Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is a perennial herb or landscape plant that is grown for its fragrant flowers, edible leaves, and edible roots. It is native to Southern Africa and is naturalized in various parts of East Africa and Central America. A part of the onion family, society garlic gets its name from the belief that, while the plant smells like garlic, it supposedly does not cause halitosis the way true garlic does.
Society garlic is an attractive landscape plant with green leaves growing to about 18” in height during the growing season and flower stalks that bloom from summer to fall. The flowers are attractive and can be pink, purple, or blue; they’re also loved by insects. They have a sweet smell and look distinctly different from flowers of other closely related plants, such as onions and true garlic.
Society garlic is easy to grow, especially in climates similar to the southern half of the United States. In more northern climates, it has to be protected from severe winter cold. It is often grown as a container plant in these regions and brought to a protected area during the winter. It will go dormant after a frost anywhere it's grown, but as long as the ground doesn't freeze above the first inch or two, the leaves will grow back from the storage roots in the spring. It is very easy to grow and does well in the landscape or herb garden. Some cultivars of society garlic, such as 'Tricolor,' have colorful leaves.
Society garlic may help repel some pests from other garden plants. The flowers have a sweet scent at night that attracts moths, which in turn help in the plant’s pollination. Society garlic has received the British Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
How to Plant
Plant society garlic bulbs (storage roots) in full sun after the danger of frost has passed. Plant in well-drained soil with organic matter. The plant benefits from a layer of mulch around it and will spread by bulb division over time.
Once established, society garlic is tolerant of dry spells. During the most extreme dry spells, it will go dormant and sprout again after a rain. In the right conditions, the plant will grow quickly, spreading by bulb division into a large clump. It is generally not considered invasive, however, because it forms a clump of plants and doesn't grow far outside the area where it was planted.
If the clumps grow too large, the plant can be easily divided while it's dormant. Society garlic is so easy that it can also be divided while it's still growing, though this may cause the loss of some bulbs. Cut off the leaves at planting if the plant is divided during the growing season.
There are no pest or diseases that seriously harm society garlic, and it does not need any supplemental fertilizer.
In more northern latitudes where the ground freezes, society garlic can be grown in a container in the ground in the landscape and carried to a protected location before a hard freeze. It can also be grown as an annual in cold winter areas. In the United States, it generally freezes out in areas north of USDA zone 7.
Society garlic is an easy plant to grow in containers virtually anywhere. Grow society garlic in well-drained soil in a container with good drainage. For maximum growth, keep the soil in the container moist. If given at least six hours of sunlight per day, society garlic can be grown indoors. It does, however, have a strong garlic smell, so the potential locations for growing it indoors may be limited.
Society garlic and more than 25 other easy edibles are part of the new book The Lazy Gardener's Guide to Easy Edibles: 25+ Easy Edibles Anyone Can Grow, available on Amazon.