Turmeric is a staple of many cuisines, particularly those originating from India and Southeast Asia. But did you know that turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a relative of ginger? Both plants belong to the Zingiberaceae family and share many physical characteristics.
While most commonly grown for its edible rhizome, turmeric is also an attractive tropical perennial. It has showy leaves reminiscent of a canna lily and, with the right growing conditions, can produce a vibrant bract when it flowers.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the different turmeric plant growth stages and provide advice for growing turmeric at home.
- Conditions for Growing Turmeric
- Turmeric Growth Rate
- Growth Stages of the Turmeric Plant
- When to Harvest Turmeric
- Turmeric Plant Growth Stages FAQs
Conditions for Growing Turmeric
Turmeric comes from tropical climates of Asia. It grows outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11 and can tolerate temperatures down to 68°F without much issue.
Though this plant likes a good bit of warmth, temperatures above 90°F can cause heat stress. For this reason, turmeric is best grown in partial shade in warmer climates. In cooler climates, I recommend placing turmeric in full sun.
Turmeric loves rich, moist soil. While you should take care not to leave the plant in standing water, turmeric would much rather be too wet than too dry.
The average turmeric plant will grow to 3 or 4 feet in height. Turmeric fares quite well in containers; just be sure to choose a pot at least 12 inches deep and wide. You may need to upgrade the container as your turmeric plant grows.
Turmeric Growth Rate
Turmeric is slow-growing and typically takes 8 to 10 months from planting to harvest. You may be able to source earlier varieties that need just seven months to mature. In my experience, these plants are ideal for gardeners in cooler regions who want to try growing turmeric outdoors.
As your turmeric develops, it should grow an average of 3 to 4 inches per month. Just remember that plant growth is never linear, so you might notice this growth rate slow down or speed up at different points in the turmeric’s life cycle.
Growth Stages of the Turmeric Plant
If you have experience growing ginger, then you’re already well-equipped to understand the turmeric life cycle. If not, don’t worry because turmeric is a very straightforward crop to grow with only a few basic needs!
1. Planting Rhizomes
If you’re interested in growing turmeric yourself, you won’t be starting with regular seeds. Instead, you’ll want to get your hands on some turmeric rhizomes.
To clarify, turmeric plants do produce viable seeds. But rhizomes are a much more practical way to cultivate turmeric, especially for large-scale farmers, because they are faster and produce true-to-type offspring. (Remember: any plant started from a rhizome is a genetic clone of its parent!)
Rhizomes are specialized stem tissue that typically grow horizontally below the soil’s surface. These offshoots are equipped with buds that can sprout and produce new plants.
The standard advice is to cut turmeric rhizomes into pieces that are about 2 inches long. It’s crucial that each segment has at least one visible bud, or else the rhizome won’t sprout. Plant the rhizome pieces in shallow soil, spaced several inches apart so they have room to grow.
Starting turmeric rhizomes takes a bit of patience! It can take anywhere from 30 days to several months for the rhizomes to sprout. Many growers opt to begin their rhizomes indoors through the winter so that they have turmeric starts ready to plant come spring.
Whether sprouted indoors or directly in the garden, the turmeric will start out as a tightly wrapped leaf sheath. Within a few days, this sheath will unfurl and reveal the plant’s first foliage.
During this time, the rhizomes should be kept between 70 and 95°F. Exposure to temperatures below 50°F can kill the rhizomes and any young sprouts that have already emerged.
3. Vegetative Growth
The bulk of the turmeric plant consists of large, dark green leaves. After sprouting, it may take up to 90 days for the turmeric to put on considerable growth, reaching a height of about 2 feet tall. The plant will continue growing to a height of 3 feet or more.
4. Rhizome Development
This is the stage most growers care about. While almost every turmeric plant starts as a piece of rhizome, there will be nothing to harvest until the plant produces even more rhizomes.
Rhizome development occurs at the end of the growing season as the plant prepares for winter dormancy. For the plant, the rhizomes represent a valuable cache of energy and genetic material that will ensure the turmeric survives winter. For us, they represent an incredible, aromatic spice for the kitchen!
Note that it can take at least 270 days for a turmeric plant to reach this stage. Each plant can produce up to 1.5 pounds of harvestable rhizomes per year.
Turmeric is grown in ‘captivity’ flowers only on occasion. Fortunately, you don’t need the plant to flower to produce a harvestable crop. But the blooms are attractive nonetheless.
Like other members of the Zingiberaceae family, turmeric’s actual flowers aren’t awe-inspiring. The flowers are small and yellow, and primarily hidden if you don’t know where to look.
The showy display put on by a flowering turmeric plant is, instead, all thanks to a structure called a bract. Bracts are specialized leaves that surround the flowers of many plant species, including those of turmeric.
When to Harvest Turmeric
According to the University of Florida, it’s obvious when turmeric is preparing for dormancy and, consequently, has some rhizomes beneath the soil that are ready to harvest.
As temperatures cool, the turmeric foliage will start to yellow and drop off. This is a sure sign that the plant is dying off in response to the changing seasons. Depending on your climate, a good rule of thumb is that your turmeric rhizomes will be set to harvest after the first frost.
It is sometimes possible to harvest the outermost rhizomes without disturbing the entire plant. You can also dig up the whole plant, setting aside a few healthy-looking rhizomes to replant next year. I recommend the latter option if you live somewhere particularly cold, as the rhizomes won’t survive if left outside for winter.
If you enjoyed this article, here’s a link to Peanut Plant Growth Stages that may also be of interest.
Turmeric Plant Growth Stages FAQs
Will turmeric grow back each year?
Turmeric rhizomes will go dormant during the winter months. This is the plant’s way of surviving cool temperatures that otherwise kill off its top growth. Even with this clever adaptation, dormant turmeric rhizomes will not survive winters above USDA Hardiness Zone 7.
Can you plant turmeric from the grocery store?
If you can’t find turmeric rhizomes at your local garden supply store, try the grocery store! Rhizomes that are plump and relatively fresh can often be sprouted in a container or the garden. Be sure to select rhizomes from the produce section that possess several buds for optimal growth.
- University of Florida Turmeric Winter Dormancy
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.