Welcome to the wonderful world of growing leeks! Leeks are a delicious and versatile vegetable in the kitchen and a fun crop to grow in the garden. We love leeks in soups and stir fries and always grow 6-12 in our garden. In this article you will find straightforward information on how to grow leeks in your garden, including plant spacing, soil requirements, and common leek problems.
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Growing Leeks Quick Facts
Here are some Quick Growing Tips about growing leeks:
Quick Fact: Leeks belong to the allium family, closely related to onions and garlic, and they are prized for their mild, sweet flavor. Best Time to Plant: Leeks are typically planted in early spring or late summer for a fall harvest, but you can also sow them in late winter for an early spring crop. Soil pH: Leeks prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Soil Type: Well-draining, loamy soil enriched with organic matter is ideal for leeks. They don't tolerate waterlogged soil. Sunlight: Leeks thrive in full sun but can tolerate partial shade, especially in hot climates. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Leeks require about 1 inch of water per week. Fertilizing: Provide a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer before planting or side-dress with compost during the growing season to supply essential nutrients. Plant Spacing: Plant leeks 6 inches apart in rows, with rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. Common Pests: Watch out for common pests such as aphids, onion maggots, and leek moths. Use row covers and consider companion planting to deter pests. Companion: Leeks grow well alongside carrots, beets, and celery. They help repel carrot flies when planted together. See more about Companion Planting Leeks. Harvest Time: Leeks can be harvested as soon as they reach the desired size, typically 2-3 months after planting. For larger leeks, wait until they're about 1 inch in diameter or more. Harvest in late summer or early fall for a milder flavor.
Selecting the Best leek Variety
Here’s is a list of 7 best leek varieties. You can purchase leeks locally or find seeds online like at Johnny’s Seeds.
‘American Flag’ Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum): ‘American Flag’ leeks are a popular heirloom variety known for their outstanding flavor and reliability. They produce long, thick stalks with blue-green leaves and a mild, sweet flavor. These leeks are cold-hardy and suitable for a wide range of climates.
‘King Richard’ Leeks (Allium porrum): ‘King Richard’ leeks are prized for their early maturity, making them an excellent choice for gardeners who can’t wait to enjoy their leeks. They have slender, elegant stalks with a delicate, mild flavor. ‘King Richard’ leeks are great for early spring harvests.
‘Musselburgh’ Leeks (Allium porrum): ‘Musselburgh’ leeks are a Scottish variety known for their hardiness and resistance to cold weather. They produce thick, white stalks with blue-green leaves and have a robust, earthy flavor. These leeks are perfect for fall and winter harvests.
‘Bleu de Solaise’ Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum): ‘Bleu de Solaise’ leeks are a French heirloom variety with striking blue-green leaves and a milder flavor compared to some other leeks. They are cold-resistant and work well in regions with harsh winters.
‘Giant Musselburgh’ Leeks (Allium porrum): As the name suggests, ‘Giant Musselburgh’ leeks are known for their impressive size. They produce enormous, tender stalks with a mild and sweet taste. These leeks are great for those looking for substantial leeks in their harvest.
‘Lancelot’ Leeks (Allium porrum): ‘Lancelot’ leeks are a high-yielding, fast-growing variety. They develop long, slender stalks with a mild flavor. These leeks are great for gardeners looking to harvest leeks in a shorter timeframe.
‘Autumn Giant’ Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum): ‘Autumn Giant’ leeks are well-suited for late-season harvesting. They have thick, white stalks and dark green leaves, offering a robust, onion-like flavor. These leeks are excellent for soups and stews in the colder months.
These leek varieties provide a range of options for gardeners, whether you’re looking for early harvests, cold resistance, or unique flavor profiles. Choose the one that best suits your climate and culinary preferences for a successful leek-growing experience.
How to Grow Leeks
Click on the image below for a free leek growing PDF printable.
When to Plant Leeks
Plant leeks in early spring, typically from late March to early April, or in late summer around August. These cooler times of the year are ideal for leek cultivation as they allow for a longer growing season before the onset of winter. Starting them in late winter indoors for later transplanting can also ensure a head start on the growing season, particularly in regions with harsh winters.
How to Plant Leeks
To plant leeks, start by preparing a well-drained, loamy soil enriched with organic matter. Create shallow trenches about 1/2 inch deep and 6-12 inches apart. Place leek seeds or seedlings at the bottom of the trench, ensuring they’re spaced about 6 inches apart. Fill the trench with soil, covering the leek roots and leaving the tops exposed.
Water them thoroughly, and maintain consistent moisture throughout the growing season. As leeks grow, mound soil around the base to blanch the lower stem and encourage longer, tender stalks. Regularly weed, and consider using mulch to keep the soil moist and free of weeds.
Leek Care and Maintenance
Leeks are relatively low-maintenance crops, making them a great addition to your garden. To ensure their well-being, maintain consistent soil moisture, providing about 1 inch of water per week, and watch for signs of drought stress.
Mulching around the leeks can help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Regularly weed the area to minimize competition and promote healthy growth. Leeks are generally not heavy feeders, but a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer can be applied during the growing season to support their development.
Blanching, the process of mounding soil around the base of the plants, can be practiced to encourage longer, tender stalks and a milder flavor. Additionally, be on the lookout for common leek pests like aphids and onion maggots, and consider companion planting to deter these unwelcome visitors.
Harvesting and Storing Leeks
Leeks are typically ready for harvest when they reach about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, which usually occurs 90 to 120 days after planting. To harvest, gently loosen the soil around the leek and pull it out, roots and all. Be mindful not to damage the neighboring plants.
Once harvested, leeks are best used fresh, but they can also be stored for several weeks. To store, trim the roots and the dark green tops, leaving only the white and light green parts. Leeks can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. For longer storage, consider freezing or drying them.
To freeze, slice the leeks into rings, blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container in the freezer. Alternatively, you can dry leeks by slicing them thinly and dehydrating them until they are crispy.
I like to harvest them throughout the fall as we use them and leave the rest in the ground instead of harvesting them all at once.
Best Tips for Growing Leeks
- Start with the right timing: Plant leeks in early spring or late summer for optimal growth.
- Prepare well-draining, loamy soil enriched with organic matter to ensure leeks have a healthy root system.
- Create shallow trenches and space leek seeds or seedlings about 6 inches apart in rows 12-18 inches apart.
- Water consistently to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, providing approximately 1 inch of water per week.
- Use mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds around leeks.
- Consider applying a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer during the growing season to support their development.
- Practice blanching by mounding soil around the base of the leeks to encourage longer, tender stalks and a milder flavor.
- Be vigilant for common pests like aphids and onion maggots, and employ companion planting to deter them.
- Harvest leeks when they reach 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, usually 90-120 days after planting.
- Store harvested leeks in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze and dry them for longer-term storage.
Common Leek Problems and Solutions
Pest Infestations (Aphids, Onion Maggots, and Leek Moths): Aphids can be controlled by spraying with a strong jet of water or using insecticidal soap. For onion maggots, apply row covers and practice crop rotation to reduce their presence. Leek moths can be deterred through proper garden hygiene and using pheromone traps.
Soil Compaction: Leeks may struggle in compacted soil. Solution: Prior to planting, improve soil aeration by working in organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to enhance drainage and root development.
Overwatering or Poor Drainage: Too much moisture can lead to rot and fungal diseases. Solution: Ensure well-drained soil and maintain consistent moisture, watering when the top inch of soil dries out. Adjust watering practices to prevent waterlogged conditions.
Bolting (Early Flowering): Bolting occurs due to high temperatures or other stressors. Solution: Plant leeks during the recommended cool seasons and protect them from extreme heat by providing shade. Harvest promptly when they reach maturity to prevent flowering.
Fungal Diseases (Downy Mildew and Powdery Mildew): Fungal diseases can affect leeks. Solution: Use disease-resistant leek varieties, ensure proper spacing for improved air circulation, and apply organic fungicides when necessary. Remove and dispose of infected plant material to prevent the spread of disease. Crop rotation can also help reduce the risk of fungal issues in subsequent plantings.
Cracking: Cracking in leek roots can occur due to uneven or excessive watering. Solution: Maintain consistent soil moisture levels by watering when the top inch of soil dries out. Proper garden drainage can help prevent waterlogged soil and reduce the risk of cracking.