What would happen over a few years if I left garlic to grow free?

stevelau1911November 15, 2011

I've been growing garlic for the past few years, but I have always harvested all the garlic no matter how many I planted. I am thinking about trying something new where I plant some garlic somewhere randomly in the woods where there's enough sun, and no weeds, then just letting them grow wild.

Given that neighbors don't eventually walk by and harvest them, what will happen to the garlic after a few years?

I'm not sure if they can outgrow the native weeds, or if they will produce decent sized cloves, but hasn't anyone tried this experiment before?

My guess is that it will end up creating clumps of garlic that generally stay in the same spot.

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pizzuti(5A)

I've seen this... it basically naturalizes. You are exactly right.

There was an old belief that roses and garlic planted together provide nutrients to each other (perhaps because the garlic and roses have "opposite" scents) and look at really old gardens in old residential neighborhoods, where the original owners have long moved on, sometimes you see garlic growing freely around the roses.

The cloves may indeed get smaller, due to competition and overcrowding, neglect or imperfect growing conditions. But unlike tulips or daffodils, a small garlic bulb behaves much like a large one; the plant will grow, bloom, re-seed and divide - just with a smaller/shorter plant.

They CAN spread, though, because the bubils have a very high germination rate and fall anywhere from a few inches to a few feet from the parent plant. That allows the colony to advance much more quickly than it would if they were simply dividing in place.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 1:00AM
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stevelau1911

That sounds pretty cool because I plan on releasing some of my smaller cloves out into the woods where there is some light just to see how they grow naturally as nobody seems to post pictures of it online. I just hope they can hold their own against the native weeds around here.

Given that other people have access to that area as well, I'm just hoping no one will notice it as pretty much anyone has a use for garlic.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 4:06PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I wouldn't worry about the neighbors taking your garlic. By the time it starts to yellow it will barely be noticeable. Also, if it's grown in a low fertile, low light area, it will most likely be so small that no one will want to deal with it.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 2:00PM
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stevelau1911

It's actually on the south side of the woods so it's a pretty sunny location with pretty good soil, but I plan on growing them so far and in between so that there won't be a bed of garlic sticking out.

But yea, once they do start to yellow in July, they should have a much lower profile as from then on, their bulbs should multiply, get smaller and less desirable unless someone wants little bulbs.

I never plan on harvesting them. I just want them for observation so I'll pick out certain landmarks to make the experimental garlic plantings.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 6:37PM
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claydirt(5)

I'm not sure exactly what species you are planning to naturalize. I like to grow and harvest onions in my vegetable garden here in Indiana. But I believe that Allium vineale (Wild garlic) and Allium canadense (Wild onion) are considered "prohibited noxious weeds" here. Google those 3 words. Just make sure you don't need a permit.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 6:23AM
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stevelau1911

I'm growing softnecks since they have a lower profile and multiply much easier. These guys are planted right at the base of either a power line or anything that makes it easy to find, but the only goal is to find out if it can naturalize and grow in a natural environment which I believe is possible as long as squirrels don't start eating them.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 6:07PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Softnecks seldom produce bulbils, but tend to produce many cloves per bulb; so you would probably end up with a large, tight cluster similar to chives. I've missed harvesting a few softneck bulbs in the garden, and that is what happens to them the following year. I use the greens like chives.

Hardnecks form bulbils, or should... not sure how the shade from the trees will impact that. Provided that bulbils form, you should get the "walking" effect described by Pizzuti. The bulbs themselves are more sensitive to crowding & weed pressure than softnecks, and will probably form smaller bulbs which multiply slowly. The total effect would probably result in a spreading, more open clump.

The main question, I suppose, is whether the clumps would survive over time. Only one way to find out, I suppose. It sounds like an interesting experiment... one which I may try as well.

For those who grow heirloom garlics (I fall in that category) this could be a good way to preserve backup stock, in the event the main crop is lost some year (or not replanted). It would probably take a couple years to get full-sized bulbs again from the semi-wild stock, but at least the variety would not be lost. You'd probably want to place some sort of permanent label in each clump, though, since it would be easy to forget what's what over time.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 1:23AM
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jolj(7b/8a)

claydirt is right.
But if anyone would like some Allium vineale, I would trade you for some Allium canadense or any other onions you have.
A.v. grows wild here & can only (that I know of)be killed by pulling & crushing the bulb.
I literary have a field full of A. vineale.
I have sold some to a grower in Tenn. & heard that some people pickle it also.
It is a noxious weed, so do not let the heads manture or you will have more then you need.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 1:30PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Reminds me of my Dad "discovering" garlic. He had a friend give him some to eat and plant. He loved it used it on almost everything.

I had been growing and using garlic for many years. I had took him food that I cooked with garlic and assumed he knew about it. He loved it, but never asked what gave it that special flavor.

I went over to visit one day and he told me that he recognized the plant from somewhere but couldn't remember where. I told him that I remembered where he probably saw it. At my Grandparents old home. My cousin lives there now.

We got in the truck and went to visit my cousin, the old patch of garlic that Grandma planted years ago was still there beside the old barn. She died in 1949, before I was born.

The bulbs were small but pungent, Dad pulled up a few and said "That's why Mama's food was so good!" He replanted some in his garden and they grew pretty big. I still replant them every year in a special place. They get decent size now.

I visited my cousin a few months ago and the garlic was blooming beside the old barn.

Dad would have been 89 Dec. 7 of this year. He died in Aug. 2010.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2011 at 2:28PM
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gardenunusual(5b)

What a great story, wertach.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 2:08PM
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stevelau1911

I did grow a patch in the woods behind my neighbor's yard last fall, and I did witness it grow just fine in the spring. Now that the garlic is coming up naturally places in my own yard, it looks like those randomly planted garlic bulbs had to have been either eaten by squirrels, or somebody had to have recognized it as garlic, and harvested it.

It seems like planting garlic bulbs in random places never worked according to plan. It seems like the garlic that was planted randomly in my own property did sprout up, but they literally look like 6-10 garlics sprouting together so I could only imagine that the result would be tons of competition, and tiny bulbs in the spring.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 1:38AM
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jas4141(Zone 5)

Steve, I have garlic sprouting in my garden where I missed digging this summer. Of course, they're coming up in clumps because the bulbs were not separated (every clove seems to sprout). I've separated each clove and replanted. This has happened year after year and by separating, I get many beautiful garlic bulbs the following summer.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:38AM
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jas4141(Zone 5)

Steve, I have garlic sprouting in my garden where I missed digging this summer. Of course, they're coming up in clumps because the bulbs were not separated (every clove seems to sprout). I've separated each clove and replanted. This has happened year after year and by separating, I get many beautiful garlic bulbs the following summer.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:39AM
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