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 (1.5-2.5 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 (15 cm.) 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 them like garlic and then replant the “round” that fall. By the third year, the growing garlic from bulbils should be that of a normal-sized bulb.