Gardentalk – Pick your garlic scapes when they curl

Recently harvested garlic scapes.
Recently harvested garlic scapes. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

It’s a key moment for gardeners who have been patiently waiting since they planted garlic as much as nine months ago. The garlic scapes — the round, bulbous, center stem-like part of the plant — are now curling into loops.

That’s a big sign for gardeners that their garlic bulbs will soon be ready for harvesting, perhaps within a few weeks.

Garlic scape is all curled up in a North Douglas garden.
Garlic scape is all curled up in a North Douglas garden. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Master Gardener Ed Buyarski suggests gardeners snap off the scapes and use them like green onions or make a garlic scape pesto. The garlic plant will then devote the remainder of its energy into the bulb’s growth instead.

Buyarski says he harvests most of the scapes, but leaves just a few remaining in his garlic patch to provide another clue about harvesting the bulbs.

“Timing is important,” he says.

When the scapes fully uncurl and the plant’s lower leaves turn yellow, then that’s the signal to carefully dig into the soil to see if any of the bulbs are big enough to harvest.

It’s also a good idea to check the bulb’s skins to make sure they have not peeled off or gotten moldy.

Hundreds of garlic plants waiting to be harvested.
Hundreds of garlic plants waiting to be harvested. (Photo courtesy of Ed Buyarski)

Buyarski also answered a question from a listener.

Patte writes, “Is there any reason I shouldn’t mulch with tree needles, cones, and other natural materials? We get a lot of it. I layer cardboard first.”

“Certainly. Go for it,” Buyarski says.

Buyarski urges caution because the needles and cones will make the soil more acidic.

That may be ideal for rhododendrons, azaleas, and evergreens.

But not for peonies and lilacs, for example, which prefer sweeter soil. Buyarski says adding lime or wood ash will keep the acidity down.

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