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Garlic Plant Bulbils: Tips For Growing Garlic From Bulbils

Garlic Plant Bulbils: Tips For Growing Garlic From Bulbils


By: Amy Grant

Garlic propagation is often associated with the planting of garlic cloves, also referred to as vegetative reproduction or cloning. Another method for commercial propagation is on the rise too — growing garlic from bulbils. The question is can you, the home gardener, grow garlic from bulbils?

Can You Grow Garlic Bulbils?

First off, you may be wondering what a “bulbil” is. Bulbils are tiny, undivided bulbs produced in the scape of hardneck garlic. The scape looks like a garlic flower; however, the reproductive parts are for show only, there is no cross pollination. Essentially, the bulbils are clones of the mother plant that can be planted to produce a replica of this parent.

There may be less than 10 garlic plant bulbils or 150, depending upon the variety. Bulbil size ranges as well, from that of a grain of rice to the size of a chickpea. So the answer is yes, you can easily grow garlic from bulbils.

There is an advantage to planting garlic bulbils over cloves. Propagating from garlic plant bulbils can revitalize garlic strains, thwart the transmission of soil-borne diseases and is economical as well. Now I’m betting you want to know how to grow garlic from bulbils, but first you need to harvest them.

Harvesting Garlic Plant Bulbils

Harvest the bulbils when mature or when the cluster has expanded and split open the sheath surrounding it. You may cut this from the plant, or hang and dry the entire plant. Drying takes a significant amount of time, so be sure to hang the scape or plant in a dry area lest they mildew.

When the bulbils are easily removed by lightly rubbing, you are ready to separate them from the clusters, remove the chaff and dry further in a shallow pan in an aerated area with no direct sun. They can then be stored at room temp or cooler for six to seven months in an unsealed container. Do not refrigerate.

How to Grow Garlic from Bulbils

Garlic likes rich, well-drained soil amended with a good dose of compost and a soil pH of 6 to 8. Rocky or heavy clay soil will produce misshapen bulbs. Sow bulbils in a raised bed ½ to 1 inch (1.3-2.5 cm.) deep, depending upon their size, and about 6 inches (15 cm.) apart. The depth difference when planting garlic bulbils accounts for their size; tiny bulbils should be sown at a shallower depth. Space the rows 6 inches apart. Cover the bulbils with dirt and water in well.

Keep the area weed free. The tiny bulbils take about three years to produce a good sized cloven bulb while the larger bulbils will produce small cloven bulbs in the first year. In the second year, harvest the bulbils and cure like garlic and then replant the “round” that fall. By the third year, the growing garlic from bulbils should be of that of a normal sized bulb.

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Planting Garlic Bulbils - How To Grow Garlic From Bulbils - garden

The usual method for growing garlic is to break each bulb (the part that grows under the ground) into cloves, and to replant the cloves separately in autumn. Each clove grows into a whole new bulb, which is harvested in mid-summer. Normally, growers remove the scapes (the flower stems) in early summer, to allow bulbs to grow larger. That makes sense, and it really makes a difference. If you leave the scape intact, the plant divides its energy between scape and bulb growth, so the bulb ends up smaller.

However, if you let the scape grow and mature, at about the same time that you harvest the underground bulb you can also harvest tiny teardrop-shaped "bulbils" from the top of the scape. Each bulbil is like a tiny garlic clove, and it will grow if you plant it. After one season, most bulbils grow into a small round bulb that isn't divided into cloves, sort of like a crocus or tulip bulb. These "rounds" can be peeled and eaten, but if they're planted for a second year they usually grow into a regular garlic bulb, with the usual cloves.

Bulbil-grown garlic is genetically identical to its parent plant, because bulbils aren't true seeds. Just like the cloves in the underground bulb, they're divisions of the parent plant so the garlic that you harvest two years later is cloned from the original. That means you can grow different varieties right next to each other with no crossing, because there's no pollen involved in this propagation.

Why grow bulbils?

Two years might seem like a long time, but the main advantage of bulbil-grown garlic is that properly harvested scapes don't carry soil-borne plant diseases that infect the underground bulbs. Growing garlic from bulbils can reduce the transmission of diseases and pests that can be carried on cloves, or on soil. Once the initial two-year wait is over, as long as you continue to plant in soil that hasn't been exposed to garlic diseases or pests, you can just plant the cloves every year as usual, harvesting great garlic every year.

Many growers have found that bulbil-grown garlic is larger and more vigorous than conventional clove-grown garlic. The reason could be that it suffers less from disease pathogens that inhibit the plants' growth. The same effect is well known with potatoes, another clonally propagated crop. When potatoes are grown year after year in soil that contains disease organisms, the diseases build up in the potatoes themselves, and the yield declines. But if certified disease-free potatoes are planted, they grow large and beautiful. The same thing undoubtedly happens with garlic, but there's no such thing as certified disease free planting stock for garlic. Bulbils might be a way to create your own!

Another reason to grow from bulbils is that some garlic varieties produce many more of them than cloves. For some typical varieties, an average scape can produce over 50 bulbils, whereas an average bulb has only 4 to 6 cloves. Even though it takes two full seasons to go from bulbil to mature garlic, you can multiply some varieties much faster with bulbils.

How to plant bulbils

Plant bulbils in the fall and harvest in mid-summer, just like cloves. Remember though that bulbils are very small, so their green sprouts will also be very small, like individual blades of grass. It's very easy to lose them in weeds, so we suggest planting them in containers for the first year. Deep containers are best to allow good root growth, and since you uproot the "rounds" after the first season, bulbils can be grouped in a container together.

Plant at least 10 bulbils of each variety in a plastic pot at least 6 inches deep (10-12 inches is better). They should be planted just one inch deep, and 1-2 inches apart from each other in the container. A plastic pot 6 inches in diameter should give plenty of room for 10 bulbils evenly spaced.

Sink the container into a hole in the ground outdoors, so the rim of the pot is just above ground level, and mulch with straw or leaves. This will prevent the bulbils from freezing and thawing excessively. In spring, remove the mulch to allow the tiny sprouts to grow. Make sure they're consistently watered and prevent weeds from growing in the containers. At about the same time that regular clove-planted garlic is ready to harvest, you can dig up your bulbils, which should have grown into "rounds" of about 1/2 inch to an inch in size. Plant these in good disease-free garlic beds in the fall, just like cloves, and they should grow into full divided bulbs by the second summer harvest.

Bob Wildfong is the Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada.


Going to Seed with Dan Brisebois

Growing Garlic From Bulbils

We currently grow about 16000 garlic bulbs. Roughly 1/3 were initially started from bulbil on our farm. We propagate by bulbil in part to keep costs down but also to avoid importing disease from other farms when we buy in new garlic varieties.

Garlic bulbils are the small bulbs that develop in the garlic scape if you leave the scape on the plant. These are not seeds, they are genetically identical to the mother plant.

Let’s take a year by year look at one garlic variety that we bought in 2006 and have since bulked up to be one of our main cultivars using bulbils.

( You can also read about planting garlic bulbils in more detail in this GTS post.)

  • Bought Siberian Marbled Purple Stripe garlic from another grower.
  • October: Planted bulbs in trial garden to avoid introducing unknown disease into main crop.
  • June: Left garlic scapes on plants
  • Early August: Harvested bulbs then ate them. Kept scapes with bulbils.
  • October: Planted bulbils.
  • Early July: Harvested 16 garlic rounds. Garlic rounds are bulbs that only contain 1 round clove.
  • October: Planted 16 garlic rounds.
  • Mid July: Harvested 16 small bulbs with 2-4 cloves each.
  • Most bulbs are 1.5″ to 1.75″ in diameter. The largest is 2″ wide.
  • October: Plant all garlic cloves.
  • Mid July: Harvested 47 bulbs with 3-5 cloves each.
  • Most bulbs are 1.75″ to 2″ in diameter. The largest is 2.25″ wide.
  • October: Planted all garlic cloves.
  • Early August: Harvested 178 bulbs with 4-6 cloves each.
  • Most bulbs are 2″ to 2.25″ in diameter. 1 bulb is 2.75″ wide.
  • We ate/sold half the bulbs (the smallest bulbs) and kept the largest bulbs for seed.
  • October: Planted garlic cloves from the largest bulbs.
  • Early August: Harvested 520 bulbs.
  • 3/4 of bulbs are from 2″ to 2.75″ in diameter. 39 bulbs are 2.75″ wide.
  • We ate/sold half the bulbs (the smallest bulbs) and kept the largest bulbs for seed.
  • Early August: Harvested about 1200 bulbs.
  • Over 95% of the bulbs are from 2″ to 2.75″ in diameter. Many 2.75″ wide.
  • We plan on keeping the largest bulbs for seed and planting about 2000 cloves in the fall.

In Conclusion

I planted Siberian bulbils in 2007. It took 3 years (2010) to get a fair number of bulbs of moderate size. By year 4 (2011), we started selling bulbs. By year 5 (2012), we achieved bulb sizes comparable to our Rocambole and Porcelain garlic. And in year 6 (2013), this garlic is now one of our main varieties!

Growing garlic from bulbil let’s you bulk up your garlic stock and it also gives you some time to evaluate that garlic!


Can You Grow Garlic From Bulbils?

Garlic scape with bulbils. Source: Stefan.lefnaer, Wikimedia Commons

Reader Louisette Gilbert wrote to ask whether she can sow garlic from bulbils, the little aerial bulbs found at the top of the scapes (stems) of hardneck garlic. The fast answer is yes, you can, but if you want to grow harvestable garlic cloves anything close to the size of regular cloves, you’ll have to be very patient: it will take at least two years!

On the other hand, some garlic varieties produce a hundred or more bulbils per scape per season, so eventually you’ll have a huge harvest.

Also, bulbils are free of the soil-borne diseases that can come to plague garlic grown from cloves over the years. For that to be true, though, you should plant them in a different bed than your clove-grown garlic. Bulbil-grown garlic, being disease-free, tends to be more vigorous than garlic grown from cloves and may eventually produce somewhat larger cloves.

Produced By Accident

Most gardeners cut back garlic scapes when they begin to twist, as in the photo above, in which case no bulbils will have time to form. Source: Leo Michels, Wikimedia Commons

Most gardeners end up with bulbils by accident or by ignorance. Theoretically, you’re supposed to cut back the scape (stalk) when it starts to form a spiral so the plant “can put all its energy into producing larger cloves.” Plus the harvested scapes are delicious: a real delicacy … and your first harvest!

It’s when you didn’t know you were supposed to remove the scapes that you end up with flower heads bearing bulbils towards the middle or end of summer.

Bulbils Aren’t Seeds

Garlic flower head: note the purplish bulbils, with their characteristic teardrop shape, and, towards the bottom right, some immature flowers that will never produce seed. Source: Hedwig Storch, Wikimedia Commons

Many gardeners assume bulbils are seeds. After all, they appear on top of a flower stem! But in reality, garlic plants almost never produce seed: their flowers usually abort before they reach maturity and certainly before they are pollinated. Instead, tiny bulbs (bulbils) appear among the flower buds and take over the space.

Bulbils aren’t seeds, because they aren’t issued from cross-pollination (nor any pollination). They are, in fact, clones of the mother plant.

Sow Once, Twice… Thrice?

Depending on the garlic variety and your growing conditions, it’s going to take 2 to 3 years, maybe even more, to grow full-size garlic cloves from bulbils.

Some garlic varieties produce only a few bulbils per scape, maybe 4 to 10. They’ll be bigger and will mature more quickly than the tiny rice-sized bulbils of varieties that produce 100+ bulbils per scape.

Harvest and Sow

Ideally, you’d leave the scape on the plant until it’s completely dry, that is, about when normally you harvest your garlic, but if you harvested them earlier and the bulbils seem viable, they probably are. Plants you’ve let “go to seed” will usually produce smaller cloves, but they’ll still be usable.

Freshly harvested garlic bulbils. Source: omeyeio.wordpress.com

Harvest the bulbils by breaking them free of the scape, then store them in a dry, well-aerated, shady spot until planting time (September or October in most areas). Plant them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep and the same distance apart in good, well-drained soil in a sunny spot. Some gardeners just dig a wide trench 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep and toss handfuls of bulbils in any which way. That works too as long as you thin the plants come summer.

I highly recommend mulching with straw, as not only does it help protect against the cold of winter, it keeps weeds down the following summer … and young garlic plants are easily smothered by weeds.

Some gardeners prefer to store bulbils indoors over the winter and sow them in spring. That works too!

These are fairly large size bulbils that may well mature in the second season. Source: Stefan.lefnaer, Wikimedia Commons

In summer, you can actually thin and eat any excess garlic plants (they’ll look like skimpy chives) if you’ve grown them densely, using them as you would green onions. They’ll have a perfectly delicious mild garlic flavor. Just leave plants spaced about 1 inch (2.5 cm) or so apart to grow on.

Keep the bed well weeded. Water only in periods of extreme drought (garlic prefers to be grown on the dry side).

In late summer, as the leaves start to die back (that is, at the same time you would normally harvest garlic), dig up the plants. They’ll have formed “rounds” (small single bulbs that haven’t yet split into cloves), hopefully much larger than the original bulbils. Let them dry out in a shady spot, then plant them out, again at garlic planting time in September or October. This time, if they’ve increased notably in size, plant them deeper (2 inches/2.5 cm) and give them more space to grow (about 4 inches/10 cm).

In their second summer, the plants will be much bigger and many will try to form a scape. Make sure you cut it off to increase the size of the cloves. Weed as usual during the summer.

Congratulations! Two years after you started, you now have fully mature garlic! Source: Tony Austin, Flickr

When harvest season comes along late that summer, you may have full-sized cloves to harvest and thus you’ll have reached your goal of producing garlic from bulbils. Congratulations! However, sometimes they’ll still be small and you’ll have to plant them out yet again and hope they reach their full size the following year. It can occasionally take up to four years before you have a true harvest.

Softneck Garlic

The information above concerns hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscordum), the kind grown in cool climates.

If softneck garlic produces bulbils (and it does so very rarely), they will appear on the pseudostem. Source: australiangarlic.net

In mild climates, softneck garlic (A. sativum sativum), the kind you can braid, is the preferred type, but it doesn’t produce a true scape like hardback garlic, rather leaves rolled into a false stem (pseudostem), nor does it bloom, and therefore, normally it produces no bulbils. However, it will occasionally produce a few bulbils along its pseudostem, especially when the plants are stressed, and if so, they can be harvested and grown on as above.

Garlic from bulbils: a bit slow, but often very rewarding!


Garlic Bulbils

Got Garlic Bulbils? You may be able to plant them!

When garlic scapes are left on the garlic plant, they will mature into garlic bulbils. Garlic bulbils are what most people will call garlic flowers, though they are not flowers at all. The garlic scapes will form into garlic bulbils if they are not cut off the plant. You can grow garlic bulbs from garlic bulbils, it just may take up to three years for decent bulb size to develop. Some garlic varieties are easier to grow garlic from bulbils than others. Listed here are the Garlic Groups and the growing habits of their individual garlic bulbils.

The best choice for growing garlic from garlic bulbils are the Asiatics and the Rocamboles. The next best choice will be the Purple Stripe Group: Purple Stripes, Glazed Purple Stripes and Marbled Purple Stripes. (see below)

The Asiatic group: Japanese, Korean Mountain and Pyong Vang (AKA Pyongyang).

If you are interested in growing garlic from bulbils, the Asiatics are a great choice. Some strains of Asiatics will only express 3 to 4 bulbils. They are very large, about the size of a blueberry. You can plant these in the fall for garlic greens, or mini bulbs in the spring.

The Rocambole group: German Red, Russian Red, Slovenian and Spanish Roja.

If you are interested in growing garlic from bulbils, the Rocamboles are another great choice. You can plant these in the fall for garlic scallions, or mini bulbs in the spring.

The Purple Stripe group: Belarus, Chesnok Red, Persian Star (AKA Samarkand) and Shatili.

For growing garlic from bulbils, Purple Stripe bulbils are smaller than the Asiatics and Rocamboles, but can be planted to produce garlic bulbs.

The Glazed Purple Stripe Group: Purple Glazer and Vekak (AKA Velek).
The Glazed Purple Stripe bulbils are also smaller than the Asiatics and Rocamboles, but can be planted to produce garlic bulbs.

The Marbled Purple Stripe group: Bogytar, Brown Tempest, Kahbar, Metechi and Siberian.
The Marbled Purple Stripe bulbils are also smaller than the Asiatics and Rocamboles, but can be planted to produce garlic bulbs. Scapes must be removed for greater bulb size.

The Porcelain group: Georgia Crystal, Georgia Fire, Leningrad, Music, Premium Northern White, Romanian Red and Zemo. Bulbils of the Porcelain group are not recommended for planting. There can be hundreds of minuscule bulbils that can take up to three years before producing reasonable sized bulbs. Even though the bulbils are so little, the scapes should still be removed for optimum bulb development.

The Creole group: Ajo Rojo, Burgundy and Keeper. A weakly bolting garlic, not recommended choice for planting the garlic bulbils. The Creole group have a tendency to bolt.


How to Plant Garlic Bulbils

The weather can get seriously nasty in November, but if you have a few garlic cloves left, you can still stick them in the ground.

I laugh as I read that sentence, which I wrote after I got the main garlic crop in the ground and also – and this is key – an experimental crop of bulbils, those tiny seed-like things in the mature scapes. I then “blithely” skipped town and headed for a week in a warmer climate. In my absence, the Olympic Peninsula got hammered with about a foot of heavy snow – which I have not yet come home to witness. In fact, I’m not sure I can even make it home – and based on reports, I’m not sure I even want to!

But seriously, folks – saving those scapes and planting the little bulbils just may have saved my you-know-what. (CROP is what I mean, of course.)

Yeah, I know – most people don’t allow the scapes to mature. Common wisdom says to cut off the scape in June when it snakes its gangly neck toward the sun, which forces the plant to send its full energy downward, resulting in gargantuan (one would hope!) bulbs.

Traditionally, I, too, being the manipulative person I am, have followed this advice. But I just had this gut feeling last May that everything was not going as well below ground as it was above. We had more rain October through December than we usually get all year, and where we usually get an average of 17” per year, by the end April, we were approaching 2 feet. All winter and spring, steady winds roared in off the coast, gusts frequently topping 40 mph. Our average maximum temperature, even during the “heat” of summer, never hit 70 degrees. I had placed a relatively heavy mulch of old hay over the crop, which I thought was helping to filter the rain and protect the plants, but I knew it could go both ways – it might just be holding in the cold and wet.

And so, when it came time to cut the scapes, I thought maybe I should let the plant do its own thing – be the plant it was designed to be. I confess, I cut a few simply because they are so irresistibly good, but I showed remarkable self-restraint and let the rest grow. If all else fails, I reasoned, I can at least start over with the scapes.

It proved to be a good tactic, as I lost nearly 75% of my bulbs to mold and neck rot.

The best hardneck survivors of rain, wind, and outright neglect:

  • Porcelain: German Extra Hardy and Romanian Red
  • Purple Stripe: Russian Giant and Siberian

(Lesson learned: I should have pulled back the mulch much earlier than I did – or not used it at all.)

How do you plant bulbils from scapes?

Heck if I know. You think I’m some kind of expert just because I blog about it? Beware of people like me on the Blogosphere! I’ve never done it before. But I know it can be done. Or so I hear. Course, you have to pay attention to your plants for at least 3 years to get them up to size (again, according to Internet wisdom) – but if you consider how many little bulbils you can get off one scape, and how much it costs if you buy disease-free organic seed stock at somewhere between $14 and $20/lb or more, it would seem to be an excellent way to size up your crop if that’s the way you want to go. And as a caveat – I HAVE successfully planted the little nuggets that grow off the sides of Elephant garlic bulbs – but that’s not the same thing. Besides, Elephant garlic is not really a garlic, but a leek.

So here is what I did:

Where to put them was a major consideration. I knew I couldn’t plant the tiny bulbils in my regular garden because they would probably look like blades of grass and would be difficult to weed out. I needed someplace relatively protected, because they are likely to be fragile this first year. Planting them inside was not an option for me, and besides, they probably need a period of cold like their larger cousins.

Next problem: What to plant them in. I did not have enough pots for the number of bulbils I wanted to plant, but I did happen to have some large plastic bins that I had previously used for my red wiggler worms. I cut them in half around the perimeter (a 2-foot depth of soil seemed like overkill, and I could use the top rims to use as border control around invasive plants). I drilled holes in the bottom for drainage and filled the bins with decent potting soil that was reasonably weed-free. The bulbil seeds vary from the size of a spinach seed to a large pea – so I pressed them into the soil accordingly and covered them with more top soil. I covered the bins with a scrap of fence wire mesh to keep the cat out – and we shall see.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Stay tuned!


By Paul Pospisil

Growing garlic from bulbils, the small round bulbs found in the scapes or stems of garlic, is generating new interest. The practice was brought to Canada by European immigrants, according to anecdotal evidence. By planting bulbils, growers can rejuvenate garlic strains and have a back-up source of garlic in case the bulbs die or become infected with disease.

Some growers use bulbils to develop a supply of planting stock at very low cost and to avoid the transmission of soilborne diseases. Usually, garlic is reproduced vegetatively by planting cloves from the underground bulb. Vegetative reproduction is sometimes referred to as cloning. The cloves are planted, generally in the fall, and each clove produces a bulb the following summer. Garlic also reproduces from bulbils produced in the scape (topset) of hardneck garlic or along the false stem of softneck. Bulbils are tiny, undivided bulbs that can be used as seed. Garlic does not have fertile flowers so it does not produce a true seed.

Garlic 101:

Bulb (head): the underground, rounded organ of vegetative reproduction in plants, such as the tulip, onion and garlic, containing the stored food for the reproductive shoot inside. The garlic bulb is divided into segments called cloves.

Bulbil: a small, round secondary clove, which can be smaller than a grain of rice or as large as a chickpea, produced in the scape of hardneck garlic or along the false stem of softneck.
Clove: a segment of a bulb of garlic. In standard garlic cultivation, cloves are separated and planted individually.
Head: another name for a garlic bulb.
Round: small undivided bulbs that often result from planted bulbils.
Scape:
a flowerstalk that emerges from hardneck garlic. Unless the grower is saving bulbils, scapes are usually removed and either eaten or composted.

Bulbil capsule of the Purple Stripe Czech Broadleaf garlic.

Successive replanting of the progeny from the bulbils produces a strain superior to that produced from the cloves of the original mother plant.

Bulbils vary in size and appearance. In Porcelain garlic, for example, there may be up to 150 tiny, grain-size bulbils in a single capsule. On the other hand, Rocamboles may have only four bulbils, each the size of the fingernail on your little finger. The length of time to grow a full-size bulb varies considerably between varietal groups (see pg. 13).

Ted Maczka, the Fish Lake Garlic Man, showed that successive replanting of the progeny from the bulbils produces a strain superior to that produced from the cloves of the original mother plant. Our own early trials at Beaver Pond Estates support these findings. We initiated a long-term trial in 1999 to determine whether or not improved garlic strains can be developed through bulbil propagation.

Beaver Pond Estates Bulbil Project

In the first year, bulbils were allowed to mature on the plant and collected. They were planted in the fall around the same time as garlic bulbs, and harvested the following summer. The second cycle was started with rounds (i.e. bulbs from the harvest of the planted bulbils), again planting in the fall. Bulbils were planted 1 inch deep, rounds at 2 inches and cloves at 4 inches.

Successive cycles used the rounds or bulbs, whichever the strain produced, for replanting. In each cycle, the best samples were selected for planting. A control sample of the same strain was grown using cloves from the mother plant.

Plants grown from bulbils had less tip yellowing, suggesting less disease in the plant, compared to plants grown from cloves. Generally, the larger bulbils from the Rocamboles produced larger rounds in the first year than did the tiny bulbils from Porcelains or Siberians. Not all bulbil-grown plants produced larger bulbs than clove-grown ones. As well, replicating the process with a new set of bulbils did not necessarily produce the same results.

Conclusions cannot be made from a single experiment of growing a full-size bulb from a bulbil. Sound data is based on repeating the experiment numerous times. It was also obvious that help was needed if the information was to be gained during my lifetime. More data need to be collected from different regions and that data presented in a practical and usable form. I appealed to growers across Canada for help by means of the Bulbil Project (see box below.) I am still looking for more participants from some regions.

I send packages of bulbils to participants along with instructions for growing and recording. Project growers are asked to keep basic records (e.g. dates, quantities, sizes and/or weights, and observations).

Varietal group* Sub-variety Example of
strain tested
No. of bulbils per
stem or capsule
Years to grow
full-size bulb
Remarks
Porcelain Majestic 100-150 4-5 Produces rounds the first and second year rounds or small, divided garlic the third year.
Rocambole French 4-9 2-3 May produce either rounds or small bulbs the first year.
Purple Stripe Czech Broadleaf 3-6 1-3 Large bulbils have produced 2-inch bulbs in first year, but usually do so in 2–3 years.
Purple Stripe Marbled Siberian 100-150 4-5 Some Marbled garlic appear identical to Porcelains.
Purple Stripe Glazed Purple Glazer
Red Rezan
10-50 3-5 Inconclusive results.
Artichoke Standard Endurance
F4 Italian
1-5 2-3 About ¼ to ½ of plants develop stem bulbils. When planted, these tend to produce large rounds the first year.
Artichoke Asiatic Pyong Vang
Sakura
3-10 Unknown Weak bolting. Initial trials inconclusive.
Artichoke Turban Chinese
Purple
Xian
4-100 Unknown Weak bolting. Initial trials inconclusive.
Silverskin F40 variable Unknown Occasional stem bulbils, some years develop topsets or scapes.
Silverskin Creole Native Creole 5-30 Unknown Inconclusive data.

Other bulbil projects

Bulbil capsule of the Porcelain Majestic garlic.

I’m pleased that growers across Canada are becoming interested in this advanced growing method. Sonia Stairs and Henry Caron of Boundary Garlic are now promoting and selling bulbils as part of their annual offering of garlic planting stock.

The Garlic Growers Association of Ontario has been struggling with the problem of disease in their Music strain of garlic since devastating commercial crop losses in 1987 and 1988. According to Becky Hughes of New Liskeard Agricultural Research Station, losses from virus-infected garlic are estimated to be between 25–50%. A government-funded program to produce clean seed was initiated using the tissue culture method and a bulbil growing trial.

How to grow garlic from bulbils

If you are going to collect bulbils, do not remove the scape. Let it mature on the plant until after the harvest of the other bulbs (i.e. those with scapes removed). This takes an extra week or two. You will likely forfeit the underground bulb, as it will be much smaller.

Carefully take the capsule from the scape and remove the bulbils from it. Store in a dry place until planting time.

Plant bulbils at the same time as you plant garlic (October in our region). Bulbils are planted 1-inch deep about 2 inches apart. You may plant directly in the garden but you risk infecting the new garlic with soilborne disease and losing the first-year plants among the weeds. It’s preferable to plant in containers filled with sterilized soil or potting mix. Bury these in the garden, slightly above the soil surface. Plant at least ten bulbils of each type. Mulch with straw. Next spring, weed and water the plants as you would with regular garlic.

Bulbil capsule of the Turban Artichoke, specifically Lucian’s Sicilian garlic.

Harvest the plants the following summer about the same time as garlic bulbs. Clean and cure the tiny crop. Some will have grown ‘rounds,’ small, undivided bulbs, while others may form a divided bulb in the first year. Plant your best ten cloves or rounds. Rounds and tiny cloves are planted two inches deep. Containers with sterilized soil are recommended. By the second or third harvest, you should be getting fairly good-sized bulbs, depending on the variety. I’ve had stubborn Porcelains refuse to grow anything but small rounds for four years before finally agreeing to form a divided bulb.

When you are in your last planting cycle, select some clove-grown bulbs (same strain) of the same size and weight and grow alongside the bulbil-grown ones. Both should be planted in the garden rather than in containers. Compare disease indications, size and colour of plant, and, following harvest, bulb size.

Good luck with your bulbil planting experiments. They will start you on the way to learning more about this most fascinating of vegetables.

References

Development of Superior Strains from Bulbils, The Garlic News, Issue 4, Summer 2005.
The Bulbil Project, The Garlic News, Issue 18, Winter 2008–09.
Growing Great Garlic, Ron L. Engeland. Filaree Productions. 1991 and 1995 Supplement.
The Complete Book of Garlic, Ted Jordan Meredith. Timber Press. 2008.


Watch the video: Tips for growing garlic from a guru