Love adding leeks into your foods? Then why not learn how to grow leeks so you can save the time and money of buying them? Read on to find out how.
It’s part of the onion family, looks like a stallion on the stem and like grass on the top, tastes sweet and has a mild smell – leek is one of the best vegetables you can grow at home.
The list of dishes you can prepare with leek as a seasoning or as the main ingredient is gigantic. But even if you have this list, you won’t be able to use them if you don’t know how to grow leeks. Here, we want to fix that.
Whether you want to test your vegetable-growing skills or have readily-available leeks at home at any moment, you’ll love growing leeks with this guide. Below, we explain everything to know about the process and a bit more – take a look!
When to Grow Leeks?
First and foremost, when should you try to plant leeks in the first place? Well, it depends heavily on the location you’re trying to do so.
Generally, they’re spring plants. Meaning, you need to plant them in spring if you want proper growth until the fall. But you may also plant them early in the summer, and they will still thrive in the right conditions.
Some types of leeks are frost-tolerant. That makes them resistant to the last week of winter. If you want to have leeks by late springs, then this can be an excellent idea.
In short, plant them in the summer or early fall if you live in a warm area. But if you live in a cold environment, then avoid the winter by starting in the spring.
How Much Space Do Leeks Need?
Despite their seemingly thin stem, leeks consume a lot of space. You will need at least 6 inches in diameter for them to thrive. Otherwise, the leeks may not grow properly, getting trumped by a lack of space.
Typically, growing them in large garden beds is the best choice. If you’re developing on containers or raised beds, make sure they have enough space around and sufficient depth (at least 10 inches).
What Soil is Best for Leeks?
We can safely say that leeks grow almost in any soil as long as the overall conditions are ideal. However, it is also safe to say that you can always prepare more effective soil for the plants. This includes fertilized, composted, and well-drained soil.
It is also vital to ensure high organic matter. That’s why simple compost is typically not enough. We recommend adding well-rotted compost, something as putrid as possible, to provide more effective fertilization of the soil.
Because of that, you may want to get the soil to a slightly alkaline state, between 6 and 7 pH. If you can ensure a highly manured soil with this pH level, then you’re more likely to have success with your leeks plants.
Types of Leeks to Grow
Having a better idea of where and how you can plant leeks, let’s dive into the different types of leeks plants you will encounter. Here are some species we recommend:
One of the most common, boasting extended leaves and a slender stem. It is very popular for its rapid-growth capacity. If planted in early spring, it is typically ready for harvest by August and September (about 100 days).
Resistant to frost and winter, the American Flag has large and blue leaves. The stem reaches 2 inches in thickness. It tends to fully mature in 110 to 130 days.
Used mostly for exhibition, this type of leek can also be an excellent addition to the kitchen for its size. Some of the leaves can reach 30 inches in height, and the stem may get up to 3 and a half inches in thickness. It requires about 150 days to fully mature.
One of the most resistant to winter, Atlantic leek can be planted anywhere from early spring to late fall. Generally, it has green-blue leaves that grow about 10 inches. It matures in about 120 to 140 days.
Another fast-growing leek variety, the Early Giant only takes 90 to 100 days to be ready for harvesting. The stem typically reaches 2 and a half inches of thickness. And its taste is excellent among the fast-growing varieties.
Thick and tall, the Hannibal leek can be planted in summer or spring, and it will sprout up to fall when it will be ready for harvest. You can get as little as 90 days of growth from this species.
One of the thinnest and smallest types of leeks, the Jolant grows no thicker than 1 and a half inches and has a mild taste. The advantage comes from the ability to thrive in early fall and as late as winter.
The fastest-to-mature leek is Lancelot. It can be ready for consumption in only 80 days of growth. The leaves grow to 14 inches, and the stems tend to be super-white and mild. It is a heavily adaptable and resistant species.
Another popular type of leek is Tadorna. It is an excellent choice for fall and late summer planting, as it can resist winter. The length and thickness are average while still having a sweet taste. It is ready in 90 to 110 days.
Should I Grow Leeks from Seeds or Scraps?
Along with the type of leeks plants you choose for the job, you must also consider whether you prefer seeds or scraps (bottom part of the stem) for planting. Both options have their ups and downs. Below, we explain more about this:
If you’re starting from seeds, we recommend planting them on pots or trays first. You can also plant them directly on garden beds, but they will require temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive.
For seeds, it is recommended to only plant them at a couple of inches deep. However, the holes should be narrow (1 inch in diameter).
You will need to water several hours a day and keep the soil moist if you’re using seeds. This should be from the time you plant to the moment the first seedlings start to sprout out of the soil (about 12 days).
If you want an easier time, you can always cut the rooted part of a stalk and plant it. This will give faster growth with less care.
To ensure that the cut stalk will grow well, we recommend placing it on a cup with water for a couple of days. Once tiny green leaves start sprouting up, it is ready to be planted.
You will need to get it no more than 3 inches deep. Still, you should proceed to water daily for a few hours. The first seedlings should get out in about 8 days.
How to Grow Leeks in 5 Steps
With a clearer idea of how to grow leeks, it’s time to teach you precisely what to do. You’re going to learn how to get those leeks ready for consumption in just 5 steps. Take a look:
1. Fertilize the Soil
First and foremost, make sure the soil you’re planting the seeds or scraps is adequately fertilized. While leeks grow almost anywhere, properly manured soil is always better.
We recommend adding a lot of nitrogen on top of the soil. Then try to mix it so it won’t overwhelm the seeds and cause problems.
If you’re growing on containers or raised gardens, it’s wise to use a bit less fertilizer and focus more on well-composed soil.
2. Seeding the Leeks
Once you have the garden soil ready, then you can start sowing those seeds. If you’re using rooted stalks, then the process is slightly similar.
First, make sure the place is ideal. Leeks demand sunny areas to grow with several hours of exposure a day.
Then, focus on letting enough space around for the leeks to thrive. This typically means 6 inches apart from other plants.
After planting, you will need to water consistently for 8 to 20 days (depending on the season and type of leek you planted).
3. Transplant the Leeks (Optional)
If you started with seeds on small containers, then at 4 weeks in, it would be the perfect time to transplant them into garden beds or large raised gardens.
The ideal transplanting state is when the seedlings are about 8 inches high. Most stems will be about 0.5 inches in thickness.
Now grab a small trowel and open space of about 2 inches in diameter and 6 inches in depth. Place the seedling inside and then cover the stalk and roots.
You’ve now transplanted the leek into a permanent place. It should now take about 6 more weeks to start maturing.
4. Fertilize & Mulch
Even though leeks don’t require much care, you can always improve the process by adding fertilizer into the soil and some mulch.
We recommend fertilizing and mulching every 7 to 14 days (1 to 2 weeks). This should help maintain moisture, increase nutrients, and protect against diseases.
Don’t forget to keep the moisture going. At this stage, using a soaking hose can be an excellent idea. Just try to keep the soil relatively moist (not wet) all day long.
5. Harvest & Store
After 100 days have passed, most types of leeks will start to mature. Here, you’ll be able to harvest them for direct consumption.
We recommend adding an extra layer of soil on the stem, covering part of the leaves. You should do this about two weeks before reaching a fully-matured state. This should give slightly longer and white stems.
It is essential to know that leeks start to deteriorate in their flowering stage. So, don’t let them flourish if you want to eat them ripe and fresh.
Generally, you should take them out of the soil when the stems are at least 1.5 inches thick. For bigger species, 2 inches should be enough to take them out.
Once you take them out, clean them, and let them dry for a few hours. Then you will be ready to store them in a fresh place (preferably the fridge).
If you want to ensure they last longer without any fridge, you can always cut the leaves until only one or two remain. Then pack some of the soil and sand in a box. Place the leeks inside and then close the box. This should get them an extra 8 weeks of condition.
Tips to Care for Leeks Plants
While we talk about how to keep leeks growing, we haven’t explained how to truly take care of them. Here, we explain how to make sure you get the largest and tastiest leeks:
Keep the Leaves Clean
Because leeks’ leaves tend to be thick and have tons of folds, dirt tends to stick within its layers. It may seem unnecessary, but cleaning the leaves helps prevent diseases and pests, sometimes even trumping growth. This is especially useful in the first 4 weeks of growth.
Maintain High Moisture
Leeks are typically low-maintenance. This happens because they can gather nutrients from the soil as long as it is adequately watered. If you can’t keep the soil moist, then leeks will grow deficiently and weak.
Protect Against Pests
Various types of pests affect leeks. These include slugs and caterpillars (moths) as the most common.
To prevent them, you can always place traps, use mesh to restrict access to the leeks, and use biological controls (pesticides).
Leeks also tend to suffer from diseases like rust. It exposes the plant to rot over time, starting with orange points that eventually create large brown patches on the leaves. Ultimately, the patch starts to grow larger until it covers the entire plant and rots it away.
Preventing rust is all about keeping the plants at the right distance (6 inches apart), water them consistently every day, and keep them growing healthy with fertilizers.
If rust attacks the plant, you can always save it by cutting the affected leaves. Stop the spread across several leeks by separating them from the affected one (if possible) and weeding out the place in between.
Ensure a Proper Environment
Last but not least, keep the environment ideal for leeks. Even though they are winter-hardy and can withstand mild frosts, they often thrive at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the same time, they require constant sun exposure (4 to 6 hours a day). And what’s even more critical, leave them enough space around to sprout without limitations.
All these tips should boost the growth of the plants while preventing common problems. Follow them to the letter for maximized results.
Learning how to grow leeks will give you the chance to enjoy such a tasty and versatile vegetable at any time.
While it is relatively easy to grow, we recommend following our advice and recommendations to the letter. This will help you avoid problems later on and prevent any mistake of omission.
So, are you looking forward to the next leek harvesting season? Don’t hesitate and get there faster by starting to grow your leeks today.