Garden Blog

How to Grow Ramps

How to Grow Ramps


There’s a kind of craze that spreads when spring comes along over a little plant known colloquially as ramps or spring onions. There is just something about the thick, oniony smell that approaches you in the forest and the sweet, broad leaves that sparkle under the dappled sunlight. I suppose the craze is understandable! 

Ramps play an important role in the early spring ecological landscape. They leaf out in spring and die back during the hottest part of the season, leaving only their seed heads behind. They love an undisturbed forest ecosystem with nutrient-dense and mycelium-rich soils. Ramps provide an early source of nectar and pollen for native bees and other insects. Having a food source available early in the season is essential for pollinators after months of limited foraging opportunities. 

If you have any interest in native wild foods, you’ve heard of ramps. Ramps, also known as wild leeks (in North Carolina, our native species is Allium tricoccum), are often found growing near other forest gems like bloodroot, trillium, and lady’s slipper. There’s something about these rare plants growing all together in the early spring that is so enlightening. When you stumble upon a patch of them it’s like the forest has told you a secret — and what a special secret that is.

Why Ramps?

This small forest allium has hit center stage in restaurants, foraging tours, and even for everyday hikers that stumble upon them and take a few leaves home (leaving the bulbs intact, of course, but we’ll get to that later). Everyone is talking about ramps, especially in the early spring.

Ramps have historically served an important role in Appalachian and Indigenous diets in the eastern U.S., holding both culinary and medicinal value. With the rise in popularity of wild foods throughout the tourism and restaurant industries, ramps have become harder and harder to find. The popularity of ramps have had a hugely detrimental effect on their population. They are widely overharvested, and due to their slow growing nature, many wild ramp stands that once coated the north facing mountain slopes from Georgia to Canada have been completely decimated.

Ramp seeds germinate in six months to a year depending on when they’re planted, and they only begin to flower (and therefore produce seed) seven years later. Sustainable harvesting practices for a plant this slow growing looks like taking one in 25 plants. An even better practice is leaving the bulb alone entirely and taking just one leaf from less than five percent of the plants present, leaving the other leaf to photosynthesize. It’s also important to only harvest from a patch every five to ten years. And when we’re talking about wild harvesting, even if you haven’t been there in five years, how can you know someone else hasn’t? All this to say, here at Sow True Seed, we are big proponents of “sow it, don’t stow it” — meaning we like to encourage folks to plant rare and endangered species instead of harvesting them from the wild! This increases their availability and keeps delicate forest ecosystems intact. 

Cultivating Ramps

Luckily for us, ramps are able to be cultivated. Yes, in your very own gardens! And due to the problematic nature of overharvesting, cultivating rare forest understory plants has never seemed like a better option than it does right now. You’ll be growing these plants not only to steward your own little patch and harvest a leaf or two in the spring for your culinary uses, but also to honor the wild populations that once existed in abundance — perhaps to even repopulate some of what once grew in the forests around you.

Growing Ramps

So how do you cultivate ramps? Step one is to consider the environmental properties of the space you’ll be growing them in. In general, it is best to try and mirror the forest environment to the best of your ability!

Choosing a Location

Ramps are picky about their habitat. They prefer moist, fertile soil under deciduous trees —the leaf mulch being an important part of that) — and are often found alongside rivers or streams. A spring ephemeral, ramps take advantage of the sunlight falling through the forest canopy before the trees leaf out, storing energy for the rest of the year. Their foliage doesn’t last very long, staying green for about a month before turning yellow and then disappearing for the year. Come July, the root system will put up a cluster of white flowers, which will then turn to shiny black seed in September.

When planting, choose a spot under a stand of beech, birch, sugar maple, or poplar trees. If this is not an option, you can also set up a shade cloth over your garden bed. 

Soil Quality

Your soil should be rich, moist, and high in organic matter. As with many seeds, soil moisture is an important variable to germination and seedling survival rates. Additionally, in order to cultivate a successful ramp stand, moisture levels must be maintained year round — not just during the growing season.

Long-Term Cultivation

If you’ve ever seen a giant, abundant, gorgeous ramp stand, take note that it took that population decades to get to that size. Growing ramps involves patience more than anything else and is a way for you to give back to the ecosystem. Ramps require a high calcium content and a proper soil pH of 5.5 for success. You can test your soil annually or just make a habit of applying a regular application of calcium-rich fertilizer such as bone meal

Proper shading is also essential. If you have access to a forested area and want to recreate a natural environment for them, growing ramps under deciduous trees is fantastic. If you don’t have a forested area, do not fret! A 30% shade cloth has been shown to have the highest seedling emergence rate according to the United Plant Savers

Cultivating Ramps From Seed

Cultivating ramps from seed is the most ethical way to bring ramps to your garden or property. While it is indeed a long game, the growing from seed itself is fairly straightforward. 

When to Sow

Although ramp seeds can be planted at any point that the ground is not frozen, we can take a page from nature’s book and say that because the seeds are produced in late summer/early autumn, that is the appropriate planting time. Sowing seeds at this time of year can help speed up the germination process as well. After the seed is sown, it requires a warm, moist period before a cold period to break the internal dormancy, allowing the seed to germinate. Sometimes there isn’t a long enough warm period before winter, which means the plants will germinate in the second spring, assuming they haven’t been eaten by animals.

Planting Ramp Seeds

To plant, the soil should be raked to create a finely mixed seed bed. Sow your seeds thinly about four to six inches apart on top of the ground, pressing them into the soil gently. Your last step is to cover the seeds with several inches of hardwood leaf mulch. The leaves of deciduous trees are the best mulch for ramps, mimicking their natural environment. The mulch works to retain heat and moisture during both the hottest and coldest parts of the year and is essential to the successful cultivation of ramps. Additionally, the planting areas can be covered in chicken wire to prevent squirrels from digging up your plants.

Seed to leaf harvest can take about four years. For bulb harvest, it’ll take 5 to 7 years. It’s a good idea to save and reseed once you have an established patch so that you can expand and follow the ten year rule. Create many patches in your garden to balance the preservation of this amazing plant alongside your harvesting goals.

Ramps Throughout the Seasons

In the Southeast, established ramps begin growing very quickly in March and early April. During this time, they’re producing aerial foliage and starting their short-lived photosynthesis process. The leaves begin to die back as the days get longer and the temperatures rise. However, the plant does throw up a flower stalk in June. The seeds develop in late summer and eventually drop to the ground where they will germinate, coming up in a year or maybe two. 

In your home garden patch of ramps, your stand will operate very similarly! It is important not to cut back too many leaves of one plant during its short-lived season. The plant needs this time to gather its energy to grow! Other than monitoring your ramp stand, ensuring that seeds can fall and germinate in a good spot, and enjoying the lovely (though conservative) harvest, there is not a whole lot that needs to be done for these wild plants! 


Got questions? We’ve got answers. 

What are some other names for ramps? 

Ramps are also called wild onion, wild leek, wood leek, wild garlic, or even by their latin name Allium tricoccum

Where are ramps native to? 

Ramps are native to the forests of eastern North America. They are found all over the Appalachian Mountain range including other parts of New York, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. 

How tall do ramps get?

Ramp leaves tend to reach between six and twelve inches tall, but the flower stalk they throw up in June can be between eight and twenty inches. 

When should I collect seeds from my patch?

After ramps flower, they will produce small, black seeds. Collect them from the stalk once it has completely dried out and replant them in another section of your forest or garden.

Do you recommend wild harvesting ramps?

We absolutely do not recommend wild harvesting ramps! Ramps are an endangered and threatened species in many of the areas they grow. One of the benefits of growing your own is that you can steward these amazing plants while also being able to harvest them for their delicious benefits — without decimating your local wild populations. 

Ready to get growing? Ramp cultivation is a rewarding process that we recommend to every gardener who lives on land where ramps were once abundant. Ramp seeds can be hard to find but Sow True Seed tends to have them seasonally available in limited quantities. Sign up under the “Notify Me When Available” button to get an email once they’re back in stock! 



Article Written by: Hannah Gibbons

About the Author: Hannah Gibbons, an employee at Sow True Seed since 2020, has nearly a decade of experience in the agricultural industry. Their passion for environmental education and regenerative agriculture has been the cornerstone of their work, aimed at making gardening accessible to all.