Curcuma – Tulips from the tropics

The Curcuma genus of plants includes the edible spice Curcuma longa, better known as turmeric. It also includes these lovely tropical plants, Curcuma alismatifolia (Siam tulip) that are grown indoors in colder regions and also out in the garden in warmer climates.

As part of the ginger family of plants that come originally from Asia, Siam tulips are grown from rhizomes that sprout tall stems of tulip-like leaves with pink, rose and red curved bracts forming at the ends with tiny flowers appearing on the lower bracts from spring through to autumn. In the right conditions they will produce 3 – 5 flowers which last up to 3 weeks. In Thailand, a flowering Siam tulip symbolises new growth, hope and prosperity for the future.

Planting in the garden

Once they have finished flowering indoors and start to go into the dormant stage, they can be planted out into the garden for a splash of colour come springtime. In autumn, reduce watering and feeding as the plant starts going dormant and let it die back naturally. At this stage you can keep the pots in a cool, dry place, after trimming off the dead foliage; lift the rhizomes and store them in paper bags or plant them out into the garden.

• Choose a position in the garden with a bit of shade. They can grow in full sun, but will need extra water to keep them going.

• Dig a hole bigger than the pot size and mix the soil with a few spadefuls of compost.

• Add a layer of mulch to the site to keep the rhizomes cool and a label so that you don’t plant over it when the leaves have completely died down.

• In spring, start adding more water and feed with a liquid plant food every couple of weeks.

What they need

Light – find a position with plenty of light, but not direct sunlight. In the garden they will grow in full sun or shade, but prefer a bit of shade. They do however need lots of light to bloom.

Soil – in pots, well-draining rich potting soil with added compost and extra vermiculite or perlite if needed.

Water – slightly moist soil is best during the growing season and no water in the dormant stage.

Deadhead – remove any spent blooms or dried foliage. This will not help with more flowers, but will keep the plants neat.

Feeding – give them a boost every few weeks with a balanced liquid plant food during the growing seasons. Stop feeding in winter.

Repotting – when the plant has outgrown its container, repot in fresh potting soil into a pot one size bigger.

Dividing – every few years they can be divided by cutting the rhizomes into 5cm sections and potting into fresh soil. This is best done in spring.

Curcumas are grown by LVG Plants and are available from retail outlets and nurseries.

The Gardener