Everything to Know About How to Grow Garlic
Tips on how to grow garlic, including recommended varieties, planting direct and in modules, aftercare, harvesting, and storage. Advice uses low-cost organic gardening methods and includes a video on how to braid garlic.
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One of the easiest crops to grow in the garden is garlic. It’s hardy, suffers few pests, and in mid-summer, will reward you with dozens of bulbs that can be dried out and used over the next three months to a year. Garlic is one of the easiest and most rewarding crops you can grow and a staple in my vegetable garden. It’s also relatively fuss-free, meaning you plant and harvest it with very little work in between.
If you’re new to growing garlic, you’ll find these tips on when and how to plant garlic useful. I’ve also included advice on how to harvest and store garlic and how to choose which garlic varieties to grow.
Growing Softneck Garlic
Garlic comes in two main types: ‘Softneck’ and ‘Hardneck.’ They’ll both form delicious garlic cloves, and most gardeners can grow both types. However, there are some main differences in how to grow and care for them.
Many kitchen gardeners grow softneck varieties since they’re easy to grow in temperate climes, produce more cloves, and store very well. They also don’t form garlic scapes, which must be pruned off. Another bonus is that you can plant it outdoors in either autumn or spring since it tends not to need a period of cold to begin growing bulbs. That means if you’re running late with getting your garlic in autumn, you still have time to get it in.
Softneck garlic stores very well, and it’s not uncommon for me to have last year’s garlic harvest last until late spring the next year. I store them both hung up and loose in containers and someplace dry and at a cool room temperature. Softneck garlic’s dried necks are soft and pliable and can easily be plaited. The garlic you see in the supermarket or hanging in ornamental braids is almost always softneck. Here are some popular varieties to grow:
- California Softneck
- Early Italian Purple Garlic
- Early Purple Wight
- Solent Wight
Growing Hard Neck Garlic
Hardneck varieties literally have a hard neck. This neck sprouts a ‘garlic scape’ that should be trimmed off when spotted in summer. Leaving it on can weaken the plant and reduce the size of your bulbs. Fortunately, it’s tasty and can be used in cooking. If you leave this scape growing, it will eventually transform into bulbils, tiny edible garlic cloves.
Hardneck varieties have fewer cloves, but they can be bigger! Some also consider them to have a more complex flavor than softneck garlic. If you’re growing garlic, hardneck are hardier than softneck so they are better suited for those growing garlic in cold climates. That’s why you’ll see hardneck garlic so popular in places with cold winter temperatures, such as Canada and northern parts of the USA. Hardneck garlic actually needs between 4-6 weeks of cold temperatures (under 5⁰C /40⁰ F) to kick start a bulb into forming. Without that cold, you won’t get much of a harvest.
Not all is lost if you miss out on planting hardneck garlic in autumn, or you live in a place with exceptionally mild winters. You can trick hardneck garlic into thinking it’s been through a cold winter with a little vacation in the fridge. Keep garlic chilled for a month before you plant it and it will grow and produce beautifully. Here are some popular varieties of hardneck garlic:
The Best Time to Plant Garlic is Autumn
Garlic needs around six to eight months to mature, and that time is up around the end of June to July. That means if you plant your garlic in early spring, it might not have as much time to grow and fill out as it would have if you plant in autumn. This applies to both softneck and hardneck varieties, regardless of whether it’s said to be ‘spring-planting’ or not.
The best time to plant garlic is from late September to late November, giving it around a month before your first hard frost. Most people who have been growing garlic for years, including me, plant garlic in October, and that goes for a wide range of growing zones! If you get them in during autumn, you can see hardneck garlic shoots and leaves before Christmas. Softneck takes its time for me, and I don’t expect growth from them until January, regardless of when they went in the previous autumn.
More Vegetable Gardening Inspiration
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- Tips on Growing the Egyptian Walking Onion
- 7 Ways to Make Supports for Climbing Beans
How to Plant Garlic
If you order new garlic, it will arrive in bulbs, don’t separate them into cloves until you’re ready to plant. When you are, gently break the bulbs into individual cloves and plant them directly in the soil about 6-12 inches apart. Rows should be 12″ apart for easier weeding and tending. Keep in mind that the more space you give garlic, the larger the final bulb is likely to be! Also, each clove should have a bit of the original bulb’s base still attached. Without it, the clove won’t grow.
Plant each clove with the pointy end sticking up. This pointy end can be planted so that it’s just sticking up through the soil or even as far down as an inch in the soil. If you cover the cloves with soil then there’s less chance that birds will pull them out thinking the cloves are a worm. Birds are hungrier in winter and are notorious for pulling out garlic and onion sets. If you have issues, there are humane ways to keep birds out of the garden.
After planting, keep the area where the cloves are moist, and you may see green shoots will sprout in as little as a few weeks. Some garlic varieties need much longer to show any signs of green, though. Garlic shoots look delicate at first, but they’re pretty tough and can ride out wet, wind, cold, and snow.
Garlic will grow in most types of soil, but it needs to be free-draining, and it won’t grow well if the soil is too wet. If you’re worried about your boggy garden during winter, you can also plant garlic in modules.
Planting Garlic in Pots or Modules
Though I tend to direct sow my garlic into beds, I sometimes plant it in modules to overwinter someplace more protected. If you are expecting a lot of rain over the winter and your garden getting waterlogged, then it might be a good idea for you too. Planting garlic in modules is also a good way for people with very cold winter temperatures to grow softneck garlic without worrying about them suffering from freezing ground and snow. You can plant the garlic and grow them someplace that you know will be frost-free.
To grow garlic in modules, fill 2″ pots or modules with an organic multi-purpose potting mix. You could use homemade compost too. Plant one clove into each pot or module so that the tip is just below the surface of the potting mix. Keep moist and leave to grow through the winter in a sunny place outdoors. This could be a cold greenhouse, a cold frame, or simply set on your patio or against a wall of your house outside.
Plant the small garlic plants 6-12″ apart in the garden in early spring. By this time, I’ll have noticed them starting to grow again, and when I lift them out of the modules, their root systems are bright, branching, and looking for more space to grow. Plant them at the same level that they’re growing at. Firm them in afterward by pressing the soil with your fingers.
Keep Garlic Mulched and Weed Free
Once the garlic is planted into the ground, they’re easy to care for. I do very little for my plants while they’re growing except to make sure that weeds are not growing in my patch. I also ensure that the soil they’re growing in is always moist. This means mulching the top of the soil with compost and soil.
Most animals and birds will steer clear of garlic, so you shouldn’t have too many issues with them. The only real disease that I’ve seen them come down with is ‘rust,’ a fungal infection that looks like rusty mottling on the leaves. It doesn’t hurt the bulb though, so if you’re close to harvest time, don’t be too concerned. If you spot it earlier in the season though, it can be a problem. Snip off the leaves as soon as you see it happening, and make sure to dispose of them rather than put them on your compost heap.
- Plant garlic in free-draining soil with plenty of direct sunlight
- The soil doesn’t need to be rich in nitrogen at first. It’s only when the garlic begins taking off in spring that mulch is really important.
- Mulch around your plants with straw, mushroom compost, composted manure, or garden compost. It helps keep the soil underneath rich and moist as well as free of weeds.
- Hardneck garlic will form scapes in summer, a month before it’s time to harvest. Pick the scapes off and add them to meals. Doing this ensures a better harvest of garlic.
Harvesting Garlic in Summer
Garlic is ready for me to dig up in late June and early July. I dig them up all at once and, after a day of drying in the sun, take them in to fully dry in the garage. So how do you know it’s time to harvest garlic? In early summer, you’ll notice the bottom leaves of the plants beginning to turn yellow — that signals that it’s almost harvest time. Try not to water the plants too much in the last month of their growing time since that can dilute the flavor of the cloves.
When the bottom third of the leaves are yellow, it’s time to dig them up. You can wait until more leaves are yellow, but leaving the garlic to grow as long as possible can result in a better harvest. Green, healthy leaves mean that the plant is still growing.
Drying Garlic for Storage
On a dry day, use a garden fork to gently pull the garlic up. Brush as much of the soil off them as you can and leave the garlic to dry for an afternoon in the sun. Don’t wash them with water since it can cause the bulbs to spoil. Next, set the garlic on a screen, a table, or another dry surface and let them dry out completely. You could also tie the garlic up in bundles and dry them in the air. One thing that works for me is unceremoniously dumping the garlic in a cardboard box and putting it in a dry place, such as the garage.
If you plan on plaiting garlic together, keep the green leaves on the garlic and allow the foliage to dry out completely. Hardneck garlic isn’t easily plaited due to its hard stem, so you can cut it off the foliage either before or after you dry it.
It can take several weeks for the garlic to dry completely. What you’re looking for is no sign of moisture and dry, crispy leaves, if you’ve left the leaves on. At this point, you clean the garlic of any remaining soil. The dirty roots and skins of the garlic will clean up nicely by just rubbing with your fingers and gently pulling off any dirty pieces of papery skin. You can also trim the roots at this point if you wish.
Storing Homegrown Garlic
Now there are a couple of ways to store garlic. The traditional way is to plait (braid) garlic and store it hanging in the house. You can do this, but it’s not necessary. Garlic also stores well in baskets, bags, or trays if there’s plenty of airflow in the container. If you chose this method, it’s easier if you snip the foliage off the garlic about half an inch to a full inch above the head of garlic.
Regardless of whether you’re braiding garlic or storing it in containers, the important thing is that it’s completely dried off first and afterward kept in an airy place at room temperature and out of direct sun and light. 10-20C (50-68F) is the best temperature range to store garlic.
Cold temperatures can cause it to sprout, and dampness can encourage mold and rot. Softneck garlic can last 6-12 months if stored properly, and hardneck from 3-6 months. You can also use some of your harvested garlic cloves to grow next year’s crops. That means that once you’ve invested in garlic, you can continue growing from year to year with no added expense.
Braiding Garlic for Storage
Once you’ve harvested and dried softneck garlic, you need to keep it stored in a way that extends its life and is convenient. That’s why garlic is often plaited and hung in the kitchen. If it’s near where you’re cooking, it’s easy to take a head of garlic off when you need it. If your kitchen is generally warmer than 68F (20C), consider storing your garlic in a pantry or another room.
Plaiting, or braiding, garlic is similar to French braiding hair if you’ve ever done that. You begin with three heads of garlic and their pliable dried leaves. I tie them together for ease, then begin braiding them, adding new garlic as I work up. Watch the video above to see how to braid garlic.
Thank you, YES, please show me how to plant garlic. A friend gave me lots of elephant garlic seeds. Said, ‘go ahead and plant them now, you’re a bit late in planting them, but do it anyhow.” So I will be planting them in, tomorrow, in mid-November, in Central California. I hope they do well, a first for me, I can use all the advice I can glean. I put tulle netting over the plants to keep rodents etc out. They don’t like the feel of the netting, think it’s a trap, they don’t know what it is so they go away!
Mice dug up all of my garlic cloves last autumn but didn’t eat them – just left them lying on the surface. Then when I re-planted them, they did it again. Weird.
Planting Creole Burgundy, Mild French and Transylvania garlic for the 1st time in my garden this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things turn out.
I love growing garlic! I have two variety that I grow. Been at it about three seasons now. I learned a simple method to peeling garlic from a chef. Place whole garlic into two bowls ( prefer stainless steel) with the bowls tightly held vigorous shaking of the cloves inside the two bowls and wallah peeled garlic. Comes in handy when pickling them yum.