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A Guide to Growing Leeks

Updated on January 18, 2017
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Caren White is a Master Gardener and longtime volunteer at Rutgers Gardens. She also teaches workshops at Home Gardeners School.

Source

Leeks are an ancient vegetable that was enjoyed by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. They are also mentioned in the Bible. Originating in the Mediterranean, they were later spread throughout Europe and Britain by the conquering Romans.

Leeks are in the same family as onions (alliums) but have a milder flavor and do not form bulbs. Rather, the leaves grow tightly together at the base which is usually blanched while growing. Most people use only the white part, but the green leaves, which are tough, can be used for flavoring sauces or as part of a bouquet garni.

Prepare your garden

Leeks prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. They will also do well in the more alkaline soils found in most vegetable gardens. If you are going to grow your leeks in a trench, you will need to dig the trench 4 to 6 inches deep. If you prefer to hill your leeks, make sure that you have soil available throughout the season to cover the plant bases as they grow.

Seeds or starts?

If you are able to find seedlings, you can plant them directly into your garden after the outdoor temperatures consistently stay above 40°F. Most gardeners prefer to grow their leeks from seed, starting them indoors 8 to 12 weeks before their last frost in northern areas or 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in southern growing zones.

Planting your leeks

You can plant the resulting seedlings, 6 inches apart, in your pre-dug trench, just barely covering the roots and then gradually fill in the trench throughout the season as the leeks grow. This will create the white or blanched part of the vegetable that is commonly used in cooking.

If you prefer planting your leeks at ground level, place them 6 inches apart with their roots barely covered with soil. Then throughout the growing season, you can either mound soil around the bases of your plants to blanch them or when your plants are about 8 inches tall, you can lean two boards against them to create a V-shape that will shade and blanche the bases. Some people have successfully used the cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls to blanch their leeks. Simply plant your seedlings and then lower the cardboard tube over the plant, burying it slightly in the soil for support. The leek will grow inside the tube which will block the sun from the base, blanching it.

Cultivation

Leeks do not like to compete against weeds so you will need to keep them well-weeded. Be careful when weeding because leeks have very shallow roots. Make sure your plants get at least 1 inch of water per week. A thick layer of organic mulch will keep the soil moist between waterings. It is recommended that you side-dress your plants with composted manure midway through the growing season.

Harvest

There are two types of leeks. So-called summer leeks are harvested the same year that they are planted. Hardier varieties are left in the ground over the winter and harvested the following spring. Over-wintering leeks are larger and stronger tasting than summer leeks.

Unlike their onion cousins, leek foliage does not die back indicating that they are ready for harvest. Rather, leeks are harvested when their bases are 1” in diameter for summer leeks or 3” in diameter for spring harvested leeks. The plants can be dug up or you can simply grab the leaves, twist and then pull the entire plant from the ground.

© 2014 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks, Audrey! And thank you for reading and commenting.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      I found you through the forums--no wonder google likes your hubs! I do too!!

    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Rebecca, I love learning about vegetables that have been eaten by ancient peoples. When I prepare them, I feel like I am experiencing history. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks, Patsybell! I confess that I don't care for hubs that go on and on and on so I try to keep mine brief, but informative. Thanks for reading, voting and sharing on social media.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I had no idea leeks were so old. Thanks for sharing!

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 3 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      OldRoses, this is short and sweet. Just the way I like Hubs. I brought in a couple of leeks today to season a herb vinegar. I always enjoy your writing. Voted up,U,I, Pin, share and tweet.

    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      You're welcome, Jill. I'm thrilled that someone as knowledgeable as you found it helpful. Thanks for reading, sharing and pinning.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Good information, Caren. Thanks! Shared & pinned.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Tobusiness, I love cooking with leeks so I'm glad that they're so easy to grow. Thanks for reading, voting and sharing.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      I love leak and potato soup, but I've never grown my own leaks. Thank you for this, saving for reference, voting up++and sharing. Great info,