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When people think of container gardens, they tend to spend a lot of time focused on plants like tomatoes, peppers and herbs. While these plants may be the contending favorites, there’s plenty of other great, and more reasonable, crops to garden with! One of my personal favorites that’s highly underused in the container garden are leeks. These large members of the onion family have growth habits well suited for containers, and even if you don’t have time to sprout seeds, leeks can still be grown! In this post, I’ll explain two different ways of how to grow leeks, as well as cover the basics of growing leeks in containers.
Growing Leeks from Seed –
The first option to go with when growing leeks is to do so from seed. This method normally takes a good deal of time, so gardeners should start early to ensure a healthy crop come summer’s end.
- Eight to twelve weeks before the average last frost, begin to sow leek seeds indoors.
- Fill the desired amount of 2-3inch diameter plastic pots with potting soil.
- To each pot, distribute a few seeds atop the soil and then continue to cover with another 1/4″ of fine potting soil.
- Water the seeds in well and place in a warm area. The top of the refrigerator normally works great for this.
- Keeping the soil moist, the leek seedlings should begin to germinate in 5-14 days.
- Once sprouted, thin the seedlings if needed. There should be one leek plant standing in each container.
- Keep the seedlings in a brightly lit windowsill or under fluorescent grow lights that provide at least 8-12 hours of available light daily.
- A month before the last hard frost, start hardening off the leaks. After a week or two of hardening off, the leeks may be transplanted into their final outdoor container.
Growing Leeks from Existing Roots – Whether you’re off to a late start and just don’t have time for seeds, or if you’re like me and just couldn’t get old leek seeds to sprout, growing leeks from existing root stocks is a great alternative way to go. Not only is this method a time saver, it’ll also save you the hassle of having to care for young seedlings indoors.
Two day old replanted leek with
- A month before the last hard frost in your area, plan a trip to a local market to purchase some leeks.
- Look for leeks that have preferably been grown organic and show no signs of pests, disease or discoloration. Look for leeks with a lot of roots already on the plants!
- When you’ve gotten back home from the store, cut off the bottom half inch of the leek including all the roots.
- Proceed to plant these root stocks in their final container.
- They’ll root and begin to grow new growth within the next week.
Container Gardening Leeks – At this point, you’ll either have some young leek seedlings or some roots to plant. Either way, the overall process of growing leeks in containers is fairly straightforward. Although leeks in containers is quite easy, there are a few steps that you’ll want to follow to ensure a healthy and tender crop:
Leeks planted in a 3 gallon
container, spaced five
- When you’re ready to plant outdoors, select a suitable container for leeks to grow in. A container whose depth is around 8-10 inches and volume measures 2-3 gallons fill do fine.
- Fill the container 2/3 of the way full with a premium potting soil. Leeks require a hefty amount of composted organics to maintain growth. The chosen potting soil should also be amended with sand or perlite to achieve proper drainage.
- With the container two thirds full with potting soil, plant the seedlings or leek bottoms so that the root section is just below the soil line. Water in well. For small-medium sized leeks, utilize an all direction planting method ensuring 4-5 inches between plants. If larger leeks are desired, space 6-8 inches apart in all directions.
- Place the newly planted container of leeks somewhere in the garden that receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily. Leeks will need this full sun (6+ hours) to survive.
- Water the leeks so that the soil remains moist, but never waterlogged. I’ve found that watering thoroughly once a week is sufficient for proper leek growth.
- As the season progresses and your leeks get larger, blanching of the stem should be performed. To do this, fill your container with soil or compost as the leeks grow taller. The additional soil will “blanch” the leek stem, turning it from fibrous green growth into tender white shoots. By the end of the summer, the containers will be full with soil.
- As long as you’re using aged compost to blanch the leek stems with, fertilizing is generally not required. If you do feel inclined to do so, a nitrogen heavy compost tea may be applied a few times during the season. Just remember, too much fertilizer can cause leeks to bolt.
Final Word – Growing Leeks Sticking to a regular watering regimen and upholding good blanching practices, you’ll have harvestable leeks in 75-120 days. Thank you for reading this post on how to grow leeks in containers.
How to grow leeks
Leeks prefer a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil. As they will sit in the soil for a long time, they’re an ideal crop for the allotment, although many have fantastic foliage that makes them an ideal vegetable to grow in flower borders or an ornamental potager.
What to do
- Choose a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil.
- If possible, prepare the soil for planting in the winter. Dig the site well, removing weeds and working in plenty of well-rotted manure to improve its ability to retain water.
- Leeks can be planted in heavy soil, but improve the drainage by mixing in some horticultural sand.
- This is a hungry crop – spread a general balanced fertiliser over the soil a week or so before sowing and rake in. A rate of 60g per square metre is ideal.
How to sow
- The easiest method is to sow seed directly into the soil between March and April. Alternatively, you could cheat and buy ready-grown seedlings, many nurseries offer a good range. By careful choice of varieties you could have an ample supply of leeks to harvest from mid-summer until the following spring.
- On the allotment, seeds are best sown in rows, 30cm apart. Mark a straight line and use the corner of a rake to make a shallow groove in the soil, about 1cm deep. Sow seed thinly along the trench, cover with soil, water and label. When seedlings have three leaves each, about four to five weeks later, thin to leave plants every 15cm – the seedlings you remove could be used to plug gaps elsewhere.
- Alternatively, buy ready-grown plants. They will arrive as young seedlings during May and June, ready to plant out straight away. To do this, make a hole with a dibber, 20cm deep, and drop a seedling into each. Using a watering can, fill the hole with water and allow to soak away – this will draw enough soil over the plant to cover the roots and produce wonderful blanched stems as the leek grows.
- Keep plants well watered, especially during dry spells and harvest from summer onwards.
- Bare soil is an open invitation to weeds, so carefully remove any stray seedlings, avoiding the grass-like young leek plants – it’s essential to clearly mark the row so you don’t remove plants by mistake.
- Keep plants well-watered, especially during dry spells – a mulch will help to retain moisture over summer.
- Depending on which variety, your leeks will be ready for picking from summer, although the most useful types are those that can be picked over winter, when there’s little else in the vegetable garden.
- Harvest leeks by lifting carefully with a fork, aiming to avoid damaging neighbouring crops.
Five to try
- ‘Musselburgh’ – winter hardy with white stems. Pick from December to April.
- ‘The Lyon’ – autumn variety with mild-tasting long stems
- ‘Monstruoso de Carentan’ – French heritage leek with short stems from October to January
- ‘Pandora’ – glaucous leaves and long white stems. Crops between September and January
- ‘Autumn Giant 2 Porvite’ – tasty, white stems
Quick Guide to Growing Leeks
- Plant leeks during the cool weather of early spring and fall. They grow well in raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens.
- Space leeks 6 inches apart in an area that gets 6 or more hours of sun daily and has nutrient-rich, well-drained soil.
- Improve native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Leeks aren’t fussy, but they do require moist soil, so check soil moisture often and use a soaker hose if necessary.
- One week after planting, begin regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Harvest leeks at any time once they are large enough to eat.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Plant leeks in a sunny spot in soil that is fertile and well-drained. Leeks thrive in traditional garden beds, raised beds, or even in tall containers, so choose whatever works best for you. Space leeks 6 inches apart when planting.
Leeks need two things to thrive: lots of nitrogen and consistent soil moisture. If possible, add compost to the leek bed the season prior to planting. To improve the soil if you haven’t thought that far ahead, mix in a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs with your native soil. Or, if planting in raised beds or containers, be sure to fill them with the right type of soil for that growing environment, such as Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil for raised bed gardens and Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix for pots.
To produce a succulent white stem, leeks must be blanched — in other words, covered or hidden from the sun. To do this, plant leeks into deep holes. (Deeper planting yields a more drought-resistant plant, too.) Create a narrow trench 6 to 8 inches deep, then tuck seedlings into the trench, adding soil back so it comes up to the base of the first green leaf. Water well.
After planting, mulch the bed with straw or some other organic material to help soil retain moisture. Feed newly planted leeks with a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food. Water leeks as needed until plants are established. After that, plants require an inch of water a week, either through rainfall or irrigation. Inconsistent moisture yields tough stems. Continue fertilizing plants with liquid plant food every week or so during the growing season, following label directions.
As leeks grow, mound the soil from the trench around stems, beginning when stems are 1 inch thick.
Step-by-Step Leek Planting Instructions
The ideal leek size for transplanting is between a pencil lead and a pencil in thickness. We plant at 6″ (15 cm) spacing, four rows to a 48″ (1.2 m) bed. People wanting really huge leeks use wider spacings. We use a special planting technique, in order to develop long white shanks, which are prized more than the equally edible green parts. If you have a crew, divide up and specialize. If not, take it one step at a time.
1. If the soil is dry, water it well, preferably the day before.
2. Make parallel V-shaped furrows, 3″ (8 cm) deep, along the bed.
3. Set out a fiberglass tape measure along one row.
4. Make holes 6″ (15 cm) apart in the furrows. Use the tape measure for one row and then eyeball the other rows to offset the leeks in alternate rows. The best tools for this job are homemade “dibbles” or dibblers made from broken shovel or digging fork handles, with the end sharpened to a point. The tool needs to have a diameter of 1.5–2″ (4–5 cm). The depth of the holes is determined by the height of the transplants, and probably needs to be 3″ (8 cm) or so.
5. If the holes cave in, stop and water the soil more before proceeding.
6. Transfer some leek seedlings from open flats or a nursery seedbed to a small bucket containing an inch or so of water. We make buckets from one-gallon (four-liter) plastic jugs with the top cut off. A rope handle knotted into holes at the top of the new bucket makes it easy to carry.
7. Resist any temptation to trim either the roots or the tops of the leeks.
8. To transplant, take a leek plant, shake it free from its neighbors and decide whether to plant it. Discard the ones thinner than pencil leads. If the plant is a good size and looks healthy, twirl it as you lower it into the hole to prevent the roots folding back on the plant and pointing at the sky — they need to grow downwards. This works best if the roots are still wet and muddy from the water bucket. Bobbing the plant up and down as you settle it in the hole will help a transplant that has slightly bunched roots.
9. If at first you don’t succeed, remove the plant from the hole, dip it back in the water and try again. Soon you will develop this quirky planting skill, and will be able to move along the row at a good pace. Ideally just the tips of the leaves will poke out of the holes, not more. Get the depth of the hole-making adjusted to suit the prevailing plant height. The furrow-and-hole combination creates the depth for growing a long white shank.
10. Surprising as it may sound, it is not necessary or desirable to fill the holes with soil (you don’t want to bury the seedlings). The soil fills in naturally as the plants grow tall enough to survive the depth.
11. Next gently fill each hole with water, either from a low-pressure hose or watering can. The goal is to water the plant roots, adding little or no soil to each hole. The shelter of the hole helps the plant get over the transplant shock, and because leeks have slender tough leaves, they do not lose a lot of water by transpiration. This means that transplanting is possible in quite hot weather.
12. Keep the soil damp for several days after planting,
13. Then give one inch (2.5 cm) of water per week as needed.
14. Like other alliums, leeks do not compete well with weeds, so hoe as needed, at least once a month. Hoeing will help fill the holes.
15. Some people hill up their leeks, but with this method it is not necessary. Our method avoids the problem of soil getting above the point where the leaves fan out from the stem, which makes them very hard to clean later.
Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com, Pam’s blog is on her website and also on facebook.com/SustainableMarketFarming.
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Here’s all the info you need on how to plant leeks so you can harvest big beautiful leeks in the fall.
This post will tell you how to plant leeks with all the details you need plus bonus info like – what are leeks anyway!
What Are Leeks
Leeks are a delicious, mild member of the onion family. Even people who don’t like onions, love leeks! They have a slight bulbous shape at the bottom, grow a long white neck (stalk) and then sport long, tough green leaves. The most tasty and tender part of leeks is the white part from the bulb to the top of the neck. The green leaves, while edible, are considered too tough to eat by many, but if finely chopped they are certainly quite flavorful.
When growing leeks the goal is to grow a long white stalk. To do so, plant your leeks deep and over the course of the growing season, hill soil around the leeks to blanch the stalks as they grow. If you happen to forget or go on long summer holidays, you’ll still get awesome leeks, the white stalk just won’t be as long.
Leeks are a cool climate, hardy vegetable that enjoy as much sunlight as they can get. Our Zone 3 northern prairie garden is ideal for planting early in the spring and harvesting late in the fall (they need about 110-150 growing days). Early in the spring means up to four weeks before the last frost free date or pretty much as soon as the soil is workable. In warmer climates where the ground doesn’t freeze solid, leeks can be harvested well into the winter. In fact, in warmer climates, leeks are often planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.
How and When to Start Leek Seeds
Because leeks need 110-150 days to fully mature – that just about covers our Manitoba growing season, you’ll want to start seeds indoors.
Start leeks indoors
When to Start Seeds Indoors: Early to Mid March (8-10 weeks before first frost free day)
How to Start Seeds: Plant seeds 1/2″ deep in a tray or individual pots
Thinning: Thin seedlings by removing the weakest ones to give larger ones room to grow.
Hardening: About a week before you plant them outside, expose seedlings to the outdoor environment by placing them outside for a few hours every day and extending that time each day.
What I actually do: I scatter seeds in a seed tray or old salad container, cover with soil, water and let them grow as they want. I rarely thin out any leeks, I plant as many as I can fit in the garden. Sometimes I harden them, sometimes I don’t. My haphazard methods have worked quite well and I’m always happy with my leek harvest.
When and How to Plant Leeks in the Garden
When ready to plant outdoors, start with seedlings, not seeds. Plant in full sun in soil that has a lot of compost and drains easily. If you have heavy, clay soil loosen it well and add compost. For heavier soils, the trench method may be best as it loosens more soil.
Separate Roots: Each seedling has to be planted separately. If the root mass doesn’t separate easily, dip it in water to wash away the soil.
Dig Deep: You can either dig a deep trench or make individual holes 6 inches deep. That’s pretty deep for these tiny seedlings, but this helps with getting long white necks and prevents roots from drying out too easily. Also, you’re not going to fill in the trench or holes right away. You will fill them in over the course of the growing season as the plants mature. This will allow the stalks to be blanched – remember our goal is long white necks.
Spacing: Place seedlings 6-8 inches apart to give them plenty of room to grow big and wide. Smaller spacing will lead to skinny leeks. I marked the back of my digging tool with tape to mark the 6 inches so I’d have an easy way to keep track of my spacing.
Tiny Leeks, Deep Planting: A 6 inch hole or trench for a 3 inch seedling looks insane! If you were to fill in the hole or trench with dirt on planting day, you’d bury the seedlings to death. Don’t fill in the hole or trench! Have a look at the photo below. Notice the exposed roots on the right and the covered roots on the left.
On planting day, you want to cover the roots of your seedlings and up to the base of the first leaf. The rest of the hole or trench will get filled in through natural erosion when it rains or when you fill it with a hoe as the leeks grow. When you’re finished planting, your leeks will look a little like this.
Watering: Leeks enjoy consistent soil temp and watering. I’m a slouch when it comes to watering consistently, so planting deep helps a lot.
Weeding: Remove any competition for water and nutrients.
Harvesting: You can harvest leeks here and there throughout the summer right up until the snow flies. I will typically save the big harvest for late fall.
Use a Fork: Remember that the root is 6 inches deep – you’re going to need a digging fork! Unless you have extremely light soil, you won’t be able to simply pull out your leeks. There you have it, all you need to know about how to plant leeks and more! All that’s left is for you to enjoy your big beautiful leeks. Here are two of my favorite leeky things: Leeks start the gardening season for me so they make me very happy! Will you be growing leeks in your garden this year? Do you have any other questions about how to plant leeks? What’s your favorite way of using leeks? Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.
Leeks growing in a garden.
Leeks (Allium porrum or A. ampeloprasum var. porrum), sometimes called “the gourmet’s onion” are related to onions (A. cepa) and garlic (A. sativum), but have flat leaves instead of tubular and relatively little bulb development. They’re easy to grow and delicious, with a taste all their own, very much like a mild onion. The thick leaf bases and slightly developed bulb look like a giant green onion, and are eaten as a cooked vegetable. Leeks are not as popular in the United States as they are in Europe, where they are known as “poor man’s asparagus.
The leek was developed from a wild type, which is native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean countries. Wild leeks were used as food during the early Bronze Age, around 4000 B.C., and were probably domesticated around 2000 B.C. They were part of the diet of those who built the Egyptian pyramids, and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed the leek as a cure for nosebleeds. Leeks have been cultivated in Western Europe since the Middle Ages, and are particularly associated with Wales – dating back to 640 AD when Welsh soldiers wore pieces of leek in their helmets to distinguish themselves from their Saxon foes in battle. The Welsh traditionally wear a leek on St. David’s Day (March 1) to commemorate King Cadawallader’s victory over the Saxons that year. Leeks were brought to North America with early settlers from Europe. Today leeks are grown as an excellent substitute for onions and for its own unique mild onion flavor in soups and other dishes.
Leeks have long, strap-like leaves and many develop a roundish bulb.
This plant is a true perennial, even though it is generally referred to as a biennial. It multiplies by means of small lateral growths and often develops a roundish bulb at the base of the main growth. Leeks develop a broad, succulent stem rather than a large bulb like an onion. The plant has a fanlike sheaf of flat, blue-green or yellow-green leaves that may grow a foot or two in length, on a stalk up to 12 inches long. Types vary in the length and thickness of the leaf shanks (pseudo-stem).
Wild leek, Allium tricoccum
Some plants that are very similar to leeks include elephant (or great-headed) garlic (A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum), kurrat or Egyptian leek (A. kurrat) and wild leek (A. tricoccum). Elephant garlic produces very large bulbs that may weigh a pound or more, and is used as is garlic. The kurrat is grown around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East for its leaves, which can be harvested several times a year. Wild leeks, also called ramps, are native to North America and have a strong garlic-onion flavor.
There are many named varieties of leeks. They vary from long, green narrow-leaf types with long slender white stems to long wide-leaf types with thicker shorter white stems and blue-green leaves. The following list includes only some of the numerous varieties that may be available.
- ‘Varna’ (50 days) is a tall “bunching” type developed for thick direct seeding to produce clumps of slender plants.
- ‘King Richard’ (75 days) is a summer leek with long, slender stems that stay sweet tender and white all season long. It can be sown densely to grow mini-leeks for use as a garnish or for soups or salads. It has some frost resistance, but will not overwinter.
- ‘Columbus’ (80 days) is a medium-sized leek that stays long and tall with very little tendency to bulb. The leaves are a blue-green. It has some winter hardiness, but should be mulched.
- ‘Rival’ (80 days) is a tall summer leek it can grow to 36” with 9” shaft that can have a large, 2” diameter. The leaves are green.
Leeks are common at farmers markets in the fall.
- ‘Dawn Giant’ (98 days) grows up to 15 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, topped with blue-green leaves.
- ‘Jolant’ (100 days) is a medium-sized leek with a 8-9” shaft and blue/green leaves. Hardy, even bulbs. Winter hardy.
- ‘Lancelot’ (105 days) is a short leek with a large, cylindrical shaft. The leaf color is a gray-green. Winter hardy.
- ‘Splendid’ (105 days) is a rapid and vigorous grower, making a good size before fall (important since it is very winter tender). The 7-8 inch medium-green, non-bulbous stalks are easily blanched.
- ‘Albinstar Baby Leek’ (110 days) is a new Dutch variety developed for the baby leek market. Ready to harvest at ½ inch diameter, but can be left in the ground to grow larger. Deep green leaves.
- ‘Otina’ (120 days) is a French variety bred for mild and delicate flavor. Very vigorous and rapid growing, with blue-green leaves.
- ‘Titan‘(120) is an older, but reliable variety.
- ‘Durabel‘ (125 days) is a sturdy, thick winter leek with a mild flavor and tender texture.
- ‘American Flag’ (130 days) has a mild, sweet, onion-like flavor. It is very hardy, and will overwinter in milder climates. The 7-9 inch stems blanch snowy white and topped with blue-green leaves resemble giant scallions.
- ‘Bandit’ (135 days) is a short, sweet leek that can grow very thick with very little bulbing. Leaf color is blue-green. It is very winter hardy.
- ‘Giant Musselburgh’ (150 days) has large, tender, white stalks with mild flavor. It has medium-dark green tops and is extremely hardy. A very dependable performer that has been around for more than 90 years.
- ‘Laura’ (180 days) is a medium length, extremely hardy leek. Upright leaves are dark blue-green.
In the Midwest leeks are best started indoors.
Leeks are a cool-season crop, so are well suited for cultivation in Wisconsin. They do best in full sun in light, well-drained soil. But they are more successful in heavier soils than onions. They are also a rather long-season crop (80-120 days). In short-season Wisconsin it is best to start seeds indoors 4 to 10 weeks before the average date of last frost and transplant the seedlings into the garden. Sow the seeds thinly and evenly 1/4 inch deep in moistened soilless potting mix and cover them lightly with vermiculite or sand. Keep the soil temperature at about 70°F until the seeds germinate. Move the seedlings under grow lights or into a very bright window. Thinning the seedlings will encourage more rapid growth, but it isn’t necessary if you keep them well fertilized. When the grass-like seedlings get to be 6-7 inches long, cut them back to 1½ – 2 inches (you can use the part you cut off as you would chives). Harden off the plants before transplanting into the garden starting in late April or early May (the plants will tolerate light frost). You can also transplant later or sow seed directly outdoors for smaller plants. In the southern part of the state you may be able to successfully overwinter some late-planted varieties in mild winters (I’ve done this unintentionally when I forgot to harvest some small plants before the ground froze), but in most cases even though they are described as “winter hardy” they will not survive our winter.
Planting leeks in the bottom of a trench makes it easy to gradually add soil as they grow to blanch the stems.
In order to grow a large, white leek the lower part of the stem must be blanched. This can be accomplished by hilling the soil up around the stalk as it develops. Alternatively, you can plant into a trench 6-8 inches deep and then gradually fill the trench up as the plant grows. (Or, as I found out, in a rainy year the water will wash the soil down to fill in the trench for you!) In either case, place the young transplants up to the first leaf notch into holes about 6 inches deep (a rake handle is great for making perfect holes). Don’t fill the holes with soil after planting, but just water the plants in and let the hole fill up with soil on its own. Make the holes 6 to 9 inches apart in the home garden. If you plant in a double row, stagger the plants with their leaves growing parallel to the rows so they won’t grow into the pathway. For larger plantings, plant at 4 to 6-inch spacing in rows that are 18 to 24 inches apart to allow soil to be moved from between the rows around the plants for blanching the stems. Because leeks are relatively slow-growing, they can be interplanted with faster maturing crops such as lettuce. But avoid planting beans or other legumes nearby as the leeks can inhibit their growth.
Midseason fertilization is recommended. In mid-summer cut off the top half of the leaves to encourage greater stalk growth.
Onion thrips on onion.
Leeks don’t have many pests, but most insects and diseases that attack onions can also affect leeks. Onion thrips (Thrips tabaci) are quite common, but cause problems mainly under hot, dry conditions. Their feeding produces tiny silvery-white spots on the leaf surface. Onion maggot (Hylemya antiqua) can feed on the plant’s roots, causing wilting and reduced growth. Diseases such as white rot, rust, pink root, purple blotch, downy mildew, botrytis leaf spot, botrytis neck rot, and smudge may occur, but are not common in home gardens.
Leeks can remain in the ground as long as it is not frozen.
Leeks do not go dormant in the fall but continue to grow slowly, so harvest time can be very flexible. Dig leeks any time after they are an inch or more in diameter, but leave them in the ground until you’re ready to use them.
Dig leeks to harvest any time after they are an inch or more in diameter.
You can continue to harvest them through a mild winter and into early spring. Put an extra thick layer of mulch around the plants to delay the freezing of the ground and make it easier to dig them up. In a more typical Wisconsin winter, dig the plants before the ground freezes solid. Strip off the dead outer leaves and trim the roots and leaves after digging.
Leeks are stored commercially for 2 to 3 months at 32°F and high relative humidity ( to prevent wilting).They will keep in your refrigerator for at least a month, but the quality will not be as good as when freshly harvested. The variety and packaging will affect the storage life. And digging the plant up doesn’t stop it’s growth – it will continue to grow (very slowly) for months even under refrigeration, but this growth reduces the quality of the stems.
Cut leeks lengthwise for ease of cleaning.
Generally only the white part of leeks are consumed. To prepare leeks for cooking, trim the roots, cut off the tops just where white is turning to pale green, and remove the toughest outer layer of leaves. Careful cleaning is necessary so you don’t end up with “gritty” leeks since dirt can easily get in between the leaves when the plant is growing.
Place cut leeks under running water to remove dirt and grit.
Cut the leek in half lengthwise and rinse the pieces thoroughly under running water, first holding one end and then the other to wash all the leaf surfaces briefly to get rid of any trapped soil.
Leeks can be poached, steamed or braised whole, or chopped crosswise for use in sauces, vegetable dishes, soups, casseroles and stir-fries. Many leek-based dishes can be found in the cuisines of Britain, northern Europe and the Middle East. Combined with potatoes, they’re the key ingredients in the classic recipe vichyssoise, or leek and potato soup. Here’s one version (there are lots of variations) of this exotic-sounding, but very easy to make (and delicious) soup:
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken stock2 large leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced
4 tbsp butter
½ to 1 cup light cream
fresh chives for garnish
Cook potatoes in chicken stock until tender. Sauté leeks in butter over medium-low heat until soft. Add leeks to potatoes and stock and puree in a blender. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve very hot (but don’t boil) or extremely cold. Garnish with chives.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Leeks are hardy and trouble-free vegetables. Sow them in late winter to mid-spring. In this short video, we’ll show you how to grow leeks every step of the way: from sowing and transplanting to harvesting.
Leeks can be harvested over a long period if you choose the right mix of varieties. Varieties described as early-season leeks will be ready in time for autumn, while mid and late-season leeks can be harvested through the winter and into spring.
Leeks grow best in soil rich in organic matter, in a sunny, open position. Leave enough space between plants for good airflow. Look out for varieties described as ‘rust resistant’, as this fungal disease can cause minor problems from summer onwards.
Start sowing the earliest varieties under cover in late winter. Sow the seeds in pots or trays of potting soil for transplanting outdoors when they’re big enough. Our Garden Planner can recommend personalized times for sowing, planting and harvesting your crops in your location using data from your nearest weather station.
To sow your leek seeds, first sieve potting soil into pots or trays and gently tamp the potting soil down. Sow the seeds about an inch apart in trays or pots, or two seeds per cell in a plug tray. Cover them with a thin layer of more sieved potting soil, and water them. Keep the potting soil moist but not too wet.
Place early sowings on a sunny indoor windowsill or in a greenhouse. You may want to separate the seedlings into individual pots as they get bigger.
Leeks are ready to transplant when they are six to eight inches tall. Acclimatize them to outdoors conditions first (a process called ‘hardening off’) by putting them outside for increasingly longer periods over one to two weeks.
To plant your leeks in the soil, ‘dib’ holes that are about the same height as the stems of the leek seedlings. You can use a purpose-made tool to do this, or use the handle end of a garden hand tool such as a trowel. Make the holes about six inches apart, with a foot between rows. Alternatively, if you’re planting in blocks space them 7 inches apart each way.
Remove the leeks from their pots. If they haven’t already been potted on, you’ll need to carefully tease the roots apart. Place the seedlings into the holes, making sure the roots reach right down to the bottom of the hole. Fill the holes with water and leave to drain. Don’t fill the holes back in with soil – it will fall back in by itself over time, allowing the leek shanks (stems) to swell and helping to blanch them.
To maximize space, grow quick-growing salad leaves in between your newly planted leeks. These will need to be harvested by midsummer, when the leeks will need the space to grow well.
Water your leeks if the weather is very dry. Keep the ground between the leeks weed-free by hand weeding or hoeing once a week.
Growing leeks in holes will provide a short length of white stem, but for longer white stems you can blanch them by excluding light from the stems two to three weeks before harvesting. Simply draw the soil up around the leeks, or tie cardboard tubes around the stems.
Harvesting and Cooking Leeks
Harvest your leeks as soon as they’re big enough for your needs. Lever it out of the soil using a fork, while pulling up on the leaves. Trim the roots and any damaged leaves onto the compost heap and rinse off the soil.
In very cold areas you may wish to dig your leeks up before the ground freezes solid.
Leeks can be added to many recipes, for instance soups, pies and stir-fries. They also make a delicious side dish by sautéing them with cream and shredded cheese.
For best times to sow and harvest and proper plant spacing, use our online Garden Planner. We offer a free 7-day trial here: https://gardenplanner.almanac.com
Leeks are a cool- and cold-season crop.
There are two types of leeks: short-season leeks and long-season leeks. Long-season leeks which have thick, cylindrical stems–and keep long, and short-season leeks that have a thinner stem and don’t keep as well as long-season leeks.
Short-season leeks mature in as few as 70 days. Long-season leeks mature in about 120 to 170 days. Short-season leeks are harvested during the summer. Long-season varieties are harvested late summer through winter.
Leeks are best started indoors in late winter–about 12 weeks before the last frost–and then transplanted to the garden about a week after the last spring frost.
Sowing and Planting Leeks
- Grow leeks from seed or transplants.
- It’s best to start leeks from seed indoors 12 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost; later, set out transplants in spring at least 1 week after the last frost when seedlings are the thickness of a pencil
- In mild-winter regions and where the summers are hot, set out transplants in autumn.
- Sow seed indoors in flats or individual pots; sow seed ⅛ inch (3 mm) deep 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart.
- Set out transplants when seedlings are 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) tall; space plants 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) apart in trenches 5 inches (13 cm) deep or drop seedlings in a hole about 6 inches deep leaving just one or two leaves above the surface.
- Space rows 12 inches apart.
- Start seed in a potting mix then transplant to loose, fertile soil in the garden. Adding aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing will feed the soil and aide moisture retention.
- Seed will germinate in 8 to 16 days at an optimal temperature of 70°F (21°C) or thereabouts.
- Optimum soil temperature to grow leeks is 70°F (21°C).
- Leeks prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8.
- Grow leeks in full sun for best yield.
- Keep the soil evenly moist during growth.
- Keep the planting beds free of weeds to avoid competition for moisture and nutrients.
- Avoid planting leeks where onions or garlic have grown recently.
- Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
- Common pest enemies include thrips and root maggots.
Interplanting: Plant leeks with beets, carrots, celery, garlic onions, and tomatoes.
Container Growing Leeks: Grow leeks in a container at least 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm) deep.
Leek Planting Calendar
- 4-3 weeks before last spring frost: start the seed of long-season varieties indoors for fall and winter harvest.
- 8-6 weeks after the last spring frost: transplant seedlings into the garden for winter harvest.
Leeks require 70 to 170 days to come to harvest and grow best where the temperature ranges from 45° to 85°F.
- ‘American Flag’ (120 days) and ‘Giant Musselburgh’ (150 days) are favorites.
- ‘King Richard’ (75 days) is early maturing.
- ‘Blue Solaise’ is sweet-tasting; ‘Argenta’.
- ‘Unique’, ‘Tardona’ and ‘Nebraska’ are cold hardy.
Botanical Name: Allium porum
Leeks are a member of the Alliaceae also called Lilliaceae family, other members of this family include onions and garlic.
How to Grow Leeks
Troubleshooting Onion Family Crop Problems
How to Grow Leeks
Leeks are a fantastic green and nutritious vegetable to grow for harvests in the winter, when there’s not a huge amount growing in the garden and harvests aren’t at their greatest.
When to sow leeks:
When you sow leeks is dependent on when you would like them ready to harvest:
- Winter harvest: Sow seeds directly in the ground from Mid-March to mid-April.
- Spring harvest: Sow seeds in June for spring harvests the following year.
- Autumn harvest: Sow seeds in early March, as the weather varies in March year to year.
You can also sow under glass in late winter for transplanting in mid-April for an autumn to early winter harvest.
How to sow leeks:
Sow thinly in drills (shallow furrows made with the edge of a hoe) outdoors and thin out gradually until the remaining seedlings are about 5cm apart. If sowing under glass, add two to three seeds to a small pot, and remove the two weaker seedlings once the seedling show around four leaves.
When do leeks germinate?
Leeks typically take between 2-2 ½ weeks to germinate, you’ll notice the leek stems start to appear through the top of the soil.
How to plant leeks?
Young plants should be transplanted into the ground in June. They should be about 20cm in length and about the thickness of a pencil. For their eventual planting hole use a dibber to create a long thin hole 15cm deep.
Drop the young plants in the holes and fill the holes with water. You don’t need to fill the soil with soil as the leeks will swell to fill them.
For plants already grown we recommend you unpack and examine them upon receipt. If they have dried out during transit they will benefit from a gentle watering:
- Plant out as soon as possible when conditions allow in a sunny spot where available.
- Prepare the soil well before planting, incorporate a good quality compost and water well.
- Prepare holes 4-6in (10-15cm) deep with a dibber and set the plants gently with out firming them in.
- Fill the hole with water, this will consolidate the plants sufficiently.
- Ensure the soil bed is well watered throughout the season and weed well.
How to feed leeks:
It pays to prepare the soil well before sowing leeks or adding young plants:
- In the winter add lots of bulky compost or manure to the soil to increase the nutrient levels.
- To top up and really put the young plants in good stead, add a general purpose fertiliser a couple of weeks before sowing or planting.
- To increase the thickness of stems feed regularly until mid-summer.
- If you prefer leek-whites to leek-greens earth soil up gently while they are growing, making sure you don’t get soil in between the leaves.
How to water leeks:
Water seed beds after sowing or containers if growing early crops indoors. When transplanting leeks into their final hole, fill the hole with water as this settles and firms the roots, while they thicken to fill the hole.
Water leeks during dry weather. They are quite self-sufficient when they are not competing for water with surrounding weeds – so keep these to a minimum – or not exposed to long periods of dry weather.
What temperature to grow leeks in:
Leeks appreciate a sunny spot so bear this in mind when sowing or planting.
How to harvest and store leeks:
For early harvests from seeds sown indoors in winter, harvest in autumn lifting leeks from the soil gently. For seeds sown in the main season of spring, harvest throughout winter, and for those summer sowings, you can expect to lift leeks in spring the following year.
Leeks will store for up to a week in the fridge. By sowing over a period though through the spring you can have crops all though winter and into spring the following year.
Best Varieties of Leek:
We recommend the following leek varieties:
Krypton: An early compact leek ready from as early as August and holding well in the ground until March the following year.
Musselburgh: An old established favourite with short, thick stems and a mild flavour.
Pests and Diseases of Leeks
Generally trouble-free other than leek moth.