small amount of balanced fertilizer (preferably organic) and gypsum before tilling the soil. With the value of wild ginseng increasing so much, the value of woodsgrown ginseng has risen as well, and woodsgrown has the potential to produce the most income per area in a given amount of time.

Wild-simulated ginseng

Wild-simulated ginseng is basically planted in untilled soil and left to grow naturally. No fertilizer is used. Wild-simulated ginseng is usually harvested after a minimum of 9 years, and is the most valuable type of ginseng per pound. To grow ginseng this way, clear most of the underbrush from your planting site and rake back the leaf litter from your planting area. You can lightly scratch the surface of the soil with a hard rake and and then broadcast your seeds about 4 per square foot. Then cover the seedbed with a couple inches of leaf litter. An alternate method is to lightly rake your seedbed and make furrows to plant in, covering your seeds with 1/2 to 3/4 inch of soil before mulching with leaf litter.

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