Society Garlic Is The Beautiful Flower You Can Use As Groundcover

What are groundcovers, and do you really need them? Since you're reading this article, you probably already know the answer to that question is a wholehearted yes. Groundcovers look, well, really pretty, but they also help maintain soil health and typically require little care. Naturally, the next question to ask is what turf-hugging plants you should spend your gardening budget on. And the answer to that question is society garlic. This undeniably pretty plant makes a great groundcover for many reasons, but chief among them is its exceedingly beautiful (and edible!) flowers, fast spreading (but not invasively so) nature, and perfect height as a border plant.

Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is so called because the distinctive garlicky scent the plant emits, while strong tasting, is said to not linger unattractively on your breath as regular garlic does — though this is widely thought to be a tall tale. The plant is in the Amaryllis family, which is the same family as onions and garlic. Similarly to its allium cousins, it boasts gray-green, frond-like leaves and delicate, star-shaped blooms in lavender, pink, or white — or sometimes a mixture of all three in tri-color and variegated varieties. While society garlic is the most-used common moniker for this attractive plant, you may also know it as pink agapanthus, spring bulbs, sweet garlic, or wild garlic. It's native to South Africa, where it thrives in the country's dry, rocky grasslands. Here in the USA, it grows best in Hardiness Zones 7 through 10.

Society garlic is chock full of benefits for home gardeners

Society garlic ranks among the most popular summer bulbs you can add to your garden for good reason. The plant is pretty much mistake-proof, making it an excellent choice for beginner or "lazy" gardeners. Why? While society garlic likes being watered, it also tolerates sustained drought — add it to your xeriscape garden. It's winter hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, the plant isn't fussy with soil: acidic, alkaline, sandy, clay, and loamy are all okay.

Because of its hardiness and propensity to spread rapidly (though controllably) about 12 inches out from the mother plant, society garlic is a good choice for gardeners needing to stabilize loose banks and slopes. It gets to around a foot tall, making it perfect for defining garden bed borders and dense understory planting. It tolerates salt (calling you, oceanside gardeners) and will quickly colonize a spot in rockeries. You can successfully grow it in a container.

Let's not forget those bountiful blooms! So long as it's planted in a sunny spot, society garlic will flower from late spring to late fall; that means tons of food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. The rhizomes (tuber-like roots), the leaves, and, most excitingly for gardeners who are also culinary enthusiasts, the pastel-hued flowers are edible. It's also pest resistant: Deer will stay away, and so will gophers, and in one USDA Agricultural Research Service study, society garlic helped repel sweet-potato whiteflies (in combination with sticky traps).

Just a few warnings for this easy-to-find groundcover

The smell of society garlic is exacerbated when someone brushes up against or crushes the plant. Don't plant society garlic in high-traffic areas, wear gloves when pruning or dividing the plants to avoid tainting your skin, and refrain from using the flowers in indoor arrangements. Note, too, that the plant is susceptible to root rot if planted in a spot without adequate drainage and, in humid climates like Florida, southern blight. Society garlic is also toxic to cats and dogs, so plant it only in areas your pets have no access to, or reconsider planting it altogether if you can't shield them from it.

A thriving clump of society garlic needs to be divided every few years; if you know someone who has a patch, offer to help them with the task. If you buy society garlic from a nursery or big box retailer, popular varieties include silver-lace, variegated, and tri-color. Seeds are widely available, too. The plant thrives in hot, sunny weather so choose a spot in full sun with good drainage for maximum bloom. You won't need to worry about protecting your garden in a heatwave — at least not your society garlic! Space plants at least 15 inches apart when planting. Carewise, simply remove dead flower stalks during the summer, watch out for slugs and snails that may nibble on the leaves, and apply compost and mulch to overwinter the plants when the temperature dips.