harvesting-garlic-scapes

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Although garlic is usually planted from cloves, hardneck varieties do produce flower stalks called scapes. Left in place, these can produce some seeds or tiny bulbs (bulbils). If you're after the cloves, however, scapes cause a problem. Scapes divert nutrients and water from the garlic bulbs. In most cases, you'll want to harvest those scapes early.

Why to Harvest Scapes

Garlic is an edible flowering bulb that reproduces primarily through bulb division. Anything that checks bulb growth means you will have smaller, fewer and possibly less flavorful cloves. When garlic sends up a scape, the flowering stalk uses nutrients and water that would otherwise be devoted to the cloves. Although you can leave scapes in place, it will affect bulb quantity and quality.

Using the Scapes

Luckily, scapes are edible and can be used in all the ways you would garlic cloves. Scapes can be used fresh, frozen, pickled or dried. They are also quite dramatic in flower arrangements, although if you let them get to the point of actually flowering, you’ll have scapes at the expense of cloves. As for taste, scapes generally have the same flavor as the cloves.

Best Varieties for Scapes

Only hardneck varieties consistently produce scapes, although a few silverskins will develop scapes if stressed by drought or very cold winters. These are good choices among the hardnecks:

  • Purple Stripe hardnecks: Bogatyr, Chesnok Red, Purple Glazer, Brown Tempest.
  • Porcelain hardnecks: Georgia Crystal, German Extra Hardy, Music, Persian Star, Romanian Red.
  • Rocambole hardnecks: German Mountain, German Red, Killarney Red, Pitarelli, Purple Italian, Spanish Roja.

When to Harvest

When you harvest the scapes depends on how you plant to use them. To promote the best clove development, harvest scapes as soon as they develop one full curl. For flower arrangements, let the scapes go, but recognize you won’t get the best cloves from those plants. If you don’t want to use the scapes, cut the flower stalks as soon as they appear.

When Not to Harvest

In addition to cloves, you can use the tiny bulbs called bulbils that scapes eventually produce. Growing bulbils to full size takes several years but it eliminates soil-borne disease. If your plants are losing vigor, bulbils can rejuvenate the strain. For bulbils, don’t harvest the scapes; let them grow to full maturity. Although cloves from those plants are still edible, they won’t be as big.

How to Cut Scapes

Harvesting scapes is a simple matter of cutting the stalks. Use a sharp knife or scissors. Cut the scape as close to the ground as you can. If a garlic plant shows any sign of mold or disease, don’t harvest the scapes; pull the plant and burn it. Check back frequently as the plants will produce scapes over several weeks.