When to Harvest Garlic Scapes – And Why You Should

If you’ve planted hardneck garlic, you’re likely interested in the scapes as much as the bulbs. Garlic scapes are a very underrated vegetable, and are also highly seasonal, so it can be hard to get them fresh unless you grow them.

But when are they actually ready to harvest? If you wait too long, you will end up with a woody stem.

Garlic scapes make several twists and turns before growing upward. Harvest garlic scapes any time before they make their first turn to avoid tough, fibrous scapes. More mature scapes are still edible, but may need to be cooked longer to make them tender or used for flavor in stock. Even if you don’t eat garlic scapes, harvest them anyway to ensure more energy goes into growing the bulbs underground.

Why You Should Harvest Garlic Scapes Even If You Don’t Eat Them

Garlic scapes are the flower stalks of garlic, most often found in hardneck garlic. When left to mature, the little bud at the end opens up, revealing dozens of tiny bulbs, called bulbils. Each of them can turn into a larger bulb of garlic if planted, although it takes a few years of planting and replanting to get them up to size.

If you let your garlic scapes fully mature, your garlic plants will spend more energy developing the bulbils instead of growing the bulbs underground. That’s why I always harvest my garlic scapes. Yes, they’re delicious, but removing them also means I can get larger garlic bulbs later in the summer.


When Do Garlic Scapes Appear?

Most gardeners remove garlic scapes when they make their first turn (pictured), before the stems get too tough and woody. Photo by Zack Dowell is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

When garlic scapes appear depends on when you planted your garlic and your local climate. In most temperate climates in the northern hemisphere, the first garlic scapes begin to show up sometime in June, after your garlic plants are fully established with several sets of leaves.

Garlic scapes are mainly formed in hardneck garlic varieties. If you planted softneck garlic, or garlic from the grocery store, you likely will not get garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes begin as small shoots coming out the top of the plant, but as they grow, they start twisting and turning. If left to mature completely, they will turn upward and straighten up.


When Is the Best Time to Harvest Garlic Scapes?

Flavor-wise, garlic scapes can be harvested at any time, but to avoid woody, tough garlic scapes, you should harvest no later than when the scapes make their first “turn”.


How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

Harvesting garlic scapes is relatively simple. You can use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the bottom of the scape or just use your hand to break it off. Hardneck garlic will only grow one scape, so you don’t need to worry about checking on your garlic every week for new scapes.


Garlic scapes left to mature will cause the plant to put more energy into developing the flowers and bulbils instead of the garlic bulb.

Storing Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes don’t keep nearly as long as garlic bulbs, but they can last up to a week on the kitchen counter and at least two weeks in the refrigerator after harvesting.

They can also be stored in the freezer but will lose their texture after thawing. Still, it’s a good way to quickly put away a bumper crop of scapes and frozen scapes can be used to flavor dishes just as well as fresh ones.


Common Uses of Garlic Scapes

Once you’ve harvested your garlic scapes, you might be thinking about how you can use them. I often like eating them raw or in salads; they’re tender, somewhat sweet, and have a lovely mild garlic flavor. Many people love chopping them up into stirfries or even pickling them.

You can also use it as a substitution for garlic in some recipes, but keep in mind that it is milder than garlic cloves.

Garlic scapes can also be used to make an intensely flavored, fresh garlic pesto. I’ve used the below recipe from Maritime Gardening and I’ve got to say, pasta never tasted better.