Tips on Growing Leeks, Scallions and Chives
Joe Lamp'l offers planting information to help you get the most out of your garden.
You can start leeks from seedlings or seeds. Planting seedlings can give you a one- to two-month head start in growing time, but many varieties are available only as seed. Seedlings can be planted in the garden after the last frost date, but if you have a short growing season, you can start seeds indoors four to eight weeks earlier. Order seeds and seedlings early to get the best selection.
- All seeds in the onion family are small; leeks are no exception. A seed sorter is a good way to have control over small seeds: you can get as many or few as you need by adjusting the opening. Because the seeds are the same color as the dirt, it would be hard to tell how many you were planting without this helpful device.
- Leek seeds are available in a variety called Tadorna. Put the seeds directly into the ground. This type takes about 100 days to reach full size, but the seeds should sprout within a few days. Tadorna plants get 7" to 8" tall from root to leaf when they're fully mature, but they can be harvested as soon as they're big enough to eat. Normal harvest time for these leeks is October, but they'll hold in the garden for multiple harvests as long as the ground is cool.
- Sheriff is another type of leek seed; winter hardy for colder gardens, it produces 6" to 7" straight white shafts. It will take a little longer than the other leeks, but it's worth the wait. Once the seeds are planted, cover them with a light soil mixture. Imported from Holland, where it's one of the most reliable and attractive of all the leek varieties, it has become one of the most reliable varieties grown in the U. S. as well. Sheriff takes 110 days to mature, but its ability to last through cold weather means you'll harvest leeks all fall and winter. This is a good choice for cooler climates.
It's easy to buy scallions in the supermarket, but you're going to love growing your own. The flavor of homegrown scallions is very fresh and a little sweet. They're just as easy to grow as leeks and need even less room. You can grow scallions in your garden or even along the edge of your flowerbeds -- their bright green color and tall leaves look striking wherever you plant them.
- Scallions are what most people think of when they hear the term "green onion," but they also go by the names spring onions and bunching onions. They're perennials that form bunches, and they multiply each year if they aren't harvested. Like all members of the lily family, scallions need to be thinned and separated every few years to keep them growing and multiplying.
- Scallions are such a great plant because you can pick them as soon as the stalks get pencil sized or just leave them alone to multiply until you need them. You can plant a bunch of seeds in one row if you plan on thinning (and of course eating) them as they grow.
- Guardsman is a white scallion that was developed in England. This variety is ready to harvest in about two months, which is great for anyone who lives in a northern climate and has a short growing season. They get 22" tall with light green, straight stems. Sow the seeds in a row and thin them to 2" or 3" apart as they start to get crowded
- Another type of scallion, Red Beard, grows really fast as well, in about 45 days. The plants get only 10" to 12" tall and, with their purple-tinted stems, look more interesting than plain white scallions. Their mild flavor and tender texture make them great in salads. This type is small and quick and would be perfect for a container garden.
- The final type of scallion is called Evergreen Long White Bunching. These scallions fully mature in 120 days, but if you want to eat the stems sooner, start cutting them after about 60 days for crisp spring greens. These scallions get tall and may even need staking if you live in a windy area.
Chives are another versatile onion. They grow in clumps and are very hardy. They work well in gardens and flowerbed borders because of their spiky leaves and attractive flowers. One way that chives differ from leeks and scallions is that only their leaves are eaten; the roots are left in the ground to grow another crop.
- You can plant common chives in your garden, but they also look great along the edge of a bed. They'll get about a foot tall, although they can reach 18" if they flower and go to seed. The bright green stems are hollow like a straw. These plants will do fine year round in most gardens.
- Another kind of chive may be new to some gardeners: garlic, or Chinese, chives. It grows under the same conditions as common chives but gets a little taller, and the leaves are thicker and solid instead of hollow. The flavor is like a garlic-onion mix. It's a good idea to have both types of chives in the garden for variety.
- Once all your scallion and chive seeds are planted, water them well: a misting attachment on the hose keeps the water from washing away the tiny seeds. You'll need to water as often as once a day until the seedlings get 3" to 4" tall. And keep them moist but not too wet: onion plants are susceptible to rot if they get waterlogged.