Last Updated on 12/02/2023 by Barney
Welcome to the world of growing the elephant garlic plant. Think of elephant garlic as garlic on steroids. Elephant garlic is technically not a true garlic, it is more closely related to leeks rather than regular garlic but don’t let that put you off growing this fun vegetable.
As with smaller garlic varieties, elephant garlic is an easy vegetable to grow and requires minimal care. With this in mind I find this is the perfect vegetable to introduce kids to growing. They will be mightily impressed come harvest time.
With it’s super sized larger bulbs and mild garlic flavour, elephant garlic is perfect when lathered in olive oil, roasting in the oven and spreading on fresh sour dough bread for instance.
The mild garlic flavor is also a great addition to soups and stews.
The type of starter dish restaurants will happily prize your hard earn cash for.
There is an added bonus when growing the elephant garlic plant. The flower stalks , otherwise known as ‘scapes’. Add them them stir fries, soups or simply grill with lemon, olive oil & black pepper.
With the planting season almost upon us (September – November) continue reading for my 5 ridiculously easy steps for growing elephant garlic bulbs.
The 5 Steps to grow elephant garlic
Step 1. Planting location for elephant garlic plants.
To grow Elephant garlic it needs to grow in direct sunlight in full sun . Full sun is a location in the garden or vegetable patch that receives at minimum 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
It will happily grow in a pot if space is limited or the perfect sunny spot on the patio, balcony etc.
Step 2. Buying the Elephant Garlic Bulb.
Elephant garlic is bought as either one large bulb to break into cloves or more often as multiple separate cloves . Remember, each clove will grow into a ginormous elephant bulb.
I always find it difficult to buy in garden centres so I buy mine from on-line suppliers such as Marshalls.
Step 3. Soil preparation for elephant garlic bulbs.
Just like regular garlic, elephant garlic thrives in a well drained soil that is rich in nutrients. A little soil preparation will ensure those bulbs grow to their full potential. If gardening on heavy clay soil consider planting in a raised bed.
Clear existing weeds
Garlic hates competition from weeds so set the cloves off to a good start and clear the planting space of annual and perennial weeds.
Improve the soil structure
Cover the space in approximately 5cm of garden compost, organic matter or well rotted manure and lightly dig in with a garden fork.
If using home made compost I advise a sprinkling of a good organic fertilizer at this stage.
Digging in organic matter will help with soil drainage and provide the nutrients needed for bulb growth.
Step 4. Planting the Elephant Garlic Cloves
Once the boring soil preparation is done it’s time for the fun bit. Planting those abnormally large cloves.
For success plant the individual cloves 3 – 4″ deep and 20 – 30cms apart. I allow 30cm between cloves as I find it allows for good air circulation and you have a better chance of getting those huge bulbs at harvest time
TOP TIP (highlight) Lay your cloves out on the soil in the correct positions before starting to plant. This way you wont mis takingly unearth previously planted cloves.
Plant the elephant garlic clove deeper than you would regular garlic. Use a garden trowel to dig a hole around 3-4″ deep and place the clove with the pointed end facing upwards. Cover the clove with soil and lightly firm.
Give the newly planted cloves good watering to kickstart them into producing roots. Because it’s Autumn this initial watering should be the enough until Spring.
For a really low maintenance crop try adding a layer of straw over the planted cloves. This will reduce the need for weeding and stop the nutrients leaching from the soil in times of heavy rainfall.
Step 5. Elephant garlic care
To grow elephant garlic successfully regular watering and weeding is all that is required.
The ideal growing conditions are when the soil is moist but not soaking wet. Over watering can lead to bulb rot and a failed crop.
Garlic does not like competing for nutrients & water so keep the growing area free from weeds
I find a hand hoe is perfect for getting between the plants, however a hand fork or garden trowel work just as well.
Step 6. Harvesting the flower stalks & elephant garlic bulb.
In late Spring , as with growing regular garlic, elephant garlic plants produce tall flower stalks. Remove these as they soak up the energy that should be going into bulb production.
However these flower stalks often referred to as scapes are delicious and taste great.
Scapes make a gorgeous pesto, pizza topping or simply fried in butter and finished off with a squeeze of lemon.
Harvesting elephant garlic and the flowering stalks is an easy process but one that needs to happen at the right time.
Later in Summer, when the foliage has started to yellow and flop over it is time to harvest garlic.
Use a garden spade to gently prize the mammoth bulbs from the soil. Don’t be tempted to pull them out of the ground by the foliage as this can damage the bulb and root system. After removing from the ground dust off any remaining soil but leave the roots and dying foliage on the bulb.
Once removed from the ground they can be eaten fresh but for a fuller flavor and to ensure a longer storing period it is best to cure the bulbs for 3 – 8 weeks.
Place the bulbs in a dark, cool place with good ventilation ensuring the bulbs are not touching each other. Once cured cut the foliage down to approx 1″ from the bulb and trim the remaining roots away.
Elephant garlic bulbs should last up to 10 months if stored in a cool dark spot.
Common pests / diseases that can affect the elephant garlic plant
Growing garlic is normally problem free but they can be affected by the following:
Pigeons don’t want to eat the freshly planted cloves but they love digging them up. If you have a problem with pigeons I suggest covering your crop with horticultural fleece until the plants are rooted. Once rooted the fleece can be removed.
In Spring and Autumn slugs can damage young plants. There are plenty of organic remedies for deterring slugs including making your own garlic spray. This not only works on the young plants but also spinach, lettuces etc and herbaceous plants.
Being a member of the onion family leek rust can also affect elephant garlic.
Leek rust, a fungal growth , is identified by yellowish brown raised blotches on the foliage. The cause is invariably poor air flow & soil drainage. There isn’t a chemical treatment for this. Remove any affected leaves as soon as they appear. Leek rust will not ruin the garlic unless is completely takes over and kills off the foliage.
The adult female moth lays eggs on the foliage and the resulting larvae (caterpillars) will happily munch away on the plants. Although I have never had a problem with leek moth it is a good idea to cover the young plants with an insect mesh for added peace of mind.
How long does it take for elephant garlic to grow?
Planting in Autumn will produce a large bulb ready for harvesting the following July (depending on the weather)
Should I let my elephant garlic flower?
As beautiful as the flower try not to let them flower. Flowering reduces the energy needed for the bulb to grow.
Let the stalk get to around knee height and remove it from the base of the plant. The stalk is completely edible and delicious .
How do you know when to harvest your garlic?
Harvest elephant garlic when the leaves have yellowed and beginning to fall.
What month is best to plant garlic?
To ensure big bulbs for the following year it is best if you grow garlic from Autumn. Planting the individual elephant garlic cloves in Autumn will give you a late summer harvest the following year . You can plant in Spring but this does not give enough time for the bulbs to separate into multiple cloves.
What Are Some Companion Plants for Garlic?
With its strong odour garlic makes for a wonderful companion plant. The odour puts many pests off coming near so works excellently at deterring slugs, snails and aphids away from crops and plants.
Plant with tomatoes, spinach, cabbage and broccoli for the beneficial effects that garlic gives. Do not however plant with asparagus, peas & beans, sage or parsley as it can lead to stunted growth.
Head here for my full list of companion plants for garlic.
That’s a wrap from me.
Elephant garlic is a great crop to plant if you’re looking for something that will give you a lot of yield for not a lot of work. Follow our guide, and in no time at all you’ll be enjoying elephant garlic bulbs from your own garden! So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get planting. In my opinion, Elephant garlic belongs somewhere in the garden at least once.