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False Garlic – you lie, you lie, you lie.

I don’t know where it comes from, but it shows up in the strangest places.  Unannounced, just after the rain, it pokes its slender leaves up through the soil to bring terror to the fastidious gardener.  I’m talking about false garlic.

False garlic (Nothoscordum borbonicum Kunth)  is found primarily in California, Oregon and the Southeastern states, as well as some warmer parts of Europe. It’s pretty, but don’t be deceived.  This little bugger will infest a garden and is very difficult to eradicate.

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Flat leaves have a spine running down the length, making it easy to identify among other grassy weeds.

Let’s break it down:

Like regular garlic, it has a smell.  It also has pretty white flowers that form an umbel and make you think they belong in the garden. WRONG!

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Deceptively beautiful flowers of False Garlic

Beneath the soil lies the devious truth – bulbs and bulblets that will keep reproducing unless you remove them entirely.  These bulbs and bulblets are usually located between 6-12 inches below the soil surface.  You must dig out the entire thing, including some soil around it and throw it in the trash.

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This is a rather surface-level false garlic. Most bulbs are further down.

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Yellow circles highlight the bulblets. They could easily be mistaken for dirt clods
and left behind in the soil

The kicker is this: most compost bins don’t get hot enough to kill the bulbs and seeds, so unless you’ve got a burning-hot compost system, put them in the trash.  I personally wouldn’t even put them in the City Green bin.  It’s not worth it.

False garlic is best managed as soon as it is spotted in the garden.  It may take several passes over several seasons to fully eradicate it, but it’s worth being diligent.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Patrick Gill

    I tried a method not advocated here and had great results!

    I left it to grow and take over the garden.
    When my tomatoes were turning orange, it produced thousands of flowers (which smell great), when my mustard grew to chest-high it threw down million seeds which grew into more plants and more and more. When I had to plant something, I moved it slightly and watered it, when I found it crowding plants I wanted, I moved it and watered it with the rinsing water from my clothes (phosphates). It grew and so did my herbs and vegetables. I pulled up goosefoot, mallow, amaranth type plants, even sow’s thistle (because of the aphids it attracts) – all of which are edible- although not super tasty- and left the little white flowers to grow because I like them.
    I still have everything I want growing and the bulbs and annoying bulblets are just there. They never became as much of a problem as the ones I had to remove, so I left them.
    The end.

    1. Christy

      I wish I possessed your comfort level about false garlic, Patrick. They’re super invasive and I’ve watched them spread all through my community garden when people don’t diligently remove them. Hopefully yours will stay contained so you can enjoy them, but keep an eye out in your neighbors’ yards. They may not feel the same way you do about it.

    2. Beth Peters

      I like your philosophy.

  2. Brenton Middlemiss

    We have it in Victoria Australia. . The only way i have been able to control it is touching the stems with un diluted glyphosate. I use a corton bud. You need to remove all flowers as they form but if the plants get to that stage the bulblets underground may have already formed. Treat the plants when a few inches long. Before that, they tend to break when holding them and trying to apply the solution. You could use a spray bottle as long as it is not near plants you want to keep.

    1. Christy

      Thanks for your suggestion. While we’re not a fan of glyphosate, we’ve had people do the same trick with bindweed to get rid of it. They painted the top leaves with it and it didn’t get on anything else. Still, it’s an absolute last resort if the other methods don’t work.

  3. marjoyrie kunzle

    Hello Christy from Marjoyrie at OVF I dug it all out. deep digging and throwing away all soil in dumpster, TIME and time again meticulously, and yet this one area, the area under my blackberries is again FULL of new little plants. i am despairing of ever getting rid of it. What else can I do? is there something organic and naturalthat would kill them? vinegar? what.??? Thank you for any help or see you at the plot.

    1. Christy

      Hi Marjoyrie,

      I know false garlic is troublesome and persistent. So must we also be. I’ve had another OVF gardener use a mixture of molasses and water to combat nutsedge (another OVF bane) and that suffocated it, but they haven’t tried it on false garlic. Just keep digging out the soil in that area and throw it in the trash. Eventually you will get them all. Also check your neighbors to make sure they aren’t letting any go to flower. We all have to work together to eradicate this problem.

      1. marjoyrie kunzle

        THANKS CHRISTY I will get back to you. I spent last year 2017 jan – may digging out area again and again.. i had almost no false garlic in last 6 months, just a few tiny thin hair like new sprouts, which i dug out as soon as I could.. . suddenly many dozens have sprung up in last 2-3 months.
        possible reason might be that as I had one of the workmen at OVF put in new wood borders for me about 3 months ago, they may have put in some compost full of false garlic seeds. marjoy

        1. Christy

          Darn, that’s bad news. Keep after it. You got it before, you’ll get it all again.

  4. Christy Wilhelmi

    I looked around to see if it is, and there are some varieties (the kind that don’t smell) that are listed as edible, but I couldn’t find concrete proof that this variety is as well.  I’ll keep looking and let you know.

  5. Jennifer

    Thanks Christy, for the heads up on the doppelganger. In regards to the legit garlic, when do you know when it’s ready to be picked?

  6. AmyLu

    Christy,
    I loved the title of your article! What a lying little plant! I fight this one in my garden because it sneaked by at first with those pretty white flowers and now it is everywhere! Thanks for the great advice about digging it all the way out. I have just been pulling it up… and probably unknowingly propagating it in the process.

    So… if it looks like garlic and smells like garlic… can we cook with this?!

    Thanks again for a great article.

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