Ginseng is a popular plant with many potential medicinal qualities, but because of this, it has been over-harvested in the wild. This has led to centuries of ginseng farming, but it can take as much as 6 years to produce marketable ginseng when grown in soil.
Hydroponic ginseng has revolutionized the market, bringing that timescale down to about 2 years.
In the wild or in soil, ginseng is a low-yield crop, however, you can vastly increase those yields when growing hydroponically because you can increase the density of the grow area.
But why even grow ginseng? And what is ginseng?
Ginseng is a plant in the genus Panax, and there are quite a few different species, mostly growing in the cold, moist forest floors of the far East, in places such as China, Korea, and even as far south as Vietnam.
What many don’t know is that the North American continent also has its own indigenous ginseng species, that grow in the colder regions of the US and Canada.
While a lot of people know that the Asian ginseng has been used as medicine for centuries, it might come as a surprise to find out that the indigenous peoples of North America have also used and cultivated the plant, and international trade in American ginseng began as far back as the 1700s.
Ginseng is highly marketable. Global sales of the dried roots were worth over $2 billion in 2013, so they are definitely worth growing in order to sell.
Ginseng is mainly cultivated for the roots, which are high in antioxidants and have anti-diabetic properties. Research has found that the leaves and stems have even higher concentrations of phytochemicals, and these parts of the plant are easier to harvest.
And excitingly, it turns out that hydroponically grown ginseng has even higher antioxidant qualities than the soil-grown versions.
Growing Conditions for Hydroponic Ginseng
Ginseng needs low levels of light and a cool environment to grow. Hydroponics lends itself to highly controlled growing environments, so they are a perfect match.
The ideal temperature range for growing ginseng is between 68-73F.
Ginseng is a heavy feeder of potassium, so make sure to use a high-potassium fertilizer. While there isn’t a lot of information available on the in-depth nutrient needs of ginseng, it’s recommended that you keep the EC down at a low 0.5-1.1. Your water’s pH should be kept at around 5.5, or slightly acidic.
As mentioned, ginseng needs low light. Too much light and the leaves will burn. However, too little light and your growth will suffer. The idea ratio is about 75% shade or a low wattage light.
Because ginseng roots become fat and forked with time, it’s important to provide the right growing medium to accommodate them.
Coco coir on its own, or mixed with perlite, is often recommended. Peat moss will also provide a good foundation for the roots.
A lot of gardeners will also suggest using lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA), as there is no danger of gnats, but be sure to add some softer growing media so that the roots won’t be obstructed.
Best Hydroponic Systems For Ginseng
Check out our guide for choosing a hydroponic system: Best Hydroponic Systems in 2023
Ginseng thrives indoors, so make sure your setup is undercover and shielded from the elements.
Because ginseng is a root crop, you can use a deep water culture (DWC) system, although this will reduce the number of plants you can fit into a given area. Also, it is more difficult to control water temperature on DWC systems and your ginseng will suffer if they get too warm.
Your other option is to go with a nutrient film technique (NFT), which will be more cost-effective if you are growing large quantities. However, with the ginseng roots growing so big you’ll want to make sure to provide enough space between your plants in your growing channels.
Another route is to go for is an aquaponic system, and the recommended fish would be trout or catfish.
And finally, you can also use an aeroponic system, which is beneficial because it won’t make the roots soggy.
Starting Your Ginseng Hydroponic Crop
There are two ways to grow ginseng: from seed or from seedlings.
If you are growing from seed, it will take 2 years for the plants to mature enough to go into your hydroponic system. However, seedlings only need around 60 days in the system to mature to the point of harvest.
Let’s look at how to grow from seeds.
You should get your seeds from a reputable source. The seeds need to be aged at 60°F for about three months before they are planted. Fill grow bags with sand to the halfway mark, and place your seed into them. Add a few seeds to the bag. They won’t be sprouting in this bag.
Place your bags into the freezer for four months. They should stay at around 35°F for that entire period. This process is called stratification. If you have bought stratified seeds ignore this step.
After the 4 months mix up a growing medium of 50% peat poss, 30% perlite, and 20% sand. Fill root trainers with about an inch of small gravel, and then add 7-8 inches of the growing medium. You can put as many as four seeds into each root trainer.
At this point, the root trainers can go into a hydroponic irrigation system, where they will stay for the next 20 weeks.
You should feed your ginseng seedlings for 3 weeks and then follow that with a week of plain water to clear any leftover nutrient residue in the growing medium. After 20 weeks, put your plants into cold storage for 14 weeks. They will go dormant, and this will speed up maturation. Here’s our top nutrient recommendations: Best Hydroponic Nutrients
After the 14 weeks of cold are complete, return your plants to the growing area and repeat the cold storage process in the second year. After two years your plants are ready to go into your hydroponic system properly.
Now that you’ve either grown your seedlings yourself or bought 2-year-old seedlings, plant them 2 inches deep in your growing medium.
Remove any flowering stems that start to grow, otherwise, they will take energy away from the growing root.
The time to harvest will differ based on your system and your requirements, but most gardeners say that ginseng can be harvested once the roots weigh around one ounce. Some very intense research units have brought the time to harvest down to 30 days, but most gardeners report grow times of at least 120 days.
How to Set Up a Ginseng Hydroponic Unit
Make sure to give your seedlings at least 6 inches of space so that the roots can grow as big as possible without competing for space.
For all the systems, make sure to keep your growing environment well regulated for heat and wind.
If you’re going with a DWC system, place your bucket or buckets in a cool spot in a room with good ventilation. Follow the instructions for setting up your air stone. You can use a polystyrene float to house the net pots or cut a hole in the bucket lid that will keep the plants suspended over the water. No part of the plant other than the root should touch the water.
For an NFT system, set up your growing channels and reservoir. Install an airstone and pump into the reservoir that can handle the amount of water you want to move through the channels. If you are living in the same area as your grow setup, you’ll want to invest in a really quiet pump.
For a drip system, you will need to decide whether you are going for a water recovery or non-recovery system. If you are a smaller home-grower you will probably go with the water recovery system, so set up your reservoir and growing tubes as recommended, and install a good pump. Be aware that with any water recovery system you need to check you’re pH regularly.
If you’re going the non-recovery route, ensure you have worked out where your discarded water will go. You will also need to invest in a good timer and keep a careful eye on the feeding schedule so your roots don’t dry out.
For an aquaponic system, you will need to put your fish tank together, build the floating grow medium bed, and add the fish. Always make sure the water’s pH is correct before adding your fish or else they will suffer.
And finally, for aeroponics, build your grow frames and set up your misters.
Maintaining Your Hydroponic Ginseng
If growing aeroponically, it’s recommended that you spray the roots with the nutrient solution for 30 seconds every 10 minutes during the light period and for 30 seconds every 30 minutes during the dark period.
Ginseng is highly susceptible to root rot, so it’s important to use high qualities seedlings, and use distilled water, and a disinfectant solution.
Ginseng should be harvested when the root weighs about an ounce. If you’re planning on selling your ginseng crop, make sure not to damage the root when you’re harvesting as that will reduce the price you can get for it.
What We’ve Learned About Growing Ginseng In a Hydroponic System?
Ginseng is very happy growing in a hydroponic setup and will even provide bigger roots with more antioxidants in them, in less time than traditional grows.
Because the global demand for ginseng is so high, and it takes so long to grow it the traditional methods, it is definitely worthwhile to set up a large-scale growth if you have the time and money. If not, then growing it at home for private use will also be worth it.
While it will take 2 years to get your seedlings to the point where you can focus on root growth, once you get past that point it’s a quick harvest. Alternatively, just buy the 2-year-old seedlings.
Ginseng does need a careful eye on water pH levels, but other than that it is easy to grow, as long as light and temperature conditions are met.