How to Grow Rice
Learn how to cultivate a worldwide staple and ornamental plant with these easy-to-follow instructions.
Rice is a food staple in diets around the globe. But while its processing for food is beyond the reach of most home gardeners, it's still worth growing, especially as an ornamental feature in the landscape, says Brie Arthur, who encourages growing food alongside the shrubs and perennials around your home.
"Rice is such an easy plant to grow,"says Brie, horticulturist and author of Gardening With Grains: Bring the Versatile Beauty of Grains Into Your Landscape. "There's a lot to say about the experience of growing rice yourself, and understanding and appreciating the challenges that go with it," she says.
How to Grow Rice in Containers
Plan to sow rice seeds in the spring after the danger of frost is past.
• Fill a 7-gallon or larger pot with compost to an inch or two from the top of the pot.
• Scatter seeds densely on top of the soil, add a bit more compost, and water thoroughly, saturating the soil in the pot.
• Keep the soil moist; rice is a thirsty plant and suffers when the soil is dry.
• Brie suggests applying fish emulsion fertilizer once a month. Seeds should germinate in five to 10 days, or sooner in hot weather. Rice plants begin putting out seed heads in late summer; seeds set and ripen over the course of four to five weeks.
How Rice Grows
Rice (Oryza sativa) is, essentially, a summer annual grass — one that doesn't mind if its roots stay a little wet. It's common to think of rice growing in a flooded field — a rice paddy. But it's not really a bog plant.
"The rice isn't growing in constant saturation, but it benefits from flooding and draining," Brie explains. Rice fields are flooded for one specific purpose: weed suppression. Rice plants survive in a flooded field, while weedy competitors are unable to grow.
You probably don't want to flood and drain your backyard garden, but it's possible to grow a decorative clump of rice in a low-lying area that collects water, such as downspout runoff.
What Rice Needs to Grow
Like many ornamental grasses, rice grows best in full sun. Plant it where you have easy access to water; rice is a thirsty plant.
Rice is a thirsty plant and benefits from flooding and draining as it grows. These raised garden beds built for growing rice can be flooded and drained as needed.
Brie points out for first-timers that to grow rice you must start with seeds, not with a bag of rice from the grocery store, which is highly processed and won't germinate. She names Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange as two suppliers that offer several varieties of rice for home gardeners.
First-timers can also have success by planting it in containers. "Growing a pot of rice on your patio is the most accessible thing you can do," Brie says.
Planting and Cultivation
Timing is important, Brie says. In her own garden in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, USDA Hardiness Zone 7b, Brie experimented with growing times by sowing in April, May and June. "Hands down, the best sowing was June," she says. "Plants from seeds sown earlier were smaller, and the seed set was not as good." Plants from seeds sown in June should be 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall by August.
Brie acknowledges that harvesting your home-grown rice and preparing it for consumption is time-consuming, but worth a try. When the seeds turn from green to brown and dry, cut the seed heads from the stems. Then begin the process of threshing (removing the edible part of the grain from the inedible outer hull) and winnowing (blowing away the chaff so that all that remains is the seeds).
It's easiest to do this mechanically. Brie uses a homemade set-up made of a 5-gallon bucket with a lid, an electric drill and a long rod with a chain link attached to it to beat the outside coatings from the seeds. To winnow, she uses a box fan to blow away the chaff as the rice is poured slowly from the bucket into a large container. "You will likely need to repeat the threshing and winnowing process several times to ensure the seed is fully removed from any existing plant material," she says.
The de-hulling process, which removes the husk, or hull, can be done by rubbing the seeds between your hands in small batches. Removing the hull results in brown rice.
Favorite Rice Varieties
'Carolina Gold' is a long-grain variety with yellow-green foliage that reaches 36 – 42 inches tall. As a landscape plant, it is a strong grower, Brie says.
'Charleston Gold' is a refinement of 'Carolina Gold' but with longer grains and shorter stalks, which make sturdier plants.
'Black Madras' is sold as an ornamental rice strain, but it also has a modest harvest of edible seed. The striking black-purple foliage allows it to stand out in the landscape.
'Black Madras' is sold as an ornamental strain, but it also has a modest harvest of edible seeds. It does not grow as quickly, but the striking black-purple foliage allows it to stand out in the landscape.
Feathery green blades of rice foliage complement other plantings around a pool in this backyard landscape. Rice can be grown as an ornamental grass in full sun.