How to Grow Rice: Your Complete Guide

Written by Kathryn Koehler
Published: April 3, 2023
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If you’re looking to add a new level of self-sufficiency to your backyard garden, why not consider growing your own rice? While rice may seem like an exotic and challenging crop to grow, with the right conditions and a bit of patience, you can cultivate this staple food crop right in your own flooded backyard. Keep reading to learn how to grow rice and to determine if you have what it takes to become a rice farmer (water. lots of it.).

Scenery of flooded rice paddies in Bangladesh

Most varieties of rice require significant amounts of water to grow, as they are semi-aquatic plants that evolved to grow in flooded conditions.

©iStock.com/Trail Sun

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How to Grow Rice: What is Rice?

Rice (Oryza sativa) is a cereal grain that is a staple food in much of the world. It is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) and is typically grown in warm, moist climates. The grain itself is small, oval-shaped, and white or brown in color, although there are many different varieties of rice. Rice is a rich source of carbohydrates and is often used in dishes such as stir-fries, curries, and sushi. It is also commonly used to make rice flour, rice noodles, and other rice-based products.

12 different square wooden boxes of different varieties of rice take up the frame.

The grain itself is small, oval-shaped, and white or brown in color, although there are many different varieties of rice.

©CKP1001/Shutterstock.com

There are thousands of different varieties of rice, each with its own flavor, texture, and appearance. It’s difficult to determine an exact number, as new varieties are consistently being developed and some may be known by different names in different regions. However, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), there are more than 120,000 varieties of cultivated rice in the world.

The frame contains from L-R first 1/4 frame is ablack rice with a wooden spoon near the top of the frame filled with back rice, the next /4 frame is filled with a red/brown rice and a wooden spoon lower in the frame filled with red/brown rice. The 3rd 1/4 of the frame is covered with a mix of white, red/brown, and black rice. The wooden spoon in the section is even lower in the frame and filled with the mixed rice. The final Right 1/4 is filed with white rice and the spoon, which is wooden, is the lower of all the spoons and filled with white rice.

There are thousands of different varieties of rice, each with its own flavor, texture, and appearance.

©A_stockphoto/Shutterstock.com

How to Grow Rice: Selection

With over 120,000 varieties from which to choose, the first step in growing rice is determining which variety of rice to grow. It’s best to start with seeds that are specifically bred for planting, rather than trying to grow rice from the grains you buy in the store. You can purchase rice seeds online or from specialty seed suppliers. These seeds will have been specifically selected for their ability to grow well in your region and produce a good yield.

Rice is a semi-aquatic crop that needs to be grown in standing water or very wet soil. Flooding helps create these conditions. In a backyard garden, simulating flooded conditions can be challenging, but it is possible. Be aware that growing rice in flooded conditions requires massive amounts of water and may not be feasible in areas with water scarcity or sanctions.

Stunning view of the Jatiluwih rice terrace fields with some farmer hut's. Jatiluwih rice fields are a series of rice paddies located in Tabanan Regency, North Bali, Indonesia.

It requires approximately 1320 gallons (5,000 liters) of water to produce just two pounds (1 kg) of rice.

©travelwild/Shutterstock.com

Upland Rice

Most varieties of rice require significant amounts of water to grow, as they are semi-aquatic plants that evolved to grow in flooded conditions. However, some types of rice are more tolerant of dry conditions. Upland rice, also called dry rice, can be grown without flooding and requires less water than lowland rice. Upland rice is grown on hillsides or in areas with good drainage and is better suited to regions with low rainfall or water scarcity. Some varieties of upland rice include:

  • Black rice (also known as forbidden rice): This is a medium-grain rice variety with a deep, rich color and nutty flavor. It is traditionally grown in upland areas in China and Southeast Asia.
  • Bhutanese red rice: This is a short-grain rice variety that is grown in the mountainous regions of Bhutan. It has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
  • Milagrosa rice: This is a medium-grain rice variety that is grown in the upland areas of the Philippines. It has a slightly sweet flavor and a fluffy texture.
  • Oryza glaberrima: This is a traditional African rice variety that is grown in upland areas. It is known for its tolerance to drought and disease and its ability to grow in poor soil conditions.
  • Oryza sativa japonica: This is a variety of Japanese rice that is traditionally grown in upland areas. It has a short, sticky grain and is used for making sushi and other Japanese dishes.

Upland rice can be grown without flooding and requires less water than lowland rice.

©Puji nurhidayati/Shutterstock.com

Though upland rice doesn’t require as much water as lowland rice, it still requires a lot of water.

Lowland Rice

Lowland rice varieties are those most commonly sold in grocery stores in the U.S. These varieties require extraordinary amounts of water to grow. They are cultivated in flooded fields (or paddies) and require a constant supply of water throughout the growing season. Examples of lowland rice include:

  • Jasmine rice: This is a long-grain rice variety that is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has a fragrant aroma and a slightly sticky texture.
  • Basmati rice: This is a long-grain rice variety that is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a nutty flavor and a fluffy texture.
  • Arborio rice: This is a short-grain rice variety that is commonly used in Italian cuisine for making risotto. It has a high starch content and a creamy texture.
  • Calrose rice: This is a medium-grain rice variety that is commonly used in sushi and other Asian dishes. It has a slightly sticky texture and a neutral flavor. This cultivar was created in California.
Terraced rice field in water season in Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai province, Vietnam

Lowland rice varieties are those most commonly sold in grocery stores in the U.S. These varieties require extraordinary amounts of water to grow.

©Jimmy Tran/Shutterstock.com

If you have selected an upland variety of rice to grow in your garden, keep reading. If you have chosen a lowland cultivar, scroll down to the appropriate heading.

How to Grow Upland Rice: Your Complete Guide

Upland rice is not commonly grown in North America thanks to the region’s more suitable conditions for growing lowland rice. However, upland rice can be grown in some parts of North America where the climate and soil conditions are agreeable for its cultivation. This includes many of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic states. Upland rice can be grown in areas with well-drained soil, sufficient rainfall, warm temperatures, and plenty of sunshine. Upland rice can be grown without a paddy, but it still needs consistent moisture to thrive. Herewith is your step-by-step guide to planting upland rice:

Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Upland Rice

  • Site selection: Choose a location that receives ample sunlight, has good drainage, and is free of weeds and other competing plants. Upland rice can be grown on slopes, hillsides, or flat land.
  • Soil preparation: Clear the land of any weeds, grasses, or other vegetation. Plow or till the soil to a depth of 10-12 inches (25-30 cm). Incorporate organic matter such as compost, manure, or green manure to improve soil fertility.
  • Seed selection: Choose high-quality upland rice seeds that are adapted to your climate and soil conditions. Buy seeds from a reputable supplier.
  • Seed preparation: Soak the seeds in water for 24-48 hours before planting to improve germination rates. Drain the water and allow the seeds to air dry for a few hours.
  • Planting: There are several methods of planting upland rice. One common method is to create shallow furrows or rows 8-9 inches (20-25 cm) apart. Place the seeds in the furrows, spacing them about 6 inches (15 cm) apart. Cover the seeds with soil and firm the soil around them.
  • Irrigation: Upland rice requires regular watering, especially during the early stages of growth. Use a watering can or a hose to water the plants thoroughly. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to waterlogging and root rot.
  • Fertilization: Apply a balanced fertilizer during the early stages of growth to encourage healthy plant development. Use a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Brown paper bag full of Blue NPK compound chemical Fertilizer isolated on white background. NPK are Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash

Apply a balanced fertilizer during the early stages of growth to encourage healthy plant development.

Use a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

©sasimoto/Shutterstock.com

Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Upland Rice: The Home Stretch

  • Weed control: Upland rice is susceptible to weed competition, so it’s imperative to keep the area around the plants free of weeds. Hand weeding or hoeing can be used to control weeds.
  • Pest and disease control: Monitor the plants for pests and diseases, and take action if necessary. Common pests that affect upland rice include stem borers, leafhoppers, and armyworms. Diseases such as blast and brown spot can also cause problems.
  • Harvesting: Upland rice is ready for harvest when the grains are fully developed and the stalks are starting to turn yellow or brown. Cut the plants at ground level and thresh the grains to remove the husks. The rice can then be dried and stored for later use.
Upland rice field near Luang Namtha town, Laos. The rice plants are golden brown and ready to harvest.

Upland rice is ready for harvest when the grains are fully developed and the stalks are starting to turn yellow or brown.

©Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.com

How to Grow Lowland Rice: Your Complete Guide

A rice paddy, also known as a rice field or a paddy field, is a flooded parcel of land used for growing lowland rice. Rice paddies are flat or gently sloping. Paddies are designed to hold water to create the flooded conditions needed for rice cultivation.

Rice paddies are designed to hold water to create the flooded conditions needed for rice cultivation.

©rahmad himawan Photograph/Shutterstock.com

Constructing a Rice Paddy

To create a rice paddy, rice farmers usually build levees or embankments around a field to hold the water in place. The water level in the paddy is between 3-6 inches ( 7-15 cm) deep, depending on the stage of growth of the rice plants. Flooded conditions are essential for rice cultivation, as they provide an environment that promotes healthy growth. Constructing a rice paddy requires planning and preparation, but it is possible.

Cottage, Paddy field, Rice

Flooded conditions are essential for rice cultivation, as they provide an environment that promotes healthy growth.

©CHAIYA/Shutterstock.com

Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Lowland Rice

  • Choose a location: Rice paddies need to be built on a flat or gently sloping area with good drainage. Ideally, the location should be in full sun and have access to a water source, which could be a garden hose.
  • Build levees: Levees or embankments are needed to contain the water in the paddy. These can be constructed using soil, rocks, or other materials that can withstand the weight of the water.
  • Prepare the soil: The soil in the paddy should be rich in nutrients and have good drainage. You may need to add organic matter, such as compost or manure, to improve the soil quality.
  • Plant the rice: Rice seedlings can be planted in rows or scattered across the paddy. Make sure to follow the planting instructions for the particular variety of rice you are growing.
  • Fill the paddy with water: Once the levees are built and the soil is prepared, fill the paddy with water to a depth of 3-6 inches (7-15 cm). You may need to top off the water level periodically as it evaporates or is absorbed by the rice plants.
  • Maintain the paddy: Once the rice is planted, you will need to monitor the paddy and maintain the water level. You may also need to add fertilizer or other nutrients to promote healthy growth.
  • Harvest the rice: Depending on the variety of rice you are growing, it may take several months for the rice to mature. Once the rice is ready, it can be harvested by cutting the stalks and threshing the grains.

Constructing and maintaining a rice paddy is a labor-intensive process, which may not be practical for everyone. However, with the right conditions and resources, it can be a satisfying and rewarding gardening experience.

The Pros and Cons of Growing Your Own Rice

Whether you choose to grow upland rice or lowland rice there are a variety of factors to consider.

Pros

On the positive side, we have:

  • Fresher rice: You can enjoy fresher rice than what you would buy from the store, as you can harvest it right when it’s ready
  • Health benefits: Growing your own rice allows you to control what chemicals and pesticides are applied to your crop.
  • Sustainability: Growing your own rice can be more sustainable than buying it from the store, as you can reduce the environmental impact associated with transporting and packaging rice, albeit in a somewhat limited capacity.

Cons

In the minus column:

  • Requires a lot of work: Growing rice requires is a labor-intensive pursuit. From preparing the soil to harvesting the crop, growing rice is time-consuming and requires a lot of physical labor.
  • Weather-dependent: Rice is a crop that is highly dependent on weather conditions, and a lack of rain or too much rain can negatively affect the crop.
  • Space requirements: Growing rice requires a lot of space, which may not be possible for everyone, especially those living in urban areas.
  • Technical expertise: Growing rice is a technical process that requires knowledge and experience to do correctly. Without the proper expertise, it can be difficult to grow rice successfully.

When it comes to growing rice, regardless of whether you go with upland or lowland, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s going to take a whole lot of water and labor. Upland rice might need less water, but it also produces lower yields. Though lowland rice generates higher yields, it requires massive amounts of water. The bottom line is that rice is just one of those crops that demands a ton of resources to grow.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is held together by rice!

©iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Five Fun Facts About Rice

  • Commercial rice paddies are planted by airplanes flying over the paddies at 100 mph (161 kph )as they disperse seed.
  • The average American consumes 27 pounds (12 kg) of ricer annually.
  • The Great Wall of China is held together by rice! According to historical records, the workers who built the wall mixed slaked lime, water, and sticky rice together to create the mortar. The sticky rice acted as a binding agent that helped to hold the bricks together and made the mortar more durable.
  • White rice has a shelf-life of 30 years or more, while the shelf-life of brown rice is six months tops!
  • It requires approximately 1320 gallons (5,000 liters) of water to produce just two pounds (1 kg) of rice.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/piotr_malczyk


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About the Author

Kathryn Koehler is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her focus is on unusual animals, places, and events. Kat has over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and educator. She holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University. When she is not writing for A-Z-Animals, Kat enjoys puttering in her garden, baking deliciously healthful treats for her family, and playing with her two rescue mutts, Popcorn and Scooter. She resides in Tennessee.

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