Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) is an odd little plant. Although it looks like a giant garlic bulb and has a mild garlic flavor, it is more closely related to leeks than to garlic. Elephant garlic is a biennial, meaning it completes its life cycle in two growing seasons. You typically will get a single bulb in the first year when the plant doesn't flower. All of the plant's resources go into building up that single bulb, which will help it survive into its second year and send up flower stalks. In the second year, the one bulb typically divides into multiple separate cloves.
As with true garlic, the fast-growing elephant garlic is usually planted in the fall and can be harvested about eight months later in the following summer. Fall-planted garlic might have enough time to split into cloves. If you find it's still one large bulb, you can leave it in the ground for another year to finish maturing, or you can opt to harvest the one bulb. Spring-planted elephant garlic can be ready to harvest in 90 days; however, it will most likely still be a single large bulb.
|Botanical Name||Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum|
|Common Name||Elephant garlic|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Hardiness Zones||3–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Africa, Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to animals|
Elephant Garlic Care
To plant an elephant garlic bulb, first, divide it into cloves. Plant each clove with its pointed end up around 4 to 6 inches deep, spacing the cloves roughly 8 to 12 inches apart to allow some air flow in between the plants. Gently press down the soil over the cloves, and water it lightly. Elephant garlic will send up flower stalks, or scapes, just like regular garlic. These scapes draw energy from the plant that should be going toward bulking up the bulb. So cut the scapes back before they begin to curl or bloom. The scapes are edible, so they don't have to go to waste. Likewise, it's important to keep weeds under control around elephant garlic plants, as they will compete with the elephant garlic for space and nutrients.
Once the foliage begins to turn yellow or brown, you'll know it's time to harvest your elephant garlic. Pull up the plants, and brush off as much dirt as possible from the bulbs. If you don't plan to use your bulbs right away, they will need to be cured. Spread them out in a cool, dark spot with good air circulation for around three to eight weeks. After curing, you can cut off any remaining roots and all but about an inch of the flower stalks. Don’t wash the bulbs yet, as this can cause them to rot. Store them where they will remain at around 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and no more than 50 percent humidity. Under these conditions, they can keep for roughly eight to 10 months.
There are no cultivars of elephant garlic. You might see it offered as hardneck or softneck, but both types will produce similar bulbs.
Elephant garlic plants prefer to grow in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. They can grow in partial shade, but you will typically get larger bulbs if you grow these plants in full sun.
Elephant garlic prefers a loose, organically rich soil with a neutral soil pH. Sharp soil drainage also is key for growing these plants, as they do not tolerate being waterlogged well.
These plants need regular watering while they are actively growing. Water enough so that the soil remains lightly moist but not soggy. Overwatering can rot the bulbs. It’s best to water in the mornings, so the foliage can dry before nighttime; otherwise damp foliage can lead to fungal growth.
Temperature and Humidity
Elephant garlic tolerates the temperatures of its growing zones fairly well, but it can use a little help. A planting site that’s somewhat sheltered from strong, harsh winds is ideal. Also, a layer of mulch around the plants can help to protect the roots from extreme temperatures. High humidity can lead to fungal growth and rot on the plants. But adequate soil drainage and air circulation can help to protect them from this.
When planting your elephant garlic, work some compost into the soil for a good organic fertilizer. Add another layer of compost the following year if you haven’t yet harvested your bulbs.
Elephant garlic generally has relatively few issues with pests and diseases. Slugs might damage young plants, especially during damp seasons. But it's not recommended to use any chemical insecticides if you plant to eat the garlic. Fungal diseases and rot will often afflict plants growing in wet conditions. In these cases, you might just want to remove the diseased plants and start again in better growing conditions.