Grow the Garlic, Leeks and Onions in your Fridge

If you ever wanted to try your hand at gardening, those unused veggies in your kitchen are a great place to start. Just think: you can plant a whole garden from kitchen scraps that would otherwise go in the trash! Growing garlic, leeks, shallots, garlic, elephant garlic and other pungent members of the Allium genus is so easy that a kindergarten class can do it, but follow these simple tips to get the most bang for your buck.

This garlic in my front yard veggie garden was started from cloves.

How to Grow Garlic from Scraps

First off, a word of warning. Much of the garlic sold at grocery stores is treated with a hormone that prevents cloves from sprouting to prolong their shelf life. For best results, either use organic garlic or wait until you see the garlic begins to sprout on its own, often forming nubbins of roots at the same time. If you look closely enough, you might even see cloves sprouting at the store!

Once the garlic has shown signs of life, plant the cloves one inch deep and at least five inches apart in a sunny windowsill or directly in the ground in fall. Garlic likes a lot of moisture but will start to develop yellow leaves if they stay wet for too long. Garlic loves cold weather, so experimenters from zones 9-11 might be better off choosing another variety through mail order. On the bright side, you can also grow elephant garlic using the same instructions and it typically performs much better in warmer climates than its smaller cousin.

How to Grow Green Onions and Leeks from Scraps

I once met some chefs who planted a whole potager garden's worth of green onions using only leftovers from the grocery store. Years after they abandoned that garden, they have continued to thrive under neglect. You probably get where I'm going with this: Green onions are very easy to start from scraps and they're also easy to grow in the garden. Leeks, looking like a much larger version of the green onion, are also easy; so easy in fact, that many gardeners find themselves with more than they even need!

This leek is ready to grow!

To grow your own, just plant the remaining rooted bases when the cut ends have dried and you notice new leaves pushing up from the center. Plant them in soil or potting mix so that the cut ends protrude slightly form the soil. Do not grow them in water. There are lots of articles and photos out there of mason jars filled with sprouting green onions or leeks, but these will only last for a short while under normal circumstances and green onions in soil do best in the long run.

How to Grow Onions and Shallots from Scraps

Bulbing onions don't usually start to grow on their own, but you can easily start red, yellow and white onions with just a little bit of effort. Remove the top third of the onion with a sharp knife, leaving the roots intact. You can really use any onion scraps that have the rooted end in one piece, but it will do better from the energy stored in the onion's scales (layers).

Illustration by Steve Asbell

Leave the remaining rooted end of the onion in a cool, dark place for a few days until the cut ends begin to callous over and dry out. When the cuts have healed, plant the onion base in a container (a window box works well for starting) and cover with about an inch of soil. Once you see leaves, remove the old onion layers to prevent rotting.

Continue growing the onions in a sunny window until spring and divide any onions that start to form offsets. Plant outdoors in spring, or in fall if you live in a mild climate. To grow shallots, use the same instructions and divide as soon as leaves appear.

Take it to the Next Level

Now that you've learned how to grow onions, leeks and garlic from nothing more than your kitchen scraps, you can start growing varieties that are even better suited for your climate. Besides, the vegetables sold in the produce aisle are there because they can withstand the rigors of shipping and storage - not because they're the best tasting or most attractive.

Multiplying onions in a pot,  just snipped for our salad

Varieties like the multiplying onions pictured above are versatile enough to be used as for their tender leaves and roots as well; and they remain faithfully true to their name by multiplying prolifically with each passing year. To find the ideal heirlooms and hybrids for your garden, look no further than Burpee, Botanical Interests and Baker Creek for some really cool varieties that knock the socks off of anything else you can find in the produce aisle.

Want to Grow More Kitchen Scraps?

Here are some other posts I've written:

How to Grow Turmeric

Growing Ginger Roots from the Grocery Store

Grow Dragonfruit from Seed


  1. Your humble servant always felt a Walt Disney, cheesy inclination in
    those perceptions of rainforest gardens or whatever...Here is the evidence, for those who want to set trends:

  2. Excellent post. I just found your blog through Pinterest (an article about growing turmeric) and have subscribed to your blog in my RSS Feed Reader. I look forwards to lots more amazing posts like this one. Kudos on the blog from Tasmania Australia :)

  3. Dumb question but once you're growing the garlic/onion/ do harvest it and use it? I can see how you would just snip off what you need of the greens...but what about the actual ginger/garlic/onion itself?

    1. Depends on the plant. Garlic has to start turning brown and flopping over before its ready for harvest. Ginger can be dug up anytime but I wait til before the first frost.


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