GROWING GARLIC FROM BULBILS
Updated: Dec 25, 2020
Bulbils are the small round objects found in the garlic scapes or stems of the garlic plant. Growing garlic from bulbils, growers can rejuvenate garlic strains and establish a reliable back-up source of garlic, just in case the garlic bulb and cloves die or become infected with disease. Growers use bulbils to develop a supply of planting stop at very low cost and to avoid the transmission of potential diseases. Garlic propagation is often achieved by planting garlic cloves, also referred to as "seed garlic". This is known as vegetative reproduction or cloning. Another method for commercial propagation is possible which involves growing garlic from bulbils.
(Garlic Bulbils Harvested from a Garlic Scape)
Bulbils are tiny, undivided bulbs that can be used as seed. Garlic does not have fertile flowers so it does not produce a true seed. These tiny bulbils vary in size and general appearance. Garlic cultivars such as Music and German Extra Hardy (Porcelain garlic) can produce over one hundred (100) small, rice-size bulbils. Purple Stripe garlic may contain 50 or more rice-sized bulbils. Rocamboles may only have four or five bulbils, each having the size of a pea.
The scape is a garlic flower and has the appearance of a Plum Bob (a bob of lead or other heavy material forming the weight of a plumb line) ; These reproductive garlic 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.
Successive replanting of the progeny from the bulbils apparently produces a garlic strain that is superior to garlic produced from cloves of the original "mother plant". It can take two or three years of successive plantings for the initial bulbiles to mature into a robust and healthy plant with large bulbs and cloves. In the first year, the individual bulbiles are planted in the soil 1 to 2 inches deep. The second cycle begins with "rounds" from the harvest of the planted bulbiles. These "rounds" are about the of a ping pong ball and do not (typically) contain individual cloves. The larger the bulbils, the larger the rounds produced. "Rounds" are planted in the soil 2 to 3 inches deep. By the third and fourth year of successive plantings , you should begin to see garlic plants with large bulbs, (depending on the variety) each containing many cloves.
If you want to experiment with growing garlic from bulbils, do not remove the garlic scape when it appears. Instead, let the scape fully mature on the top of the plant. This means holding off on harvesting the garlic plant and bulb. Letting the plant fully mature and produce a capsule of bulbils takes an extra week or two. Plan to abandon the underground bulb as it will be smaller than plants where scapes were removed. When the garlic plant fully matures, take extra care to remove the bulbils from the scape's capsule. The capsule can burst open as it drys and disperse the bulbils to the ground below. Clean and cure this tiny crop. Keep the bulbils dry and store in a non-sealed container such as a brown paper bag. Plan to plant the bulbils in the fall (Between Halloween and Thanksgiving) or the same time garlic cloves are planted. Plant the bulbils 1 - 2 inches into the soil, approximately 3 -4 inches apart. Mark the planting location with a weather-resistant label. Another option is to plant the bulbils in containers using fresh, sterilized potting mix.
(Garlic Bulbils, Garlic Rounds and Fully-Developed Garlic Bulbs with Cloves)
There may be advantages to planting garlic bulbils over cloves. Although it can take three or more years to produce a robust and large garlic plant, propagating from garlic bulbils can prevent the transmission of soil-borne diseases and revitalize garlic strains. Also, the costs of bulbils is significantly less than the cost of garlic cloves or seed garlic.