How to Prune Variegated Ginger

How to Prune Variegated Ginger

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. I prefer the loppers because the longer handles allow me to reach down among the crowded leaves much easier.

15 thoughts on “How to Prune Variegated Ginger”

  • Great blog ! We live in Fort Myers FL and planted several Variegated Ginger Lily (Alpina zerumbet Variegata) too close to each other. They are clumped together in huge bunches. We always lived in apartments in NYC so I didn t have gardening experience plus had no idea how this plant would develope. Will cutting back help or do I need to transplant a few of these for spacing ? The plant s leaves are beautiful but after about a year they still haven t given us the flowers that you mention. Looking forward for your reply, Jack

    • Hi Jack, thanks so much for visiting my site. I apologize for not being on top of things (long story) and taking so long to reply. First, about the flowers: each stalk will bloom in its 2nd year. After it flowers, that stalk will die, and can be removed at the point where its leaf emerges from the ground. Be sure to cut on an angle so water cannot sit on the cut and cause rot. Second, these plants do grow quite large, as you seem to have discovered. You can cut off some of the stalks, but the plants will continue to put up new stalks. For that reason, I suggest digging up some of them and planting them elsewhere in your garden. Just remember to put them in either full shade, or in a spot where they get only morning sun.

  • Hi! I so appreciate all this great info about this plant. I have one in a large pot on my porch where it gets full sun for a couple hours a day but is shaded otherwise. I had to be out of town for a few months (family stuff) and unfortunately my husband didn’t give the poor thing a drop of water while I was away. It’s obviously quite sad looking now, but a couple leaves still have some green in them. Any tips on how I might salvage it (or if it’s more likely a lost cause)?

    • HI Hannah, I’m so sorry your plant has suffered this way. It may can be saved by giving it lots of water, unless it rains, of course. I would remove all the dead stalks, but leave those with some green still on them. If the roots are still viable, it should soon begin sending up new growth. If it’s getting morning sun it should be okay, but if the couple of hours you mentioned are afternoon sun, you should relocate it until it recovers. Good luck with it, and thank you for visiting my blog. Drop by anytime.

  • I have a space 20 ft by 6 ft
    How far should I space plants
    I have 6 plants and how close to the fence should I put them

    • Hi Tomi, thanks for visiting my site. Judging by the dimensions of the space, it sounds as if you are installing plants down the length of a fence or a property line. Is that right? Because you asked the question on this page, I think it’s a safe bet your plants are variegated ginger. If so, I recommend planting them at least 3-to-4 feet from the fence or property line, as they can grow to a width of 5 or 6 feet. I hope this helps, and best of luck with your plants.

    • Hi Jan, I would wait until the danger of a freeze has passed, as new growth encouraged by pruning will be ruined if there is a freeze. I used to live in Zone 9a. There we used March 15 as our date for being past the danger of a freeze. If you are a bit farther south in Zone 9b, there is still a chance of a freeze. I would recommend waiting until mid-March. Good luck with your gardening, and thank you for visiting my blog.

  • I am taking out a hedge of arboricolas and would like to replace them with varigated shell ginger. I also have planted 5 fishtale palms with about 5′ between them in hopes of planting the varigated ginger between them.
    My question is with the different water and fertilizer needs its this a good idea? I should mention that these plants will have both partial shade and sun

    • Hi Debbie,

      I apologize for taking so long to reply. I’ve been out of pocket lately, and I had to do some research for you. The short answer is they’re probably not the best combo. The type of fertilizer for the ginger will damage the palms. Also, the heavy water requirements of the ginger will be problematic for the palms.

      This may be more than you wanted to know, but I believe it is important enough to share with you: You didn’t say where you are, so FYI: Fishtail palms (Caryoteae) are hardy in Zones 10B through 11, but are non-native to North America, and have a low tolerance to salt, so they’re not a good choice if you live near the beach.

      There are about 15 species of Fishtail palms). Caryota urens is the most used. Another one, Caryota mitis has become an invasive species in Florida – so please be sure you don’t have this one. Fishtails will grow to a canopy spread of 10 to 15 feet and a height of 15 to 25 feet. That spread is a radius of 5 to 7 ½ feet on average. Because of this, these palms should be about 10 feet apart. To prevent a large overlap of their canopies. Fishtails are susceptible to lethal yellowing, a disease that has plagued central Florida for the last several years.

      About the differing needs:
      Light Requirements:
      • Variegated ginger can take morning sun, but not the harsh afternoon sun.
      • Fishtails are happy in part-shade to part-sun.

      Water Requirements:
      • Variegated ginger needs lots of water, but rich, well-drained soil.
      • Fishtails have a moderate tolerance to drought, and need well-drained soil.

      Fertilizer Requirements:
      • For the ginger, a good, basic 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 will be fine.
      • For all palms in Florida, I strongly recommend Lesco 8-2-12+4. It was created at the University of Florida specifically for Florida palms, and the pH of Florida soils. The “+4” represents the four micronutrients needed by palms, but often omitted from other palm fertilizers. In Sumter, Lake, & Marion County you can find it at Site One, or you can order it from Fertilizer Direct. When I lived there, it was the same price at both places, but Fertilizer Direct did not charge to deliver. This fertilizer is great for turf grass, but turf fertilizer is really bad for all palms.

      • Thank you so much for ALL your information. We are from Washington State and new to SW Florida and all the different plants and landscaping. We LOVE the tropical free flowing feel and look and trying too achieve that look around our pool screen while proving privacy . We live on a corner lot in a community where three sides of our pool screen has the street 20′ and two homes 8-10′ away. We are in a single story and the height of the fishtails help hide the 2-two story homes but are narrow at the bottom so we need something full and lush but low maintenance to fill in that area. Any suggestions?I
        I truly appreciated your effort to answer my ginger questions and the fishtail info was very helpful. I’ll be changing my fertilizer from 12.4.12 granular to your recommendation

        • Hi Debbie,

          I do have some suggestions for what to plant among the fishtails. My favorite is plumbago (Plumbago auriculate). It will grow to about 5 or 6 feet tall (but may get to only 3 feet the first year) and will spread quickly. It comes in bluish-purple and white. It can take full sun or part shade. When we lived in Florida, I used 3 of them to make a privacy screen for a patio.

          Another option is the coontie (Zamia pumila). The coontie is often called “coontie palm”. It is actually NOT a palm. It is a cycad, as is the sago. Cycads are some of the few plants left over from the Jurassic Period. The cooties will spread to fill in among the fishtails, but don’t use too many of them as they will eventually crowd the fishtails They don’t bloom, and they look a bit like a large fern.

          I thought of some others (hibiscus and plumeria) but hibiscus needs too much water to be with the fishtails, and plumeria will grow to be a small tree (eventually about 20 feet) so you probably don’t want those, but they are gorgeous.

          Because you are new to Florida, I will tell you not to be concerned if your grass looks not so good in the winter. It is not dying. It is going dormant. It knows to go into dormancy because of the shorter days and cooler temps. Warm season grasses do this.

          If you are in an area of new construction, you will have people calling themselves landscapers knocking on your door wanting to put rocks in place of natural mulch (pine straw is the best). Please tell them to go away. Plants in the southeastern U.S., especially palms, azaleas, & all tropical plants have very shallow roots, and the rocks get too hot for them. Once, I moved my mulch to plant something, and saw the roots of a split-leaf philodendron growing on top of the soil. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

          My experience as a Florida Master Gardener is in Zone 9a. It sounds like you are probably in Zone 10, and I don’t have training specific to that zone. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF IFAS) has produced 2 very good books that are free to Florida homeowners. One is about landscaping your yard. The other has complete info about flowers, shrubs, trees, palms, (nope, palms are not trees*) vines, etc. This book tells you in what zones the plants do best, how much sun, and water they need, how large they grow, etc. I gave my books to the woman who bought our house in Florida, or I would send you a photo of them. Your local county extension office is where you will find your local master gardeners. They should have a supply of these books. If not, they can give you the web address where you can order one. I wish I still had mine.

          *Just a little tidbit about palms: they are related to grass, but are more closely related to corn. When a new palm first emerges from the ground it looks like wide-blade grass.

          Thanks so much for reading my blog/website, and for such great questions. Drop by anytime. I tried to insert a photo of my plumbago into this comment, but it didn’t work. If you would like photos, you can reach me at Happy gardening, Debbie!

  • I lost my variegated ginger in the freeze (Houston). I have since replaced it and these leaves seem to be much smaller. I was wondering if these are like elephant ears, where if you have a large group of them together the leaves stay smaller, and if you have fewer together the leaves grow bigger and taller. If this is true, should I thin them out or cut the root of the plant in half? The one I had before was in the garden before I bought the house and the leaves were very large and the plant was >4 feet tall. LOVEDDD it! When I dug up the old one we replanted all the bulbs at my mom’s house just incase any of it lived and we saw the other day only 1 sprouted. I was not sure if it was because there are a few more stalks on my new variegated ginger, or if different varieties produce different sizes.

    • Hi Holly Jo,

      Thank you for your comment/questions, and I am so sorry you lost your plants in the freeze. The smaller leaves may be just because it is a new plant, and needs time to grow, or it could be a different variety that I’m not familiar with. They are not like elephant ears, though. Grouped together, they should all do their own thing, and grow as they normally would.

      About the ones you moved to your mom’s yard, it could be some of the roots were damaged and may recover, or it could be they are taking their time adjusting to their new home. Being dug up and moved is a bit traumatic to any plant, so they will need time to recover from the move.

      I don’t believe I would cut a root in half, unless I could see a joint as a good place to make the cut.

      Starting today, I am on a needed vacation for 2 weeks. When I get time, or get back home, I will do some research about this, and if I learn anything, I’ll be sure to let you know.


      • Thank you so much for your answers. I will def not cut them in half since they are not like elephant ears. lol

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