Selecting the proper planting site is crucial. The ideal location is an area where natural wild ginseng grows or has grown. A north or east facing slope is preferred. Look for a woodland site where shade is provided by mature mixed decidous hardwoods such as poplar, sugar maples and oak trees and the soil is rich, moist, nutrient and high in organic matter with some degree of slope for proper drainage. Soil that is swampy or heavy with clay will not do well. Trees with mature root systems will compete less for soil moisture near the surface. If the shade canopy is sufficient, there shouldn't be a lot of weed growth. Look for companion plants on your forest floor like baneberry, black cohosh, blue cohosh, bloodroot, foam flower, goldenseal, jack-in-the-pulpit, jewel weed, mayapple, Solomon's seal, trillium, yellow lady's slipper, wild ginger, and different types of ferns (maidenhair, rattlesnake, Christmas).
Prior to planting, a soil test is recommended. Look into a soil conservation service or your state's agricultural extension for a soil analysis. One level to pay close attention to is the calcium (Ca) level. Calcium is important in fighting disease. Soil with high calcium (over 2,000 pounds per acre), low pH and adequate phosphorus (P) levels (at least 95 pounder per acre) have been associated with healthy and vigorous wild ginseng growth. If the calcium level is low, gypsum (calcium sulfate) should be added. Gypsum is a natural chemical that is safe to use and it will increase calcium in the soil without affecting the soil chemistry or pH. There isn't a scientific forumula but a safe estimate would be to add 100 lbs. of gypsum per 1,000 square feet if the calcium levels are below 1,000 pounds per acre. Add gypsum after fall seeding and before mulching. Take another soil test in late winter and if the calcium levels are under 2,000 pounds per acre, add about 50 lbs. of gypsum per 1,000 square feet of planted area just before the plants begin their growth in the spring. Gypsum can also be added during the growing season if the plants are not growing vigorously or there is evidence of disease.SITE PREPARATION:
There are numerous ways to prepare your site when planting wild-simulated ginseng. Virtually, the only tools needed are a rake and a garden hoe. There might be very little site preparation necessary if your plan is to just plant a couple of pounds of seed in various promising sites. Or if you have limited space or a great deal of promising land with plans to use most of it, then spending the time to prepare your site for planting is important. To avoid the summer heat, start site preparation in early spring or mild winter. After you've selected a promising site, rake the leaf litter to the side. Remove dead limbs, rocks and aggressively growing shrubs that might compete with your ginseng. Use your judgement when dealing with large, heavy rocks and large trees. The expense and effort in removing them might not be necessary. Don't do more work than you have to. If there is a spot in your planting area where you know ginseng won't grow, such as a sunny spot where shrubs are abundant, just leave it alone. Saw off low hanging branches to increase air circulation. Clearing the forest floor of companion plants might not be necessary because having other plants present not only help to inhibit the spread of disease but they also provide competition like it would in the wild. Again, use your judgement because in the competition for water and nutrients, you want to ensure that your ginseng wins but the ginseng root will grow to look more wild if competition is present. Growing ginseng using the wild-simulated approach basically requries minimal disturbance to the forest floor and leaving the ginseng to grow naturally.
On steep slopes, after seeding and mulching, place dead limbs along with well-branched young saplings across the face of the slope to keep the mulch and leaf litter from washing away after heavy rainfall.PLANTING:
The ideal time to plant ginseng is in the fall when the trees lose their leaves. If you can, make plans to plant your ginseng seeds 1-3 days prior to expected rain. The rain will water the seeds and will repack the leaf litter which will hold moisture. Measure and stake out planting areas and also include wide walkways. The planting beds should run up and down the slope for better drainage. Rake the leaf litter to the bare ground. Some growers rake over the soil to add texture so that the seeds can make good contact with the soil. There are many different ways you can choose to plant your seeds. If you choose to hand cast the seed, weigh out small quantities of seed and hand cast them over small areas. For example, 2 oz. over a 200 square feet will result in about 4-5 seeds per square foot. This will help control spacing and avoid dense planting. If you choose to plant the seeds by hand, plant 4-5 seeds per square feet. The ideal plant density is 1-2 plants per square foot. Anything more and you risk spread of disease to the ginseng plants and roots. You can add gypsum if needed after sowing the seeds. Some growers carefully step down on each row to firm the soil around the seeds after planting. Remember, plant the seeds no more than 1" into the ground, ideally 1/2" - 3/4" is best. Then rake the leaves back over the bed to serve as mulch. No more than 3" of leaf litter is necessary. Too much and your ginseng sproutling will have a hard time working its way through the thick mulch of leaves. After a couple of rain storms, the site will look completely natural and no one will be able to notice that any ginseng planting had occurred. After planting is complete, there is no more work to do until it's time to dig the ginseng roots in about 6-10 years, or even later. You may certainly visit your planting sites but be careful not to disturb your ginseng plants, let nature take its course.
In reality, roughly 50% of the seeds will not germinate. There are many reasons. The seeds could have been eaten by birds, insects, rodents or slugs. Perhaps the seeds didn't have sufficient contact with the soil. Wind or rain could have blown or washed some of the mulch, leaving the seeds exposed to dry out or get eaten. Whatever the reason, any plant that does grow will grow naturally for the next 7 years or so facing various natural forces. Severe weather, competition for nutrients and water with other plants growing on the forest floor, attacks by insects and rodents and risks of disease all contribute to stressful growing conditions that the ginseng plants will have to endure to result in roots that are indistinguishable from wild ginseng roots.INVESTMENT: Aside from the initial investment of acquiring ginseng seeds to plant, most of the costs associated with growing ginseng using the wild-simulated approach will be in labor when planting and especially when digging. Of course, if you are able to do this yourself or with the help of trusted family and friends, then your costs would be greatly reduced. A 1/2 acre can produce anywhere from 0 to 200 lbs. of dried roots in a period of 6-10 years. Below is an example of a projected basic budget for 1/2 acre of wild-simulated ginseng.
Growing ginseng through the wild-simulated method can be unpredictable but a decent income can be earned if you have patience and especially discretion. A lot is learned through trial and error and experience. The planting site's fertility and the forces of Mother Nature strongly affect the quality and quantity of the harvested ginseng root. table is from "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals" by Jeanine Davis and W. Scott Persons