Growing Leeks

Growing leeks can add a new dimension to your gardening and cooking. A relative of the onion, leeks have a milder flavor that is often used in gourmet recipes. Although the long, strap-like leaves can be bitter, the tender white portion of the stalk is quite tasty.

Facts About Growing Leeks

Variety: Leek Allium porrum
Zones: 8 to 10, annual elsewhere
Soil Type: Rich, well-drained soil
Soil pH: 5.6 to 7.5
Sunlight: Full sun
Availability: Sold as mainly as seeds, but some nursery grown starter plants may be available.
When to plant: In northern zones, start leek seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Seedlings can be transplanted when they reach 6" in height and the daytime temperature is reliably above 45 degrees. In southern zones, Leek seeds can be planted directly in the soil in the fall for a spring harvest.
Planting Method
Seeds: Plant Leek seeds in cell-type containers, two or three to a cell. As the seedling grow, thin to one or two of the strongest. Allow seedlings to reach a height of 6" before transplanting in the garden. In cold weather, seedlings should be introduced gradually to outside temperatures.
Live plants: To place transplants, dig 6" deep holes 1" in diameter in loose, well-tiled soil, using a dibble or long stick. Holes should be spaced 6" apart. Place a single transplant in each hole and don't add soil-allow rain and irrigation to fill the hole in over time.
Watering: Leeks should be well watered, but over watering can lead to fungal disease.
Fertilizing: Leaks require plenty of nitrogen, so soil should be heavily amended with organic material. Fertilize your leeks with a 10-10-10 solution after transplanting and again six week later.
Harvesting: As leeks grow, gently mound dirt around the base of the stalk. The dirt mound will cause the stalks to blanch, resulting in the characteristic white stalk. Blanched stalks will also have a milder taste. Leeks can be harvested any time after they grow to a ¾" diameter or greater, but you should harvest all plants before the first frost for spring planted leeks. To harvest your leeks, pull them from the ground while twisting. Rinse well to remove dirt. Leeks may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Diseases
Rust: Yellow, brown or reddish orange spots appear on the underside of leaves on infected plants. Rust is a fungus and often infects plants exposed to damp weather. Infected plants must be removed and thrown out. Do not compost plants infected with rust.
Root Rot: Plant will yellow and wither from this condition. Root rot is caused by over watering or poor drainage. Make sure plants are placed in well-drained soil and understand the watering needs of specific plants.
Pests
Thrips: These tiny, yellow or tan insects eat tender new growth. An infestation of thrips can lead to undersized or malformed plants. Remove infected growth and treat plant with insecticidal soap.
Saving Seeds:  Leeks typically don't produce seeds until the second year of growth, so only gardeners in the most southern zones will see seed pods if plants are left winter over. To collect seeds, allow the seedpods to dry on the plant, and then remove the seedpods and collect the seeds from inside.

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