Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Making Your Leeks Perennials

20150109-Bonnie Plants
Photo: Bonnie Plants

Normally you should be starting leeks for your vegetable garden fairly soon (in February in most climates, so get those seed orders in!). Leeks can and should be planted out about 3 or 4 weeks before the last frost date, as they do best when they start their season in cool conditions and they are not harmed by frost. And normally, you’d harvest them in the fall, after the first frost, since cold intensifies their taste. Then you’d repeat the same treatment, year after year. But not if you’re a laidback gardener: a good laidback gardener only sows his or her leeks once.

20150109 - The Liberated Kitchen
Photo: The Liberated Kitchen

That’s because the leek is actually a hardy perennial (“winter leeks” are especially hardy selections, tolerating down to USDA zone 2!). So if you don’t harvest yours in the fall, it will still be alive and thriving in the spring and in fact, will actually beautify your vegetable garden with its lovely globes of pale pink to white flowers. Then it divides, forming a clump of plants. The second fall, therefore, you only have to harvest a few stalks from each clump, leaving the others in place for future generations. Over time, you’ll get bigger clumps and bigger harvests.

The first year, I suggest you sow twice as many leeks as you need. That way you harvest half the traditional way, that is to say, in the fall, and leave others alone so that they perennialize and become the source of your future annual harvest.

By the way, when your “colony” is well established, you can also harvest some leeks at snowmelt, which therefore gives you two harvests per year, one in fall, one in earliest spring! You’ll discover that spring leeks are the tastiest, because cold brings out their sugars. Just make sure to harvest them early, for as soon as the flower buds form, the plant becomes tough, in fact almost woody, and loses its taste.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

8 comments on “Making Your Leeks Perennials

  1. Would you recommend a specific variety of leeks for this? Thank you.

  2. Abby McSherry

    how do you harvest the leeks from the clump when it has formed, do you just pull them out from the edge?

  3. Hi! I just cut the bottom (about 1 inch above the root) of six leeks, and put them in small glasses of water. They’re now sprouts from the cut too. Can I just transplant them outdoors in my Minnesota garden? If so. How deep do I plant them? What kind of sun? Do they want any protection in winter? Thanks much, Father Thomas O’Brien
    Frthomasobrien@aol.com

    • You’d probably need to acclimatize them to full sun (the ideal situation), so move the glasses outdoors in the shade for a few days, then into partial sun for a few days. Then, just transplant them to the garden, barely covering the base in soil. Hardiness varies: some are fine in Minnesota (where I live, it’s even colder and those types do fine), but yours may be less hardy leeks, so mulch them well in late fall to protect them.

  4. Can I leave leek stems on the plant for winter?

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