How To Grow Rice (All 6 Types): Follow These 13 Steps for Wild Rice at Home

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 6, 2024

Man looks at a bag of rice and a picture of cooked rice, holding his phone while wondering where to learn how to grow rice and if there is a guide to growing rice that includes how to grow rice at home, and how to grow wild rice.

Rice is probably the most essential grain and knowing how to grow rice at home may be a good idea for individuals who enjoy gardening as a hobby, or who want to understand the process behind the production of the most abundant food crops.

All types of rice, even wild rice (which isn’t actually rice at all!) can be grown at home under the right conditions.

Rice is a staple grain in diets around the world, making it one of the safest foods to eat. And, you can learn how to grow rice, even wild rice at home, using a step-by-step process that removes the guesswork.

This complete guide explains the conditions you’ll need to grow rice, right in your backyard.


(Oryza sativa)

Rice plant in oval frame on green background.
  • Order: Poales
  • Family: Poaceae
  • USDA Growing Zones: 10-12
  • Plant Type: Annual, sometimes perennial in the tropics

Everything To Know About Growing Rice

Rice is a wind-pollinated, annual grass which requires sowing each year. Of all the most popular grain types, rice poses the most difficult challenge for growers as it requires consistently saturated soil and an extended hot growing season.

However, growing rice is possible for individual gardeners, particularly those who are interested in growing rice for educational and experience purposes rather than for a high yield. For beginner rice gardeners, upland rice is the best choice.

Sometimes called “dry rice,” upland varieties do not require the flooding which their lowland relatives need and are easier to maintain and nurture in backyard gardens. Some varieties of upland rice (Ex. Duborskian) even require shorter growing seasons and can withstand cooler weather.10

Best Growing Conditions for Rice

Even upland rice does best with an ample and steady water supply and a temperate climate. Rice crops also prefer minimum competition, so consistent weeding is a must!

Graphic instructions on how to grow rice from a seed.

The best growing conditions for rice are warm climates with long growing seasons and regular rain. Rice thrives in semi-acidic, nitrogen-rich soil, so fertilizer may be recommended for some growing environments.3,15

Unlike cultivated rice, wild rice (Zizania palustris) thrives in colder, northern climates and requires a consistent water depth of at least 6 inches.2

Growing Zones for Rice (Where To Grow Rice for the Best Yield)

The ideal growing zones for rice in the U.S. are USDA zones 10 to 12, found primarily in southern states such as Florida, Louisiana, and Texas (See USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map).10 Because these zones have long, hot summers, they allow ample time for rice to mature, making it easier to grow more rice varieties.22

This also impacts where to grow rice for the best yield since rice plants in these zones can be seeded directly into their outdoor growing space. In cooler zones, rice plants usually need to be started indoors and transplanted after the weather warms sufficiently.

Transplanting typically decreases overall yield.

Again, wild rice is a different story and thrives in USDA zones 4 and under.2

Watering Needs for Rice Plants

The watering needs for rice plants depends to some extent upon the type of rice under cultivation, as lowland rice does prefer intermittent flooding. However, contrary to popular belief, rice does not require flooding to survive and thrive.

What it does require is consistently wet soil that retains water. Some backyard rice growers prefer to keep an inch or two of standing water over their rice plants for weed control, but consistent irrigation is sufficient as long as weeds are pulled promptly.

Rice paddies divided by small embankment with cloudy sky in the background.

Never allow rice plants and surrounding soil to dry out until they are ready to be harvested. Drip irrigation is a great way to ensure the plants get an adequate and reliable supply of water.8, 9, 16, 22

Wild Rice, in contrast, is a fully aquatic plant which requires submerged roots and grows best around a small body of water.

Companion Plants for Growing Rice

Historically, mosquito ferns (Azolla) have been the choice companion plants for growing rice. This rich tradition stretches back as far as 2,000 years in China.

The Azolla species host nitrogen fixing bacteria which help maintain the soil nitrogen levels the rice plants need. It also reduces competitive weed populations.5

Other plants, such as soybean (Glycine max), duckweed (Lemna minor) and even tree species such as the Lemonwood tree (Calycophyllum candidissimum) have been suggested as potential candidates for rice companion plants.4,28

How To Grow Rice at Home

As organic farming becomes increasingly relevant, more people are looking for information on how to grow rice at home. The good news is that it is entirely possible for most people to grow rice (Oryza sativa) at home.

Long grains of uncooked white Rice on top of a wooden surface.

The bad news is that it is definitely a learning curve for beginner rice growers and it is laborious to grow and harvest enough rice to feed even a small family.10

This section looks specifically at methods for growing cultivated rice at home. Wild rice cultivation is discussed in a later section, so keep reading!

Growing Rice From a Seed

Most people who make the choice to add rice to their garden will be growing rice from a seed. There are several steps for planting rice seeds beginning with selecting and buying the seed itself.

Most rice seed varieties can be purchased online or from a local nursery or garden center. One to two ounces of seed should be enough for most backyard gardens.14

Refined rice grain purchased at a grocery store is not suitable for planting, but organic long-grain brown rice may be experimented with.9,15 Knowing how to care for rice grains is important, because the seed needs to be primed before sowing.

To prime rice seed, simply soak it in non-chlorinated water for about a day (between 12 and 36 hours). This begins the process of germination where tiny roots begin to grow from the seeds.15

Seeds can be started indoors in containers in cooler climates or sown directly into the garden in warmer climates.

Sow the seed liberally onto wet soil and tamp it down until the seeds are about half an inch deep. Cover the seeds with mulch to help retain moisture.22

Growing Rice From a Seedling

In some areas, it may be possible to buy small rice plants, or seedlings, which have already sprouted and begun growing. More often, a gardener will be growing rice from a seedling because the seeds were started indoors and need to be transplanted outside.

Graphics showing the Rice plant growth stages from Rice plant vegetation phase, Rice plant reproduction phase, and Rice plant ripening phase.

Once the seedlings are around 4 weeks old and about half a foot high, they are ready to be transplanted outdoors. Wait until the cold season has passed and the last frost is well behind to transplant the seedlings.10

The planting bed or containers should be well watered before planting. The seedlings must be pulled up gently and immediately transplanted into the muddy bed by pushing the roots into the soil.22

It is essential to weed thoroughly, particularly while the seedlings are transitioning. Identify weeds by photo to ensure that all weeds are pinpointed and removed.

How To Grow Rice in Buckets

Learning how to grow rice in buckets is an excellent way to prepare for a first-time rice crop. Rice plants can be grown in gallon buckets, five-gallon buckets or other suitable containers with NO drainage holes.

Keep in mind that smaller containers, such as gallon buckets, will be easier to move from place to place as necessary. The containers should be filled with fertilized potting soil to a minimum depth of 6 inches.

The germinated seed can then be planted .5 inches deep into the soil before gradually filling the container with water (at least 2 inches above the soil’s surface).10

How To Grow Rice in Beds

It is also useful to know how to grow rice in beds, particularly for anyone looking to plant a larger rice crop for a higher yield. It is not necessary to have a true rice paddy in the backyard, but integrating some elements of this productive system can increase yield.

Rice plants should be grown in beds with slow-draining soil, such as clay or loam, rich in nitrogen.10 Rice seed should be sown thickly onto saturated soil.

Low spots in the garden bed or yard where rain water gathers can be a great location for rice. Sowing the seed into furrowed rows in a garden bed is a good method for ensuring the plants get adequate water.

Weed control is crucial, especially when the rice plants are still small. The rice plants can be thinned out once they reach a height of about 5 inches.

Consider using a soaker hose to provide even irrigation to the plants.22

How To Grow Rice: Best Planting Tips for Rice

Some of the best planting tips for rice have already been touched upon, such as pre-soaking seed for germination, starting seed indoors in cooler climates and planting seed in small containers outdoors.


Yet, there are so many more valuable tips for first-time and even veteran rice growers.

  • Test the soil: Some experts suggest testing the soil prior to planting and adding fertilizer, compost, etc. to prepare it for planting.22
  • Start small: Harvesting rice is labor-intensive, and most sources suggest beginning with containers or a small bed of rice plants.22
  • Eliminate weeds: Weeds should be completely eliminated before planting the rice seed or seedlings. This can be accomplished by solarizing or smothering the planting area.22

When To Plant Rice for the Best Yield

It can be confusing to sort out when to plant rice for the best yield, but most sources agree that late March through mid-April is the best time to sow rice seed. For individuals living in cooler USDA zones, this means starting the seed indoors for approximately 6 to 8 weeks before the weather is warm enough to transplant.15,34

Advice on How Far Apart To Plant Rice

When initially sowing seed, there is no need to dwell on how far apart to plant rice; simply sow a liberal amount of seed in the planting area. However, when plants are about 6 inches tall, they are ready to be thinned out.

Most recommendations agree that rice seedlings should be placed a few inches apart in rows about 9 inches apart.14,22

13 Steps for How To Grow Wild Rice

Wild Rice has attracted much-deserved attention as the sole native North American grain, and more people are now asking how to grow wild rice. Unlike the cultivated varieties discussed earlier, Wild Rice (Zizania palustris) is aquatic rather than semi-aquatic.

This means that it requires standing water to grow. A larger source of standing water such as a lake will host a larger crop of wild rice than a small stream.

This may pose a challenge for some aspiring wild rice growers, but once established, a wild rice crop is fairly low maintenance.6

Step 1: Survey the available area for the most suitable growing space.

Land with a small pond, lake, or stream with clear water is ideal for wild rice cultivation. While wild rice can, in theory, be grown in a submerged backyard container, it is unlikely to thrive and won’t have the same ability to drop and germinate seed for the following year.

If no such water source exists, consider whether a small pond might be added to support an annual wild rice crop.

Step 2: Remove competing plants such as reeds, cattails, and aquatic weeds.

Step 3: Obtain wild rice seed from a local or online supplier in the early fall, in the amount of 20 pounds per acre.35

Step 4: Soak the seed in water before planting.

Step 5: Sow the seed in sediment at least 6 inches below the water’s surface.

Step 6: Wait through winter for the seed to germinate.

Step 7: Watch for underwater leaf development in early spring.31

Step 8: Maintain water levels as new leaves appear on the surface of the water. Abrupt changes in water levels can compromise delicate roots.2

Step 9: Continue to control aquatic weeds.

Step 10: Observe wild rice stalks as they grow to a height of 10 feet or more.

Step 11: Consider protecting the developing grain from wildlife by sheafing.35

Step 12: Harvest the wild rice in the early fall when the heads of grain turn purple.

Step 13: Prepare for fallen rice to crop up the following year!2

Common Pests of the Rice

Rice plants are likely to encounter many problems, particularly when grown in large crops. They are susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases that affect many other cereal crops and some other common pests of the rice include insects such as armyworms, chinch bugs, grasshoppers, Rice Leafminers, Rice Seed Midges, Rice Stem Borers, Rice Stink Bugs, and Rice Water Weevils, among others.1, 3, 25, 30

Selecting pest-resistant rice strains at the outset can avoid a lot of trouble later on.8

Natural Pest Control for Rice

There are some methods of natural pest control for rice which can be applied in a backyard garden. One way to reduce insect pests is by eliminating any which survived through the winter in the soil through flooding or solarizing the area before planting.

Heavy irrigation or flooding after planting also helps to control pests. Introducing more nectar sources to a garden may attract members of the Lepidoptera order (butterflies, moths) which are natural enemies of rice pests.38

How To Stop Rice Disease

Several rice diseases such as rice stripe disease and rice black-streaked dwarf disease have been known to impact commercial rice crops. Though these are less likely to show up in a small backyard crop, insect proof nets have been shown to provide protection from these ailments during the seedling phase of development.38

Rotating the rice crop to a new area each growing season is also thought to cut back on the incidence of rice disease. Warm soil helps rice seedlings combat diseases, so ensure that the temperatures are consistently warm before planting outdoors.23

These are just a few tips on how to stop rice disease.

Tips for Harvesting Rice

Sometimes it is tricky to know when and how to harvest a rice crop, and that’s where these tips for harvesting rice come in handy. Many upland rice varieties are ready for harvest approximately 4 months after planting, but lowland rice typically takes 6 months to reach maturity.22

Large Rice field before planting season, with weeds growing.

Rice is generally ready to be harvested about four weeks after the plants flower, when the heads of grain assume a brown or golden appearance. When this time draws near, it is important to drain any remaining water from the garden to allow the plants to finish maturing.22

Harvest mature rice plants by cutting the stalk below the seed heads, or panicles. Then, lay them in the sun for several days until they are completely dried.

Once dry, the grains are ready to be removed from the panicle and roasted in the oven. Roasting for an hour at low heat makes the rice grains easier to hull.15

Harvesting Wild Rice

Wild Rice is ready for harvest in the autumn when the flower heads turn purple. The method for harvesting Wild Rice is unique.

As the plant is aquatic, teams of two typically take a canoe into the water and move it through the tall grasses, creating narrow lanes. One person propels the canoe with a long pole while the other person uses a pair of light sticks to carefully knock the kernels from the stalk.2,12

Wild rice must be dried and hulled, much like cultivated rice.

What Is Rice?

Rice is considered to be among the most important grains, globally.

And many people may be wondering exactly what is rice, both from a technical and general standpoint?22

Rice Plant identification chart showing Rice Plant leaves, Rice Plant flowers, Rice Plant fruit, and Rice Plant stem images in circle frames on a green background.

Usually, the term ‘rice’ brings to mind one of several varieties of the predominant species, Oryza sativa, an Asian-domesticate comprising more than 20% of worldwide caloric intake.

However, ‘rice’ sometimes refers to Oryza sativa’s lesser known African cousin, Oryza glaberrima, another domesticated species which is still grown locally in West Africa despite its lesser worldwide commercial success.19, 20, 39

Rice grows like many other grains, from seed to harvest in about 3-4 months.

Rice plant growth chart showing full grown Rice plant on a line graph with Rice plant age on the x-axis and Rice plant height on the y-axis.

Plants in the Oryza genus are semi-aquatic grasses (Poaceae family) which thrive in warm, temperate to tropical climates and wetland areas, often reaching heights of more than 6 feet.20

Although Asian Rice (Oryza sativa) and African Rice (Oryza glaberrima) are the only successful, domesticated species, there are many other species in the Oryza genus, wild rice varieties which are usually edible though not as palatable as domesticated rice.20,30

Types of Rice

There are many different ways to think about types of rice, such as looking at the various Oryza species or the thousands of cultivars of the domesticated Asian Rice. Some sources group rice into two broad groups – paddy rice and upland rice – depending on how the rice is grown.10

However, rice types are more often categorized according to the size and shape of the individual grain (kernel) as well as its taste and texture when cooked. Take a look at how the types developed.

Bowl of cooked rice with wooden chopsticks on the rim.

The Asian cultivated rice, Oryza sativa, comprises five subgroups, with the primary subspecies of indica and japonica. The indica subspecies produces long-grained rice kernels while the japonica subspecies produces short-grained, sticky rice.

The other subgroups (aus, temperate japonica, tropical japonica, and aromatic) fall either under one of these subspecies or somewhere between the two. Aus is closely related to indica, while temperate japonica and tropical japonica are subtypes of the japonica subspecies and aromatic is a blend of indica and japonica characteristics.17, 22, 27

Further cultivation has led to the development of 6 general varieties of rice, though some sources list more.

1. Long-Grain Rice

Long-grain rice is the primary representative of the indica subspecies, featuring elongated kernels which remain separated and fluffy when cooked.

Carolina Gold rice is the most popular long grain rice in North America, though it is thought to be derived from the japonica subspecies.22, 26, 29

2. Medium-Grain Rice

Medium-grain rice kernels are shorter and more plump than the long-grain variety. The kernels are tender and somewhat sticky when cooked and may be creamy.22,26

3. Short-Grain Rice

Short-grain rice, the predominant japonica variety, is a popular fixture in Asian cuisine such as sushi or as a complement to dishes such as sweet and sour chicken.

It is often called “sushi rice” as its clumping ability and slightly sweet flavor make it ideal for this unique Japanese cuisine.15, 22, 26

4. Sweet Rice (Glutinous Rice)

Glutinous rice, also called sweet rice, is a subset of short-grain rice which is the most sticky variety due to its high levels of a single starch, amylopectin.

Because of its sweet flavor, glutinous rice is sometimes used in dessert dishes. Unpolished sweet rice is often black or purple in color.15, 22, 26, 29

5. Aromatic Rice

Aromatic rice produces more fragrance and can be more flavorful compared to other varieties. Aromatic rice includes varieties such as the long-grain basmati and medium to long-grain jasmine rice.22,26

6. Arborio Rice

Arborio rice, a medium-grain rice grown in Italy, is popular in various Italian dishes, such as risotto.

It may be chewy and has a creamy consistency when cooked. It is sometimes used to make puddings and soups.22, 26, 32

Aside from these six varieties, there is a distantly related aquatic grass species commonly referred to as “wild rice,” which warrants further discussion.22

What Is Wild Rice?

Sometimes, North American ‘wild rice’ species (Zizania aquatica/Zizania palustris) are lumped in with true rice species (members of the genus Oryza) as a seventh type of rice. Annual wild rice is not actually rice but the kernels do have a similar appearance to the familiar rice grains.

True rice species and North American wild rice are somewhat distantly related members of the grass family (Poaceae) which derive from the same tribe, Oryzeae, but are in distinct subtribes (Oryzinae vs. Zizaniinae).

The Zizania species produces aquatic grasses which thrive in freshwater along streams and lakes where there is slow water movement and a steady water level. These grasses can grow up to 10 feet above the water’s surface with another 1 to 3 feet below.2, 11, 21

Wild rice has three native North American species:

  • Zizania palustris: Sometimes called Northern Wild Rice. An annual aquatic grass prominent in the Great Lakes area of the U.S. and throughout eastern Canada.
  • Zizania aquatica: Sometimes called Southern Wild Rice. An annual aquatic grass native to the state of Florida which grows along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the U.S.
  • Zizania texana: Sometimes called Texas Wild Rice. A perennial aquatic grass which is found only in a localized area in central Texas.

And one native Asian species:

  • Zizania latifolia: Sometimes called Manchurian Wild Rice. A perennial semi-aquatic grass native to China; invasive in New Zealand.12, 31, 36

The annual varieties (Z. aquatica and Z. palustris) are the most abundant wild rice species. Though these species are sometimes grouped together and often used interchangeably, northern wild rice (Z. palustris), in particular, is best for human consumption and has a rich cultural, economic and ecological history.12

The Native American tribes of the Great Lakes region relied heavily on wild rice crops rich in vitamins and protein.

The grain, called “Good Berry” – “Manoomin” in the native tongue – provides habitat and food for animal species of all sizes, from waterfowl to moose. English explorers first gave the grains their prevailing name, wild rice.11, 12, 31

Wild Rice is the state grain of Minnesota and preservation and regulation of the grain was passed into state law in 1939 (see Chapter 231 of Session Laws of Minnesota). The popular cereal grain saw commercial success in its native region and is still a significant staple in the state’s economy.37

Before mechanical and technological advances made it possible to grow the crop commercially as far west as California, local farmers could “rice” and sell the grain at a good price. Nowadays, local “ricing” in the Great Lakes region is part of tradition and a beloved hobby.12

How Does Rice Grow?

For anyone interested in cultivating their own rice crop, one of the most important questions to answer is how does rice grow?

The variety of rice determines the type of environment preferred. This is why rice varieties are often placed into one of two ecological groups: upland rice and lowland rice.

Rice field with growing rice and dark dry soil.

Lowland rice varieties are those types which prefer extremely moist and even submerged soil. This may take the form of irrigated rice paddies where the farmer controls the water supply, deep-water rice that is fed from nearby bodies of water, and rain-fed rice where monsoon rain is trapped and held by farmers.

Upland rice is low-maintenance by comparison and simply requires moist soil and regular rainfall to thrive.22

Rice is able to grow in water-logged soil due to its unique root structure which increases oxygen intake and flow. Thus, rice can survive flooding while competing weeds cannot, giving rice plants the advantage.30

Advice on Growing Other Food Crops

Growing food crops for personal use has many advantages and interest in topics such as how to grow potatoes and how to grow brussel sprouts is on the rise. From a grower’s perspective, rice is a bit of an eccentric crop, with unique habits and needs.

Most common food crops are a bit more versatile. For example, potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) prefer dry, sandy soils and are cultivated worldwide.21,30

Brussel sprouts share the same species (Brassica oleracea) with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale and have similar growth habits. These plants prefer cool weather and typically thrive in spring and fall months.30

How to grow carrots and how to grow celery are other areas of interest and these two species are both members of the Apiaceae family. Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) are a fast-growing root vegetable, but they are vulnerable to fungal diseases, nematodes, and rot.30

Celery (Apium graveolens), can be grown in containers from seed or the base of store bought celery stalks. Celery seeds require a long growing period and need to be started indoors up to 3 months before the last frost.7

Individuals curious about how to grow green onions (Allium sp.) are in luck as these bulbous plants often come back from year to year and are very low-maintenance.30

Although rice varieties are among the most universally eaten grains, rice can be one of the most difficult crops to grow on a very small scale, such as in a backyard. However, a small rice crop is attainable, particularly for individuals who are more interested in growing rice as a hobby or for educational purposes.

Follow the 13 steps in this article to learn how to grow rice, even wild rice, in backyard landscapes.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Grow Rice

How Long Does It Take To Grow Rice? How Long It Takes To Grow Rice?

How long it takes to grow rice depends upon the particular rice strain being cultivated as well as the environment where it is grown. Rice cultivation typically ranges from 3 to 6 months (seldom less than 100 days) from the time of planting or transplanting to maturity.10, 13, 14, 24

Does Rice Have To Grow in Water?

Traditionally, it was understood that most types of rice required flooded paddies to grow and thrive, but research and experimentation in recent years has led to a revival of the age-old question of does rice have to grow in water. Most sources now agree that while rice requires a steady irrigation throughout its growing season, it can actually thrive outside of flooded conditions as long as weeds and pests are controlled.8, 13, 18

How Much Sunlight Does Rice Need Each Day?

Another important question is “how much sunlight does rice need each day?” Rice requires full sun for a minimum of six hours each day, and long periods of heavy cloud cover can be harmful to the plants.16,22

What Variety Should I Grow?

When contemplating the introduction of rice to a garden for the first time, a commonly asked question is “What variety should I grow?” Though there are thousands of rice options, upland rice varieties, such as the Russia-native Duborskian rice, are best suited to container growing and are a good choice for first-time growers.10,33


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