Garlic plants don't flower, but they do produce flower stalks. On hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) those stalks are known as garlic scapes, and they are surprisingly tasty and versatile to use in the kitchen. Cutting off the garlic stalks allows more of the flavor to concentrate in the bulb of the garlic itself.
All hardneck garlic varieties produce a stem, but it's the hardneck Rocambole garlic (A. sativum var. ophioscorodon 'Rocambole') that sends out the curling scapes that gave them the nickname "serpent garlic." Other types of hardneck garlic include Porcelain and Purple Stripe. The flavor of the scapes can vary considerably from variety to variety, just as with garlic bulbs. However, if you have a favorite variety of garlic that grows well in your garden, you will probably enjoy its scapes. Some of the more popularly grown varieties of Rocambole garlic include ‘Carpathian,’ ‘German Red,’ and ‘Spanish Roja.'
|Botanical Name||Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon|
|Common Name||Hardneck garlic|
|Mature Size||1 to 1.5 feet wide, 0.75 to 1 foot wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7.0|
|Bloom Time||April to May|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 8|
|Native Area||Central Asia, Northeastern Iran|
How to Grow Garlic Scapes
Unlike many other types of plants, garlic is planted in the fall, goes dormant in the winter, and then begins to grow as the soil warms up during the spring. When growing garlic from seeds, plant them about four to six weeks before the last predicted frost during the fall months. Those cold winter months gives the hardneck garlic seeds the encouragement it needs to divide, separate in cloves, and grow the bulb in a process known as vernalization.
If you're planting garlic cloves, push it four to six inches deep into the soil with the pointed end pointing up. Space the garlic six inches apart. When the spring months roll around, keep the garlic bed free from weeds, which can decrease yield by up to one-half.
Garlic requires six to eight hours of full sunlight per day. However, if you live in an extremely hot climate, the garlic might do well with a bit of partial shade in the afternoon.
Garlic grows best in a fertile loam or silty loam soil. Once you have planted the garlic, add a layer of mulch to keep weeds at bay. When the ground has frozen, add another heavier layer of mulch to insulate the ground. The soil should be well-draining to avoid rot.
Because of its shallow root system, garlic needs plenty of water and will stop growing if the soil is dry.
Hardneck garlic tolerates cold winters better than softneck garlic—in fact, it requires cold during the winter to form its bulb. Additionally, if the soil gets too hot, the garlic's roots can stop growing.
Garlic is a heavy-feeding plant, so fertilize it early and often. Add compost to the soil when it's first planted, and then fertilize it in the spring by side dressing or broadcasting fertilizer over the whole plant bed. Choose a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Finally, fertilize the garlic again around mid-May, right before the bulbs swell, then lay off on the nitrogen-rich food to avoid stunting the bulb's growth.
Harvesting Garlic Scapes
When the scapes are just starting to poke up above the leaves, they are tender enough to eat fresh. Garlic scapes get tougher the longer that they grow. Although they twist and turn and look wonderfully exotic as they grow, they become hotter and more fibrous, requiring peeling and some gentle cooking before eating.
Snapping the scape off with your fingers, as you would with asparagus, will ensure that you get the most tender portion, but cutting them is a bit gentler on the bulb and that is what we're growing the garlic plants for, after all. The plant will probably ooze a bit, but that will stop when the sun warms it and seals the cut.
Keep in mind that you do not have to cut the scapes at all. Your garlic will still form a bulb, it just won't be as large as it might have been. Some gardeners argue that leaving the scapes on results in a longer storing garlic bulb. As the garlic matures, the scape will straighten out. Tall, straight scapes are a sign that the garlic is ready to be harvested.
Garlic's pungent aroma means its fairly pest-resistant, but it's not entirely free from critters. All types of garlic and its scapes are susceptible to bulb mites, which can reduce harvest and stunt growth; leaf miners, which damage the scapes; and wheat curl mites, which can cause twisted, stunted growth. However, the biggest pest problems come from nematodes, which eat both the garlic bulb and the scape, and thrips, which suck the sap from the plant and cause a slow death to the garlic bulb.
If you're comfortable with using commercial pest-control products, apply a pesticide to your plant to control the insects. If you would rather keep pest control more natural, rotate the crops annually and use sticky traps for thrip migration.