Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum, looks and tastes like garlic but is actually more closely related to leeks. It's sometimes confused with colossal garlic, but this is actually an oversized bulb of regular garlic, Allium sativum. Elephant garlic bears larger bulbs than regular garlic, which have a delicious mild flavour, suitable for using in soups and stews, and they're perfect for roasting.
Just like regular garlic, elephant garlic is planted in autumn or spring, as single cloves. These develop into a large bulb which, if it has a long enough growing season, splits into individual cloves.
How to grow elephant garlic
Take an elephant garlic bulb and divide it into cloves. Plant each clove into well-prepared, weed-free soil, with its pointed end up, 10-15cm deep. Space the cloves 20-30cm apart so they have plenty of room to develop. Keep the soil around the plants weed free and water in dry periods.
Where to grow elephant garlic
Grow elephant garlic in moist but well-drained soil, in full sun. A vegetable patch or raised bed is ideal. While elephant garlic is hardy in the UK, it benefits from a little extra protection – grow it in a sheltered spot, away from prevailing winds. If planting in autumn, you may consider mulching around the bulbs with straw.
How to plant elephant garlic
It's best to plant elephant garlic in autumn, as it has a longer growing season and is therefore more likely to split into individual cloves. However, spring planting also works – you can harvest the bulb as a large bulb or leave it to continue growing to harvest as cloves the following year.
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Prepare the soil by digging it over and removing any weeds. Rake level and ensure the soil is pliable. Divide your elephant garlic bulb into cloves and plant them 10-15cm deep, spaced 20-30cm apart, pointed end up. Water well.
How to care for elephant garlic
Keep the soil around the plants weed free and water regularly, taking care to ensure the soil is evenly moist at all times, but not waterlogged.
Just like regular garlic, elephant garlic produces flower stalks, often called scapes. These draw energy from the plant and should be removed. However, elephant garlic scapes are edible – and delicious! – they can be eaten like asparagus, lightly stir-fried and then dipped in mayonnaise.
How to harvest elephant garlic
Elephant garlic is ready to harvest once the foliage turns yellow or brown. Use a spade to gently lift the plants out of the soil (pulling them can damage the stem or root system, which may affect how long the bulbs will store for), and brush as much soil from the bulbs as possible.
To store the bulbs you will need to 'cure' them. Move them to a cool, dark spot with good air circulation, such as a garage. Spread them out on a tray where they are not touching or piled on top of one another, so air can circulate around the bulbs easily. After between three and eight weeks, your elephant garlic will be cured, meaning the bulbs will last longer and you will be able to use them into winter.
After curing, simply cut off any remaining roots and trim the stalks back to around 2.5cm. Avoid washing the bulbs, as this can cause them to rot. Store them in a cool spot and check regularly for signs of rotting bulbs, which can quickly spread to the whole crop. Your elephant garlic should last for eight to 10 months.
Growing elephant garlic: problem-solving
Elephant garlic has few pests and diseases.
Slugs may damage young plants, especially during autumn and spring, when conditions are typically damp.
White rot may occur in damp growing conditions. Infected bulbs are covered with a white, dusty layer, which develops into a more obvious mould. There's no treatment available – plant bulbs elsewhere the following year and avoid growing alliums in the same spot for at least 15 years.
Onion fly can affect elephant garlic. The fly lays eggs in the soil and her larvae travel between plants and tunnel into the bulbs. Destroy affected bulbs and hoe around the plants regularly to disrupt their lifecycle.
Advice on buying elephant garlic
- There's just one variety of elephant garlic to grow, so there are no cultivars to search for
- Buy elephant garlic for autumn or spring planting, but bear in mind a spring-planted crop may not yield separated cloves within the same growing year
- Check bulbs for signs of rotting before planting, and discard any that are soft or have visible mould growing on the outside