A ‘scape’ is a botanical term for a stem which bears a flower. Garlic scapes are the immature flower stems of garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic cultivars reproduce vegetatively and have been selected to no longer produce true seeds. Thus, garlic flowers of most cultivars are sterile and only produce topsets (bulbils).
Garlic scapes begin to develop in midsummer. If your main crop is garlic bulbs, remove the scapes when they begin to curl so that the plant focuses most of its energy into bulb production. If scapes are not removed when garlic is grown in poor soil, total bulb production can be reduced by up to 30%. In good soil, bulb production is only limited by about 5%. To harvest garlic scapes, carefully pinch or cut them off just above the top leaf.
Instead of discarding the scapes, market them for use in a wide variety of foods. Garlic scapes have a mild, gentle garlic flavor and can be added to any dish in place of onion or garlic. There are Chinese garlic cultivars selected and grown specifically for scape production. Scapes can be dried and easily reconstituted in water for late use.
If garlic scapes are your main crop, grow hard-neck garlic cultivars. Soft-neck cultivars have been bred to minimize flower stalk production and most do not produce flower stalks at all. Only in rare cases will a partial seed stalk develop in soft-neck cultivars, thus the garlic plant invests most of its energy in bulb production without wasting energy on scape and bulbil production. Most garlic grown for commercial bulb production is soft-neck while hard-neck cultivars are more common among home gardeners.
In many cultures throughout the world, it is common to incorporate multiple parts of the garlic plant into food dishes, not just scapes. All vegetative parts of the young, immature garlic plant are edible and are referred to as ‘green garlic’. In Asian cultures, green garlic is used in the same manner as scallions and will retain their bright green color when cooked.
Behnke, C.T. Growing Garlic in the Home Garden. Ohio State University Extension Factsheet.
Oregon State University. 2004. Garlic. Commercial Vegetable Production Guides.
Rosen, C., R. Becker, V. Fritz, B. Hutchison, J. Percich, C. Tong, and J.Wright. 2009. Growing Garlic in Minnesota. University of Minnesota Extension.