Jennifer P. told me of her variegated ginger, and how tall it has grown. She asked the best way to prune it.
There Are Several Reasons to Prune Variegated Ginger (Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata):
1. When the plant grows too tall for your garden:
This evergreen plant can grow to 8 or 9 feet tall in Zones 9 – 11. Often it will become top heavy, and lean over onto other plants, or it may simply be taller than you would like. To achieve a shorter, more compact plant, remove the tallest canes at the ground. If additional canes are damaged, but you don’t want to remove the entire cane, cut them to the height desired, by cutting just above a leaf, as shown here.
2. After Freeze Damage:
Discolored around the edges with or without spotty damage, this is likely frost damage or damage caused by a light freeze. These leaves should be removed individually, leaving the cane which will grow new leaves.
On the other hand, if you find dark brown or black leaves with mushy canes, you have severe freeze damage. In this case, the entire cane should be removed at the ground. Don’t worry. New canes will grow back quickly. Do wait a few days after a freeze before pruning, however, to see the full extent of the damage. Remember that new canes don’t bloom until their second year. For information on growing and caring for your ginger plants, check out my article entitled, “Variegated Ginger/Shell Ginger”.
3. After damage from drought conditions:
Alpinia needs a lot of water, so during a drought, be conscientious about caring for this plant, while complying with state and local watering restrictions. After a drought, you may need to remove some brown leaves or leaves with a lot of brown spots.
If you are under severe water restrictions, save any unused coffee, tea, or water, and use it to water your plants. If rinsing out an empty milk carton, use that water on your plants – it’s a good source of calcium. If you have to let your water run a long time to get hot water, catch the cold water in a container, and use it to water your plants. It could also be used to dilute strong coffee or tea before using them on plants. I do this year-round, restrictions or not.
4. For floral arrangements:
Alpinia’s pendulous orchid-like flowers provide a great addition to cut flower arrangements, as do the large green-and-yellow striped leaves. Each cane blooms only once, then dies. These canes would be good ones to remove, but be sure to enjoy the tiny flowers first.
It is important to remove old canes after they have bloomed, because if they are not removed, the plant will eventually stop producing new canes — removing old canes encourages new healthy canes to emerge. When cutting a portion of a blooming cane for a floral arrangement, this would be a good time to go ahead and remove that entire cane.
When to Prune:
Remove freeze-damaged canes a few days after the freeze, allowing time for all damage to become apparent. Otherwise, always prune them after the blooming season has passed, in order to enjoy the gorgeous orchid-like flowers. Individual leaves that turn brown can often be removed with your hands.
How and Where to Cut:
Be sure to cut on a fairly steep angle, because, if the cane stands straight up, and the cut gives it a flat top, this will allow water to sit on top of the cane, and gradually seep into the stem. That will cause rot, and invite disease and pests.
You can cut the tallest canes back to the ground, if you want, or you can cut them just above a leaf, at the desired height. Again, always take out the weakest canes, or any that may be turning yellow or brown.
What to Use:
As always, start with clean blades on your pruning shears or loppers. Some of the canes can be cut with the short, handheld pruners, but some of the older canes can be quite thick and fibrous, especially near the bottom. This may require the longer handled loppers that will give you more leverage.