Gardening Vegetables

Perennialize Your Leeks

Many leeks are very hardy and can be grown as perennials. Source: bonnieplants.com

Normally you should be starting leeks (Allium ampeloprasum, formerly A. porrum) 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 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 truly laidback gardener perennializes their leeks, only sowing them once every decade or so.

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Leeks produced beautiful (and tasty) blooms! Source: TinyHands, kitchenlib.com

Think of leeks as being a bit like rhubarb. You sow them one year, but don’t get full harvest until the third year. You can do this because the leek is actually a hardy perennial (“winter leeks” are especially hardy selections, some tolerating USDA zone 3!). 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 pink to white flowers. (Alternatively, you can eat the flowers and flower stalks if you prefer.) Then it divides, forming a clump of plants. The second fall, therefore, you’ll be able to harvest a stalk or two from each clump, leaving the others in place for future generations. Over time, you’ll get bigger clumps and bigger harvests. By the third year, you’ll really be off to the races!

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Winter leeks. Source: slimjimbuck, picssr.com

The first year, I suggest you sow twice as many leeks as you need. That way you can 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 snow melt too, 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 and loses its taste.

Winter Leeks to Try

Here are a few winter leeks (hardy leeks) you can perennialize. All are hardy to at least zone 4, most to zone 3.

  1. ‘Alaska’
  2.  ‘American Flag’
  3. ‘Autumn Giant’
  4. ‘Bandit’
  5. ‘Belge d’Hiver’
  6. ‘Below Zero’
  7. ‘Blaugrüner Winter’ (‘Bluegreen Winter’)
  8. ‘Bleu de Solaise’ (‘Blue Solase’)
  9. ‘Carentan’
  10. ‘Elephant’
  11. ‘Musselburgh’ (‘Giant Musselburgh’, ‘Large Musselburgh’)
  12. ‘German Winter’
  13. ‘Lancelot’
  14. ‘Lexton’
  15. ‘Neptune’
  16. ‘Northern Lights’
  17. ‘Overwinter’
  18. ‘Poireau de Liege’
  19. ‘Siegfried’
  20. ‘Winter Atlanta’
  21. ‘Winter Giant’
  22. ‘Zermatt’

Not the Same as Multiplier Leeks

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Multiplier leeks are quite different from winter leeks. Source: kokopelli-semences.fr

Do note that perennialized garden leeks are the typical thick-stalked, white-shafted leeks you’re used to growing. However, there is also a so-called multiplier leek or perennial leek, which is actually a sort of ancestral leek, much like a green onion, with a small white bulb at the base and thin shafts. It produces more prolifically, forming dense clumps, and is usually started from a planted bulb, much as you would start garlic from cloves. You harvest the leaves for use as a leek-flavored condiment like you would chives. The multiplier leek tends do go dormant in the summer (at least where summers are hot), but otherwise grows much like a perennialized garden leek.

Watch Out for Leek Moths

Whether you grow your leeks as annual or perennial crop, always be on the lookout for leek moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella), a nondescript little moth whose larvae can so serious damage to leeks. Read about its control in the article A New Insect You’ll Hate.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. 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 is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden 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 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

5 comments on “Perennialize Your Leeks

  1. Wow, I’m definitely giving this a try!

  2. Jean Houle

    Any chance of being able to find a source of Multiplier leek bulbs in Canada.

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