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How to Prune Variegated Ginger

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Variegated Ginger in between bloom cycles

Variegated Ginger in between bloom cycles

Pruning of Variegated Ginger (Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata)

In an old blog post about foliage plants, Jennifer P. commented, telling me of her variegated ginger, and how tall it had grown. It was getting so tall it was blocking a view she enjoyed from her back garden.

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. I have written another article entitled, Growing Variegated Ginger, but I am no longer allowed to embed the link in my articles.

You can find it on my list of articles. I apologize for any inconvenience in locating it. If you cannot find it, feel free to email me at gardenerandcookblog@gmail.com. Although the blog is no longer active, I do still check the email account.

What Will Be Covered Here

  • Why to prune
  • When to prune
  • How to prune
  • What tools to use
Variegated ginger with flower buds ready to open

Variegated ginger with flower buds ready to open

The Main Reasons to Prune Your Variegated Ginger

1. When the Plant Grows Too Tall

This was the problem described by Jennifer. This evergreen plant can grow to 8 or 9 feet tall in Zones 9 to 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 in the next photo.

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.

Sometimes the larger stems require loppers rather than small hand-held pruners.

Sometimes the larger stems require loppers rather than small hand-held pruners.

2. After Freeze Damage

If you find leaves 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.

In the photo below, you can see what a hard freeze in central Florida did to one of our gingers. The green parts were protected by being against the house and by being sheltered by the eaves of the house. I had to cut it back severely, but in a few months, the plant was back to this size and looking gorgeous.

Don’t worry. New canes will grow back quickly. Do wait a few days after a freeze before pruning, however, as it will take a few days for the full extent of the damage to appear. Remember that new canes don’t bloom until their second year.

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Damage from a severe freeze in February, 2018. My plants were on their own that time, as I had a cold, and couldn't go out to cover them, and the hubby was out of town.

Damage from a severe freeze in February, 2018. My plants were on their own that time, as I had a cold, and couldn't go out to cover them, and the hubby was out of town.

3. After Damage From Drought

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 your plants. It could also be used to dilute strong coffee or tea before using them on plants. We do this year-round, restrictions or not.

The brown leaf tips and spots typical of drought conditions

The brown leaf tips and spots typical of drought conditions

4. For Floral Arrangements

Alpinia canes take about two years to produce these gorgeous, pendulous, orchid-like flowers that provide a great addition to cut flower arrangements, as do the large green-and-yellow striped leaves.

Each cane blooms only once, then dies. The canes with flowers would be good ones to remove, but be sure to enjoy the 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 will encourage 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.

The tiny orchid-like flowers that also resemble seashells, hence the common name "shell ginger".

The tiny orchid-like flowers that also resemble seashells, hence the common name "shell ginger".

The flower buds hang like grapes until they burst open, revealing dozens of tiny orchid-like flowers.

The flower buds hang like grapes until they burst open, revealing dozens of tiny orchid-like flowers.

Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT drought tolerant.

— Maria

The reddish colored sheath covering the flower buds

The reddish colored sheath covering the flower buds

When to Prune

It’s hard to wait about removing freeze-damaged canes after a freeze, but it takes a few days for all damage to become apparent. Also, it’s best to wait until after the last chance of freezing temperatures has passed before removing any damaged areas. This is because those brown leaves will protect the still-healthy growth below, especially if tiny new growth is already visible.

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 by pinching them off with your hands.

What to Use for Pruning Alpinia

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 clean mine by spritzing them with 70% isopropyl alcohol (ordinary rubbing alcohol). I keep a small spray bottle handy, and I spray my pruners and loppers after each use.

Household bleach can be used for this purpose, but the tools should be soaked in it, and they are likely to rust. Beside, it will ruin your clothes or anything else it hits.

Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT edible.

— Maria

The Large, Gorgeous Leaves of Variegated Ginger

The leaves alone will add interest and a tropical flavor to your garden. The flowers are serendipity. That is, "icing on the cake". Proper care will ensure that Alpinia brings you pleasure for years to come

Close up of a large variegated ginger leaf

Close up of a large variegated ginger leaf

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

Your Comments Are Always Welcome

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 17, 2021:

So glad you enjoyed my article. I love those gorgeous plants, too.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 17, 2021:

Variegate ginger is such a pretty plant. Thank you for this comprehensive look at the care and growth patterns of these lovely shade lovers.

Your tips on the use of coffee grounds and milk water from the bottom of the jug are a bonus. I was aware of the practice, but you have now confirmed the benefits.

Excellent article, Maria!

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