How to Grow and Care for Society Garlic

An Edible Groundcover of the Amaryllis family

Lavender bloom of Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

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Society Garlic is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial. Delicate, tubular, star-shaped flowers are borne atop one-foot-tall grassy foliage. With the flowers, this groundcover can reach a humble height of two feet. Blooms are usually small and lilac-lavender. Eight to 20 flowers make up each cluster. Blooms last from early summer to autumn. Native to the rocky grasslands of eastern South Africa, society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) does not belong to the Allium genus of garlic and onions. However, they are in the same family as onion, the Amaryllis (Amaryllidaceae) family. The common name "society garlic" stems from the rumor that this plant tastes like garlic without causing bad breath. The strong garlic scent of the foliage overpowers the sweet scent of the flowers, which smell only faintly of garlic when crushed. Maintenance for this tender perennial is low in USDA gardening zones 7 through 10.

Botanical Name Tulbaghia violacea
Common Name  Society Garlic, pink agapanthus
Plant Type Tuberous blooming perennial
Mature Size  1 to 2 ft. tall
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Well-drained loam or light sandy soil
Soil pH  Neutral (6.8 to 7.5)
Bloom Time  Early summer to autumn
Flower Color  Lilac, lavender, pink
Hardiness Zones  7-10, USDA
Native Area  Eastern South Africa
Toxicity  Non-toxic, edible

Society Garlic Care

Sow seeds in spring. Wait until the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Seeds should germinate quickly and young plants tend to reach flowering size quite fast too. When they are three inches tall, thin young plants to about 18 inches apart.

Society garlic's compact mounds of grassy, arching leaves make it an ideal specimen for the front of a border. Pair with the backdrop of darker foliage such as black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') for contrast. Because society garlic grows so vigorously and stays low to the ground, consider planting it as a groundcover. Keep in mind that the leaves give off a smell of garlic when brushed up against, so unless you like having the smell nearby, plant in a low-traffic area. Fortunately, this potent scent also makes it deer resistant.

Light

While society garlic can be grown in partial shade, it will only flower well in sunnier spots. For the showiest flower displays, establish tubers in full sun.

Soil

Give society garlic light or sandy soil with a pH between 6.8 and 7.5. It will grow best in moderately fertile soil that is rich in organic matter, but will adapt to almost any soil type, like loam, that is well-drained.

Water

Water plants slowly and deeply in case there is a drought in spring or summer. Take care not to overwater, as the tubers may rot in soggy or wet soil. Allow the soil to dry a little between waterings. Society garlic plants thrive with regular watering while they are growing and less irrigation when they are flowering. Let the soil dry almost fully during winter dormancy.

Fertilizer

To improve drainage and encourage flowering, work two to three inches of organic compost or general-purpose fertilizer into the soil once a year in early spring.

Temperature and Humidity

Established plants can survive extended droughts, moderate frosts, and light freezes. Remove any foliage that may be damaged by frost.

Uses

Society garlic is often sold as an herb. This plant is known to be especially delicious in salads and soups. South Africa's Dutch settlers used its peppery, onion-garlic flavored foliage in the place of more traditional garlic. Cook leaves like you would garlic chives and cook the bulbs like you would regular garlic. Garnish any dish, such as a salad or dessert, with a society garlic flower. Aside from its culinary use, crushed leaves from this plant can also be rubbed on the skin to repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Society Garlic Varieties

  • 'Silver Lace' bears lavender blooms above variegated foliage that is blue-green with white-silver margins.
  • 'Variegata' bears lavender-pink flowers, similar to the most common species, but is set apart by its straplike foliage, which is striped green and white.
  • 'Tricolor' flowers are lilac-pink atop silvery-green, blue-gray foliage edged in white or shell-pink.

Propagating Society Garlic

Divide clumps every two or three years. Dig up overgrown clumps after they finish flowering in autumn or early winter. Separate the sections from the center by hand and transplant them.

Potting and Repotting Society Garlic

In cold-winter climates, grow society garlic in containers. Give the plant especially bright sunlight and bring it inside before the first frost.

Common Pests and Diseases

If grown outdoors, society garlic plants rarely attract insects. Those grown in greenhouses or potted indoors for winter may attract aphids or whiteflies. Syringe the plant with a strong spray of water and use insecticidal soap to treat either of these pest infestations. Spread a layer of crushed eggshells or other gritty material around the base of outdoor plants to discourage any soft-bodied pests.