When you are growing leeks, it can be difficult to get that beautiful white bottom that forms most of the edible part of the vegetable. Of course, the leafy green part at the top of the leek can be eaten, but most people prefer to chow down on the crispy white part. However, without proper cultivation, growing leeks could be more difficult than you first imagined. But the good news is that we are about to reveal one of the best-kept leek-growing secrets – toilet rolls! Yes, you read that correctly. Toilet rolls are a critical accessory if you want to grow healthy, crisp, delicious leeks. And let’s face it; we’ve all got plenty of them. In this guide, we will be giving you everything you need to know about how to grow leeks in toilet rolls as well as some other handy leek-growing tips for excellent results every time.
What Are Leeks?
Leeks are a versatile and nutritious vegetable that form part of the Allium genus, sharing the family tree with onions, garlic, shallots, and chives. Characterised by their long, thick white stems that gracefully fan out into dark green leaves, leeks are a staple in many culinary traditions.
Can You Grow Leeks in the UK?
One of the greatest things about living in the UK is that we have the perfect climate for growing leeks. Unlike a lot of fruits and vegetables which require a warmer climate, leeks don’t mind the cooler weather and will do very well in UK soil.
Where is the Best Place to Plant Leeks?
You have two choices when it comes to sowing the leek seeds, you can either do this in a container with a mind to transplant them in the following summer or you may sow them where they will remain permanently. Just bear in mind that leeks require plenty of sunlight to grow well, so choose a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
What Soil is Best for Leeks?
A comprehensive approach to soil preparation and maintenance helps ensure a healthy and productive leek crop.
- Well-drained soil: Leeks require soil that allows for proper drainage to prevent waterlogging.
- Sunny location: Choose a spot that receives plenty of sunlight.
- Soil enrichment: Improve soil fertility by adding two buckets of garden compost or well-rotted manure per square meter.
- Avoid acidic soil: Leeks do not thrive in very acidic soil; aim for a soil pH above 6. If necessary, add lime to reduce acidity.
- Crop rotation: Do not plant leeks in the same spot where leeks or other onion family members have been grown in recent years to avoid disease.
- Use of containers: For limited spaces, leeks can be grown in large, deep containers filled with multi-purpose compost.
- Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around leeks to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Why Grow Leeks in Toilet Rolls?
It may sound a little obscure when you first hear about growing leeks in toilet rolls, but when you think about it, cardboard tubes are used for a lot of gardening needs such as growing sweet peas. The idea of using toilet roll collars for your leeks is that these will prevent too much sunlight from getting to the leeks, therefore turning the white bulb green.
A great reason for using toilet rolls for your leeks is that they are made from cardboard and are fully compostable and they will naturally and quickly degrade making them eco-friendly.
When Do I Plant Leeks?
To ensure a continuous supply of leeks from summer to the following spring, it’s important to stagger your planting according to the variety’s seasonality:
- For a harvest in summer and autumn, sow varieties like ‘Hannibal’ indoors in modular trays using a propagator around mid-February. These should be ready to move to your garden by mid-April.
- If you’re aiming for a crop in autumn and winter, opt for types such as ‘Blue-green winter’ or ‘Northern lights’. Start these in a similar fashion in mid-March and plan to transplant them in mid-May.
- For those looking to enjoy leeks in the late winter months, varieties like ‘Blue Solaise’ are ideal. Begin sowing these in early May and set them out in your garden in early June.
How To Grow Leeks In Toilet Rolls
Well in advance of planting your initial leek crop, you should begin collecting toilet rolls although you won’t need to worry about having enough until the leeks begin to poke out of the ground.
Step 1 – Prepare the Bed
In Spring, after the last frost, begin by digging down into the soil, in preparation for planting the leeks. You will need to dig down to a depth of around 8 inches and be sure that the soil contains a healthy level of organic matter, but as we mentioned earlier, ensure it is not too acidic. You will then need to make several furrows to a depth of around 7 inches.
Step 2 – Plant Your Leeks
You will now need to plant your leeks. Depending on whether you are using leek seeds or seedlings you may need to plant them differently. For seedlings, always plant them at a similar depth to what they were in the container, whereas the seeds can be placed around 2cm down. Ensure a 30cm gap between each.
Step 3 – Fill the Furrows
You’ll then need to fill in the furrows leaving the green tips exposed. For seeds, you will need to pinch back the soil as the leeks grow.
Step 4 – Water
Keep the soil moist at all times but never over-water the leeks. You can add mulch once the seeds sprout but try to wait around six weeks to ensure that at least two green leaves are visible.
Step 5 – Prep Toilet Roll Collars
You are now ready to use your toilet roll collars to protect your leeks. You can also use kitchen roll tubes, provided that you cut them to the correct size.
Note: If you don’t get through a lot of toilet rolls yourself, you can always rope family and friends into saving theirs for your crop.
Step 6 – Add Toilet Roll Collars
At this point, you will add the toilet roll collars and leave them in place until you are ready to harvest the stems. Carefully apply the toilet rolls to the leeks being careful not to disturb them too much as you do. Gently slide the toilet roll over the leek and bring it down to the soil.
Push the toilet roll down into the soil by about half an inch and then add a little more soil into the tube.
Step 7 – Grow!
Now, all that is left to do is wait for your leeks to grow fully and tend to them as you would normally. 3 weeks after planting, it is a good idea to add some fish emulsion fertiliser to help their growth but do ensure that you get the balance right.
As a general rule of thumb, you will need to apply fertiliser to your leeks every 3 to 4 weeks after planting.
Caring For Your Leeks
Aside from adding the toilet roll collars and providing your leeks with a healthy amount of fertiliser, there are other important care tips that will ensure you have a beautiful and delicious crop of leeks by the time late summer comes. One of the biggest gripes of leek growers in the UK is that these plants are susceptible to quite a few pests. As we mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to avoid problems with leeks is to alter their growing location from year to year. This will pretty much eliminate any issues with diseases or pests, but of course, there is always a risk.
Common Problems with Growing Leeks
You should always be on your guard for pests. In the UK, there are several that affect the leeks, but in the main, you can expect to do battle with the following:
- Leek moths will leave visible white streaks on the leaves of the plant.
- Onion flies which will cause the leaves to sag and turn yellow. They may also tunnel into the flesh of the plant.
- White tips are another common problem which results in paper-like patches on the leaves, causing them to die.
- White rot is a big issue and this can be determined by grey or white fungus around the bottom of the plant as well as leaves that develop a yellow tinge.
Rust is a common problem for leeks but the good news is that if you are growing one of the winter varieties, a good bout of frost will kill off the rust without affecting the quality of the leeks.
How to Harvest Leeks?
These long, tender vegetables can be harvested from the middle of summer, but at this point, they won’t be particularly large. If you want decent-sized leeks then harvesting in autumn will typically yield the best results. When the late summer or early autumn comes around, all of your hard work and ample supply of toilet rolls will have paid off and you should be left with an excellent crop of leeks that are ready to harvest.
Harvesting leeks really is as simple as just lifting them, however, you should keep in mind that a frost could affect your ability to lift the leeks from the ground. If this is predicted, it is best to take the leeks out of the ground before it becomes solid and place them in some sand.
How Long Can Leeks Stay in the Ground?
One of the most impressive things about leeks is that, when left in the ground, they will do well for up to a year, so if you’ve no need to eat them right away, you can leave them where they are and dig them up as you need them. However, you should keep in mind that when growing leeks annually, you should mix up the location to reduce incidents with pests and diseases. You can plant them after lettuce or peas as well as cabbage but you should avoid placing them in the same soil as potatoes owing to the loose soil.
How to Store Leeks?
If you aren’t ready to eat the leeks right away, there is the option to leave them in the ground up until the spring. You can keep them in a cool place and they should remain fit for eating for some time, generally up to one month. You could pull the leeks from the ground and lie them flat in a location in full shade, where they should keep until you are ready to use them (unless the badgers get them first). Alternatively, you could trim the leaves and wait for leek bulbs to develop which can then be used as a shallot alternative.
Leeks are a tasty vegetable that goes well in a variety of dishes. While they do require rather specific growing conditions, there are things you can do to ensure that your crop always turns out well. One such thing is to make use of something you might typically throw out; toilet rolls. Toilet rolls can be used to collar the leeks, protecting them from the sunlight and preventing the edible white bulbs from turning green.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Do not over-fertilise your leeks, they do not like the soil to be too rich!”
“For the best results and bigger leeks, wait until autumn before harvesting!”
“Leeks can stay in the ground for up to a year so you can leave them in the ground and lift them when you need them!”
“Like most vegetables, if you are growing year after year, you will need to rotate them into a different plot to prevent the build-up of pests and disease!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do Leeks take to grow?
Leeks take around 40 weeks to grow to their full size but they can be left in the ground for much longer. Leeks do well in the ground so you only need to lift them when you use them.
Are leeks difficult to grow?
Leeks are extremely easy to grow and they do well in the UK climate. Leeks do not require much attention and they can be left in the ground for up to a year.
What is a good companion plant for leeks?
Strawberries. Strawberries thrive next to leeks as the leek seems to repel some of the pests that may take a liking to strawberries.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.