Plant Garlic Bulbils and Eat Free Garlic Forever!

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Buying seed garlic every year can be expensive, and you don’t want to save a bunch of your harvested cloves to plant again; you want to eat those too! 

You love garlic, and with this easy trick, you’ll never have to buy seed garlic again.

By planting garlic bulbils, you’ll have all the garlic you’ll ever need without needing to buy any more seed garlic.

You already know there are massive benefits to growing garlic because I wrote an in-depth post about it here.

Now you’ll learn all about growing garlic practically free by growing from bulbils.

What Are Garlic Bulbils?

Garlic bulbils are tiny garlic bulbs that grow on the seed head of hardneck garlic and some softneck garlic that is left to flower.

They are about the size of a pea and have a round, flattened shape. They are typically white or pale green in color and have a mild garlic flavor.

However, you don’t eat them. The real magic with them is that you can plant them and they will grow into large garlic plants identical to the one they were harvested from!

How Do Garlic Bulbils Form?

Bulbils mature if the garlic scape from a hardneck garlic plant is not picked to eat, but is allowed to mature and flower.

Most people snap off the garlic scape as soon as it forms a curl on the garlic plant.

The garlic scape is the immature flower shoot, and pulling it off the plant allows for two things:

  • the plant sends more energy to growing a larger garlic bulb because it doesn’t have that large flower and seed head stealing energy, and
  • you can EAT those delicious scapes and get yummy garlic flavor a few weeks before your garlic is ready for harvest.

I pulled all the scapes off of my hardneck garlic earlier this year like I usually do. Or so I thought.

When I was processing the dried garlic later, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had left a scape or two. They had then flowered and produced little seeds!

Why Should You Grow Bulbils Instead of Cloves?

I don’t grow them instead of garlic cloves. I grow them in addition to garlic cloves.

There are many advantages to growing bulbils, but their biggest superpower is the fact that a single tiny bulbil will grow into a large, full garlic bulb in two seasons.

So let’s think about numbers.

I just harvested 60 bulbils from one seed head.

That seed head cost one clove of seed garlic, which cost around 25 cents. Once I grow these 60 bulbils into full garlic bulbs, I will have paid less than half of one cent per garlic head.

That’s 60 free garlic bulbs just because I forgot one garlic scape.

How to Plant Garlic Bulbils

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Garlic bulbils are very small, so you’ll plant them in a slightly different way than you would full-size garlic cloves.

To plant, just choose a raised bed or other location that you want to grow the garlic in for several months.

You can plant your bulbil garlic a few weeks before your regular garlic crop if you live in cooler zones, or at the same time you plant your regular crop if you live in warmer zones.

Dig shallow trenches the length of the garden bed 6 inches apart.

Sprinkle the bulbils in the trench, making sure the bulbils are about 2-3 inches apart. Cover with soil and water in.

The tiny bulbils will sprout and grow just like regular garlic, though the leaves of garlic will be very small. Mulch them over winter just as you would normal garlic.

Care and Feeding of Your Garlic Bulbil Plants

Your bulbils will overwinter in the ground just like regular garlic.

These garlic plant roots will be more shallow than larger garlic, so make sure you water them enough. Their shallow roots will dry out quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them.

Mulch them as you would regular garlic until early spring, when you’ll start fertilizing them.

When to Harvest Your Garlic Bulbils

Depending on your growing zone, your bulbils are ready to harvest when your regular garlic is, around early summer or mid-summer.

Dig up the bulbs and let them cure for a few weeks until you know they are completely dry. Then cut off the tops and trim the roots.

Now store the bulbils indoors all summer where you store your full garlic bulbs, but don’t eat them.

You’ll plant each resulting garlic clove again in the fall.

When to Plant Your Garlic Bulbils for the 2nd Season

The next step is planting the garlic again in early fall, just like you did the year prior.

At planting time, plant them farther apart than you did the first time. This 2nd year spacing should be around 6 inches between cloves, which is the same as my normal garlic clove spacing.

Mulch, water, and fertilize the small cloves just as you did the prior year. Once you are ready to harvest them, you’ll find you have several bulbs that are full-size garlic bulbs.

Feel free to eat those just like you would regular garlic, but you can also wait and plant them for a third year if they aren’t as big as you would like them to be.

How to Store Them

Store your bulbil-grown garlic the same way you store any garlic.

A dry cool location out of direct sunlight is best. Do not store below 40 degrees F or the garlic will start to break dormancy and sprout. This means you never want to store it in the refrigerator.

How to Make Sure You Always Have Your Own Garlic

So this is pretty cool, huh? Garlic seeds can be harvested for free and grown just the same as any other garlic.

You can plant bulbils every year so that you have a steady stream of free garlic.

Every time I harvest garlic scapes, I leave 4 or 5 scapes on the plant. These 4 or 5 scapes will turn into garlic flowers. Each garlic flower gives me 50-60 garlic heads for a total of between 250-300 heads of garlic that I never had to pay for.

If you are a large family that loves garlic or you like to sell your extra bulbs, growing bulbils is exactly what you need to do to grow as much garlic as you could ever need.

Wrapping it Up

So, if you want to have an endless supply of garlic for free (or at a very low cost), plant some bulbils!

It’s easy and doesn’t take up much space in your garden. You can even plant them in containers on your patio or balcony.

And don’t forget – every time you harvest garlic scapes, leave 4 or 5 scapes on the plants so they will turn into flowers and give you more garlic bulbs to plant later on.

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