Garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs grow underground while leaves grow above ground. Hardneck garlic sends up a hard stalk called a scape, with a curled tip and a bulge near the end. If the scapes are not removed, they will grow and burst open into something that resembles a flower, much like chive or onion blossoms. This is a seed capsule that grows into garlic bulbils. Removing the scape when it first appears will prevent the garlic from producing a flower, and will send all the plant’s energy to bulb production below ground.
If you leave the scape on the flower to mature, the garlic will continue to produce a bulb below ground, but it will be smaller than it could be if the scape were removed. The flower will grow to a round clump of individual seeds called bulbils, which look like miniature garlic cloves. The bulbils can be left on the stalk until they mature, and can be used to grow a new garlic crop.
Advantages to Growing Garlic From Bulbils
Growing garlic from bulbils may be preferable if you wish to avoid soil-borne disease or pests. Garlic strains grown from bulbils may be stronger than those grown from replanting cloves from harvested bulbs. Every clump of bulbils contains anywhere from several to more than 100 bulbils, each of which can be replanted to grow more garlic bulbs.
Disadvantages to Growing Garlic From Bulbils
The main disadvantage to growing garlic from bulbils is that it takes two to three years to produce full-sized garlic cloves. The bulbil will produce a bulb with tiny cloves at the end of the first year. These cloves can be planted and will produce bulbs with larger cloves the following year. You may choose to cut the scapes off some of the garlic plants to grow mature bulbs the first year, while leaving bulbils to harvest and replant for stronger seed stock a few years later.
To grow larger garlic bulbs, remove the scapes using a sharp knife or pruning shears. Cut off the end of the scape from the bulging seed capsule to the tip. Scapes are edible and taste like garlic, with a milder flavor. You can saute chopped or whole scapes in butter or olive oil, puree and use them in pesto, add them to soups or use in any recipe where you would use garlic. Because scapes appear in early summer, some people consider them one of the first early harvest treats. They are most tender when harvested as soon as they appear.