How to Prune Variegated Ginger?

Variegated Ginger - mlm

Spring Pruning of Variegated Ginger

(Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata)

On my post about foliage plants, Jennifer P. commented, telling me of her variegated ginger, and how tall it has grown. She asked the best way to prune it. I gave her a brief reply in the comment section of that post, and promised to publish more extensive information. That information is below, but first, a bit about this plant and its required growing conditions:

Is Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata Edible?

No. While it is closely related to the culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), whose rhizomes we are all familiar with, Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT edible.


Sun Parched Ginger - mlm c@

This once-large variegated ginger was planted in rocks, in full sun, and probably received very little water. It is no longer there.

Sun vs. Shade:

Although it can take full sun, variegated ginger does best in, at least, partial shade; it requires rich, moist soil. It is NOT drought-tolerant, so it requires frequent watering, especially if planted in full sun. Full sun stresses the plant, and requires a lot of water.



Nutrient Requirements:

You can fertilize your variegated ginger monthly with a balanced fertilizer. I have never fertilized mine, but I do have them planted in rich, moist soil, and they are beautiful.

“Balanced” means all three numbers should be the same, for example 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Use a liquid plant food, or dilute a water-soluble granular fertilizer to half-strength. Using hot or warm water will help to dissolve the granules, but take care not to pour hot water onto your plant or the ground around it. Always read the instructions on the package, as strengths will vary between brands. Do not expect blooms right away. New growth, as well as newly planted rhizomes will bloom in the second year.

Growth Habits:

Alpina grows 8 to 9 feet tall in the mild climates of USDA Zones 9 – 11, where it is evergreen. I am gardening in Zone 9-A. The leaves will be killed off by frost; the canes will die in extended periods of cold weather. In these zones (9 – 11), variegated ginger will send up new growth quickly when killed back to the ground by freezing weather. Watch for light-reddish spears. New leaves will emerge from these light red “sleeves”.

There Are Several Reasons to Prune Variegated Ginger:

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 need to be removed, cut others to the height desired, by cutting just above a leaf, as shown here.



Drought Damage 3

If you find leaves like these, that are 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, there is 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.

3. After damage from drought conditions:

Frost Damage

Alpinia needs a lot of water, so during a drought, be conscientious about caring for this plant, while complying with 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 the water run very long to get hot water, catch the cold water in a container, and use it to water the 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:


Variegated Ginger Flowers - mlmAlpinia’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 the 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:

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

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.

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.

Dividing Alpina

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Variegated ginger is a vigorous plant; its clumps will spread up to 8 feet in diameter. If your garden is small, Alpina will need to be divided every couple of years. To make handling easier, the canes can be pruned off at the ground. I prefer to leave the young, healthy canes in place, as they are the next ones to bloom. It is fine, however, to remove them, leaving only the very young new shoots. This is especially helpful if taking them along when relocating. It is also fine to remove all canes, handling only the rhizomes.

When Dividing Alpina, Have a New Home Ready and Waiting

As with any plant, do not allow the roots/rhizomes to be exposed to air for any longer than absolutely necessary. I prefer no more than a few seconds. This requires having a new hole already dug and waiting, or having a pot with moist soil inside, ready and waiting to receive the newly divided plant. Water well and often, and soon you will see new your plant send up new those pretty light-red spears that will open to reveal large yellow-and-green striped leaves.

The Large, Gorgeous Leaves of Variegated Ginger

Variegated Ginger Leaf MMP x2

The leaves alone on this plant will add interest and a tropical flavor to your garden. The flowers are serendipity — “icing on the cake”. Proper care will ensure that Alpina brings you pleasure for years to come.


13 responses to “How to Prune Variegated Ginger?

  1. The flower on this variegated ginger plant is lovely, as well as its leafage. I learned a lot from the information you shared and will apply this knowledge as needed. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a vigorus stand of variegated shell ginger in my front yard, and came across your very helpful article when I was researching whether the plant had any culinary uses. You write that the plant is NOT edible. Do you have a source you can share? Because I just finished reading an article that says A. zarumbet is actually grown throughout the world for culinary and medicinal use (both rhizomes and leaves):
    It’s frustrating to get conflicting information, and I obviously don’t want to make any mistakes that could poison me! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carol,

      Thank you for writing, and for your important question. I did a lot of research prior to writing this blog post, but recognized the possibility that I could have overlooked something. So, today I did more research. The edible form of ginger is Zingiber officinale. Tumeric (another form of edible ginger) is Curcuma long. My information is from the Univ. of Florida Master Gardeners website, and that of the Univ. of Fla. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).

      In today’s research, I found nothing trustworthy that mentioned eating any part of this plant at all. Here is what I found: The first one,, says:
      “Uses: specimen; border; mass planting; accent; suitable for growing indoors; cut flowers”.

      The 2nd one,, mentioned the same uses, and refers to A. zerumbet variegata as an excellent specimen plant.

      A 3rd site,, is a site for selling the plant,and refers to it as an ornamental.

      The last one, which I decided not to promote by giving the web address, is an alternative medicine site touting the use of A. zerumbet variegata as having been used of years in Asia and South & Central America, for certain properties.

      None of the sites I visited mentioned culinary use at all. You will have to make your own decisions, but I cannot recommend any part of this plan for culinary use.

      I hope this helps you, and I apologize for any misspellings of the botanical names. The spell correction keeps changing the spelling of the botanical names, and I keep changing them back. I hope I didn’t miss one.


  3. Thanks for your prompt response, Maria. I don’t know if you noticed, but the first two new sources you cited are identical–“Document FPSO36′.

    Did you take a look at the citation I provided a link to?

    Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) is a member of the taxonomic family Zigiberaraceae, as are Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Turmeric (Curcurma longa), Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) AND, interestingly enough, two other members of the genus Alpinia, Alpinia galangal and Alpinia officinarum–Greater and Lesser Galanga.

    So you can imagine my confusion!

    It’s all very intricate and fascinating, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry about the identical sources. I saw that I had shown one twice. I must have deleted the wrong one. The reply window on the WordPress screen is tiny, so I could see only 3 or 4 lines of text at a time, & had a hard time making such a long-winded reply. I did visit the site you mentioned. I didn’t see anything about culinary use, and moved on to more familiar sites. I try to use the sites of university-related programs. Also, my daughter is here visiting, so I was trying to give a speedy reply. Sorry I forgot to say I had visited the site you referenced. You know what they say about haste making waste. I’m in my I-pad now, and typing with my thumbs, which I don’t do so well. When I get back to the computer, I will get that other site for you.


      • No worries!

        I went out to my yard and dug up a couple of rhizomes, out of curiosity. They were old and woody, but had the most wonderful scent, like a cross between culinary galangal and fresh cardamom leaves (which, to my eternal disappointment, do not confer their scent to tea or to anything I cook them in/with). Although I don’t plan to cook with shell ginger without evidence of safely, I did carefully chew up and spit out a small piece; it tasted rather like galangal, and produced a bit of a numbing effect!


        • About those websites that I cited, please look again. They have slightly different wording, plus one ends with the number 36. The other ends with the number 3600.

          I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I can find information only on questionable medicinal use, and on ornamental use in the landscape, and, of course, for those gorgeous cut flowers. Best wishes in your gardening.


  4. Hi Maria
    Variegated ginger was in a professionally landscaped garden of a display home I purchased eight years ago. As I had never been remotely interested in gardening I had no idea what it was, but as the years went by I became fascinated with it because it was the only plant I had ever had that not only survived my neglect, but actually grew into a beautiful plant. It started to flower a year after I moved in and from then on never stopped and it grew into a perfect border shrub giving plenty of privacy along an exposed area near my entertaining area. The first thing I did when I moved into my new house was plant a new one and a year down the track it is doing just as well as the last one.
    I just wanted to share my story for anyone with a purple thumb like me who loves the look of a tropical garden but doesn’t have the time or knowledge to be able to maintain one properly. I only ever remember watering it half a dozen times in the eight years I lived there…the only other plant that has survived living with me was a cactus

    Thanks for the great article
    Andrew in Brisbane


    • Thanks, Andrew, for taking the time to share your experience. I’m so glad your variegated ginger was successful and performed so well for you. It has become one of my favorite plants since moving to Florida a few years ago. Thank you, also, for visiting my blog. Come back anytime.


  5. Pingback: Tiny Flowers | In the Garden with Maria

  6. Hi Maria. We have a beautiful plant that is thriving in sub-tropical Sydney, Australia. The plant is doing so well, it has spread too far and is pushing against the neighbour’s fence. Do you have a recommendation for a barricade that I can run along the fenceline that is hardy enough to stop the growth in that direction and also, last for years?


    • Hi Denise. In garden-speak, “hardy” means it can withstand cold temperatures. That suggests you are asking about a plant to put between the fence and your variegated ginger, but that doesn’t make sense. So I suspect you are asking about a metal or hard plastic barrier. The only thing I can think of is the type of screening that is used for window screens, but I don’t know how long it would last when used in that way. I suggest simply digging up the back section of your plant and relocating it, or giving it to someone who would enjoy having it. Maybe your neighbor would like to have it. This reminds me of some roses I once had that went through my neighbor’s fence. I apologized and said I would cut them back. The neighbor said, “No, don’t do that. They’re just as pretty from this side as they are on your side.” I don’t know if my reply is much help, but I hope it is. Thank you for visiting my blog, and I apologize for taking so long to reply.


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