I’d like to grow leeks for winter – when should I start?

If you love your garden but need advice on how to keep it looking lush and welcoming all year round, top head gardener Tom Brown can help. In this regular column he demystifies common gardening problems, explains what to tackle when, and shows how to make every moment on the plot more fun and productive. Happy gardening!   

I’d like to grow leeks for winter – when should I start?

Leeks are useful vegetables to grow as they can be harvested in the depths of winter when little else is available. I also find that leek and potato soup is most welcome during those cold, wet days in the garden after Christmas and is a healthier alternative to the leftover strawberry creams in the sweet tin.

Leeks thrive in a sunny spot in most well-drained soils that have been enriched with a reasonable layer of garden compost or manure. It’s not a bad idea to prepare the ground now to allow it to settle and for any weeds to show before planting leeks in May.

There are two stages to growing leeks: first, growing young plants from seed; second, transplanting them in May and June to their final growing space to be harvested from November to March. Growing leeks from seed can be done either in a seed tray or in a seed bed in the open ground. I find that growing leeks outside in a row is easiest when it comes to lifting and transplanting as the roots separate much more easily, but growing in a tray is far more convenient – the choice is yours.

In a seed bed, create a shallow trench about 2cm deep (just under an inch) and sow thinly and lightly. Cover with soil, then water well. Alternatively, fill a seed tray with peat-free compost, thinly sow seed on the surface and lightly cover with more compost.

In June or July, or when young leeks are the size of thin pencils, lift them carefully and trim tops and roots by a few centimetres each (this stimulates new root growth and reduces the stress of transplanting). Create holes in the planting bed with a dibber, about 15cm deep and 45cm apart. Drop a small leek into each hole and water well – but do not backfill the hole with soil. The soil carried into the hole by the watering will be sufficient to settle each plant in.

‘Neptune’, like other blue-leaved leeks, tends to persist well during the winter and is available as seeds from Marshalls.

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