Ramps, or wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), were once relegated to growing in the wild, but this springtime vegetable is being grown in more and more vegetable gardens. They have a flavor that blends spring onions and garlic. Ramps are delicious eaten on their own, or they can be used to flavor other dishes. The leaves, stems, and bulbs can be blanched, fried, or chopped and mixed into dishes from pancakes to meatloaf.
Ramps are a native plant found growing in moist woodlands of the Appalachian mountain range in eastern North America. They begin growth from a small bulb and spread and colonize over time. The leaves emerge in early spring, but the plants are ephemeral, disappearing within a month or two and remaining dormant until the following spring. Leaves are an elongated oval shape that tapers to a point. They resemble lily of the valley leaves, although a bit slimmer.
Wild leeks have a flower stalk that tends to emerge as the leaves are fading. The flowers are a pinkish-white, and the seed is dispersed close to the mother plant.
- Botanical Name: Allium tricoccum
- Common Name: Ramps, wild leeks
- Plant Type: Bulb-forming perennial
- Mature Size: Six to eight inches (leaves only)
- Flower Color: Pink
- Sun Exposure: Shade to partial shade
- Soil Type: Loamy
- Soil pH: 6.8 to 7.2
- Bloom Time: Spring
- Hardiness Zones: 4 to 7
- Native Area: Appalachian mountain range, eastern North America
How to Grow Ramps
In the wild, ramps take advantage of the increased daylight and rising temperatures of early spring, when the deciduous trees above have not yet leafed out. As the season progresses and the tree canopies fill in, the ramps fade with the sparse light that reaches the forest floor.
When growing ramps in a home garden, the primary goals are harvesting the aromatic leaves in spring and establishing the colony for future growth. The leaves start to die back in early summer and are followed by the flower stalks, while the bulbs grow underground.
Although you can harvest your ramps at any time, harvesting before the patch has had a chance to enlarge will very quickly deplete the patch. It's best to give the patch a few years to spread out, then harvest by thinning out the largest plants, digging the whole clump, bulb and all. Be careful not to damage neighboring plants.
Ramps are spring woodland plants so they need protection from the extreme sun and heat of summer. If you can't plant them on the edge of a woodland, where they will be sheltered as the trees leaf out, at least give them a spot in shade to partial shade.
To grow ramps in your yard, try to pick a site as close to their native growing conditions as possible. They are usually found in moist areas, under deciduous trees. The soil should have a good amount of organic matter in it and be well-draining.
Although ramps like regular moisture, they do not grow well in wet soils. If other woodland flowers such as bloodroot, trillium, and trout lily will grow in the area, ramps should do fine. They are only actively growing for a short period in the spring, so there is little room for error.
Temperature and Humidity
The ideal temperature for ramps is 54 F during the day, dropping down to 46 F at night, but it commonly grows in temperatures ranging from 45 to 65 F in the day and 42 to 58 F at night. As native plants of northeastern U.S. hardwood forests, ramps grow in humidity levels ranging from about 5 percent in very late winter to above 60 percent at the end of May.
Ramps may need no feeding if the soil is rich in organic matter and has a neutral pH. They prefer soil with relatively high levels of calcium and magnesium; if your soil conditions are poor, consider feeding with these nutrients first.
Transplanting or Growing Ramps from Seed
Growing ramps from seed can take a long time. The seed embryo is not fully developed in fresh seed and may remain dormant. To complicate matters further, it needs to be warm and moist to break root dormancy and then cold, to break shoot dormancy. Depending on the weather of any particular year, it can take a couple of years for the seed to finally germinate.
The best time to sow ramp seeds is in late summer/early fall. Scratch and loosen the top layer of soil and press the seed into it. Cover with about an inch of shredded, damp leaves and be patient.
To transplant, be very careful not to damage the roots or bulbs. Plant at the same depth they were in the pot and space the plants about four to six inches apart, to allow them to spread. Water the plants well and mulch the whole bed with something like shredded leaves or leaf mold.