20cm between rows
Leeks are a delicious vegetable with a long season and will provide food from August through the winter. The long, blanched stems, also known as shanks, can be eaten young and tender, or allowed to mature. Leeks are great in soups, steamed or stir-fried.
How to grow leeks
Sow seed in pots or modules of peat-free seed or multi-purpose compost in spring. Keep pots moist and plant out in summer, either individually, using a dibber, or in small clumps. Harvest leeks from autumn. Some varieties are hardy and can be harvested right through to spring.
Growing leeks from seed
You can sow leek seeds directly into well prepared soil and thin them later. However, the more reliable method is to sow into pots and transplant seedlings when they are about 20cm high. It’s also possible to buy seedling leeks from nurseries or by mail order.
Planting out leeks
Leeks need a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained, well prepared soil with plenty of added manure or fertiliser. To plant the traditional way, make a hole with a dibber, 20cm deep, drop a seedling in and water in. This method, called ‘puddling in’ will produce large single leeks with well-blanched stems. But you can also plant in small clumps.
Here, Monty Don shows you an alternative method of growing leeks, with the aim of harvesting them as small plants full of flavour, rather than large mature plants. You’ll see how to plant in clumps (rather than singly), how far apart to space the plants and how deep to set them:
Keep plants well watered, especially during dry spells and keep weed-free with regular hoeing or with a thick mulch – this will also help retain moisture.
Depending on which variety you’re growing, your leeks will be ready for picking from summer onwards. Use a fork to lift leeks singly or in clumps without disturbing neighbouring plants. Leeks can be left in the ground until you are ready to use them. Once harvested, they will store in the fridge or a cool larder for a couple of weeks.
Preparation and uses
Leeks are a classic soup ingredient but they are also a delicious accompaniment to winter dishes such as roasts, stews and pies. Leeks will need thorough cleaning to remove the soil and the outer leaves can be discarded.
Find leek recipes from Olive Magazine.
Growing leeks: problem solving
Leeks are prone to leek rust and to onion family diseases such as allium moth and allium leaf miner. These last two can weaken the plant and allow more damage from fungal and bacterial infections to take hold.
In this short programme clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don shows you his crop of leeks, which have been infected by leek rust fungus. He shows you the symptoms to look out for, then explains how to save your crop and what to do with the affected foliage so you don’t spread the fungal spores:
Leek varieties to try
- Leek ‘Musselburgh’ – a reliable mid-season leek, with good flavour and texture. A good cropper, it is also very hardy and has good resistance to rust
- Leek ‘Pandora’ – an early variety, with long regular stems, this can be harvested from September to January.
- Leek ‘Lyon prizetaker’ – a heritage revival, with large thick stems that will last through the winter.
- Leek ‘Toledo’ – a reliable leek with long stems and dark leaves, that can be harvested from late November-late February. It has been awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit.
- Leek ‘Sprintan F1’ – a very early cropping leek, ready to harvest from late August through to November, with good resistance to leek rust.