Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is a perennial flowering plant native to South Africa. Although it is not a true garlic, its leaves smell faintly of garlic and are useful for culinary purposes. Deer avoid eating this plant, but there is no evidence that it repels them from your garden. Society garlic grows from tuberous, bulb-like roots that spread slowly, forming large clumps.
Society Garlic Basics
The species plant grows from 36 to 48 inches tall with grayish-green leaves and violet flowers. Silver Lace (Tulbaghia violacea "Silver Lace") grows from 12 to 18 inches tall, yielding lavender to violet flowers. The species plant and Silver Lace, a variegated cultivar, will both grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. Tricolor (Tulbaghia violacea "Tricolor"), another variegated cultivar, grows from 12 to 24 inches tall with blue-green leaves edged with white and pink blossoms. It will grow in USDA zones 7 through 11.
Temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit will damage society garlic leaves, but the plant will recover. If the temperature where you live drops below 25 degrees F, consider keeping your society garlic indoors in pots during its winter dormant season and transplant it outdoors for the March to October growing season.
Conditions for Easy Care
Society garlic is not considered an untidy plant and requires no extra pruning or maintenance chores other than watering, fertilizing and pinching off dead leaves. A healthy plant begins with growing it in a location and soil that it likes.
Society garlic tolerates heat well, thriving in light, sandy soil and full sun. It likes a soil with a pH of 6.6 to 7.5.
Before planting, amend sandy or clay soil by working 3 to 6 inches well-rotted mature or compost into it. This will help sandy soil hold water and clay soil drain well. Work about 1/2 pound of 5-10-10 or 5-10-4 fertilizer into the top 4 to 6 inches per 25 square feet of soil before planting.
Plant large society bulbs just below the surface of the ground and space them 8 to 12 inches apart and water well.
Water when the top 3 inches of soil is dry. Keep the soil consistently moist during the first year of growth to allow society garlic's roots to develop and grow deep.
Society garlic typically yield flowers the second or third year after they are planted or divided and transplanted. Divide the clumps in early spring every two to three years.
Work a handful of 5-10-5 slow-release fertilizer in a ring around the plant in early spring and water into the soil. Keep the fertilizer off the society garlic leaves. Repeat two more times six weeks apart.
To care for a society garlic in a pot, keep the soil moderately moist when the plant is in bloom and allow it to become dry when the plant is dormant. Sink the pot to its rim in the ground during the summer to help prevent it from drying out.
Society garlic typically does not have issues with insects and is often planted near other plants to keep insects out of the area. However, it is susceptible to snails and slugs. You have several options for control.
Raise flower pots, boards or melon rinds 1 inch off the ground. Snails and slugs will crawl underneath these traps and you can scrape them off.
A 4-inch-tall barrier of copper screen or flashing or a band of ash 4 inches wide and 1 inch high will block them.
Chickens, geese or ducks will eat snails and slugs, but they may also eat seedlings.
Sprinkle bait containing iron phosphate around places where snails and slugs congregate when they are active. Directions for application vary with brand. Avoid using bait containing the active ingredient metaldehyde, which is poisonous to children and animals.
- Mother Earth Living: Society Garlic Plant Care
- Floridata: Tulbagia Violacea
- University of Oklahoma: Tulbaghia Violacea "Silver Lace"
- Monrovia: Tricolor Society Garlic
- Texas A&M University Extension: Deer in the Urban Landscape
- PlantzAfrica.com: Tulbagh Violacea
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Tulbagia Violacea
- Oregon State University: Make Your Own Potting Soil
- University of Connecticut: Fertilizing Houseplants
- Cornell University Extension: How to Grow Perennials
- University of California Integrated Pest Management: Snails and Slugs
- Witbos: Tulbaghia Violacea
A one-time farm boy, Richard Hoyt, holder of a PhD in American studies, is a former newspaper reporter, magazine writer and college professor. While writing 27 novels of suspense, he has lived on sugar cane, pepper and papaya plantations and helped keep bees in Belize.