How to Grow Garlic: planting, tending, & harvesting

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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.

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 truly one of the most rewarding crops you can grow and a staple in my vegetable garden. It’s also relatively fuss-free, meaning that you plant it 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.

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 #garden #vegetablegarden

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 need to 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.

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 #garden #vegetablegarden
This year’s garlic harvest just after I dug it up

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:

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 #garden #vegetablegarden
Hardneck garlic is best dried and stored in bags or baskets but you can store softneck and elephant garlic this way too.

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.

A patch of garlic about a month before harvest time

Although less commonly grown by the average British kitchen gardener, hardneck varieties are said to have a more complex flavor and are considered more gourmet. They’re also much more cold-hardy than softneck so better suited for those growing garlic in cold climates.

That’s why you’ll see hardneck garlic being so popular in places with cooler winter temperatures, such as Canada and parts of the USA. They also need 4-6 weeks of cold temperatures (under 5⁰C (40⁰F) to kick start a bulb into forming. Without that cold, you won’t get much of a harvest. Here are some popular varieties of hardneck garlic:

Tips on how to grow organic garlic including varieties, planting direct and in modules, after care, harvesting, and storage #organicgardening #vegetablegardening #gardeningtips
Garlic loves rich soil that’s moist but not overly wet

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 that 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, basically a month before your first hard frost. If you get them in during that time, you’ll 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 if they went in in autumn.

Garlic cloves spaced out in rows and about to be covered in soil

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.

Tips on how to grow organic garlic including varieties, planting direct and in modules, after care, harvesting, braiding, and storage #organicgardening #vegetablegardening #gardeningtips
If your garden soil is wet in winter, plant cloves into modules and then plant them out in spring

Planting Garlic in Pots or Modules

Though I tend to direct sow my garlic into beds, I sometimes will 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.

Tips on how to grow organic garlic including varieties, planting direct and in modules, after care, harvesting, and storage #organicgardening #vegetablegardening #gardeningtips
Three-month-old garlic shoots in late January.

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.

Tips on how to grow organic garlic including varieties, planting direct and in modules, after care, harvesting, and storage #organicgardening #vegetablegardening #gardeningtips
Mulching garlic with straw is best for drier climates. In wet climates, straw mulch can harbor slugs.

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 among my patch. I also make sure 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’ which is a kind of 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.
Green garlic leaves with the lower leaves just beginning to turn yellow
This garlic is almost ready to harvest. Note the lower leaves turning yellow.

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 of the 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.

Fully dried garlic and garlic foliage looking pale brown and crispy
Dry garlic until its green leaves are brown and crispy

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, you must 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.

Softneck garlic braided and placed on a table
If you want to braid garlic, leave the foliage on the garlic as it’s drying. It’s this dried foliage that you plait together.

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.

YouTube video

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.

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3 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Cory P Seaton says:

    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.

  3. Horace Kemp says:

    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.