Toggle Menu

How To Grow Garlic

Anyone can grow garlic but if you want to grow great tasting garlic, full of nutrients, and large bulb size you must do more than plant it and forget it.

WHEN TO PLANT: Spring or fall planting, is often debated, but I believe that fall planting wins everytime. It seems for many reasons that garlic does best when it is in the ground for 8-9 months. So for most parts of the country, this means garlic should be planted between late September through the end of November. October is probably the best planting time for states south of the Canadian border to St. Louis. States south of St. Louis could postpone planting until November and early December.

Garlic needs 40 or more cold days below 40°F in order for the clove to split into a bulb—a process is called vernalization. Otherwise, the grower will end up with a plant looking like a green onion with no bulb. For spring planting, seed can be stored in the refrigerator for 6 weeks under 40°F. This also forces the clove to split into a bulb.

WHERE TO PLANT: Anywhere you have good humus-rich soil at least 6" deep with good drainage and a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight. Flower pots (best set into the ground to keep them moist and cool), planters, raised beds, or a well drained garden area. Garlic likes moist cool spring weather but it can't take constant wet conditions, dry conditions or conditions that are too hot. It does not grow well at 85-90°F. A constant supply of moisture with good drainage will go a long way to ensure large bulb size.

WHAT TO PLANT: You have many choices. Hardneck garlic takes a little more care than softneck do, but they offer more varieties of garlic with different flavors and heats than softnecks. Choose a couple of different varieties and see how they do for you. Sometimes it takes a few years accumulating before a strain does well. Local seed stock will be a good choice. Make sure to plant enough for yourself, friends, and neighbors! Two bulbs this year will give you 15 next year. Softnecks can store up to a year. Hardnecks store 6-8 months. Plant some of each and you'll have garlic year around, including scapes to eat in June.

HOW TO PLANT: Take each bulb and split it into cloves. Plant the largest cloves and eat the smallest. The theory is that the larger the seed clove, the larger the resultant bulb. Whether you plant your garlic in a flower pot, planter, or raised bed garden, you want the clove buried with the roots down, point up, at least an inch of soil over it. Space them a minimum of 4 inches apart in the row, 6 or 8" will likely give you a larger bulb - all other things being equal. Apply some form of nitrogen bearing compost or fertilizer near but not on the clove. Mulch heavy to keep down weeds and water well if needed. Rows should be 6 - 18" apart, depending on the type of gardening space that is available.

HOW TO PROVIDE CARE: In northern climates the garlic will break through the mulch into day light in March or April. When it starts to really grow rapidly, a foliar fertilizer spray, nitrogen rich, applied every two or three weeks will promote rapid leaf growth which will increase bulb size. Remove the scapes on the hardnecks when they are 12" long. Some say bulbs that are allowed to grow their scapes might be smaller but they will store longer than bulbs with the scapes removed. Each gardener will find what works best for them. Water your garlic if it gets dry. It will not produce well without sufficient moisture. Don't water in July, the harvest time for most garlic.

HOW TO HARVEST AND STORE: Dig up a bulb each week when 40-50% of the leaves are turning yellow and brown. Check to see how many bulb wrappers there are. If you wait a week too long, your garlic can fall apart as its pulled out of the ground. It is better to harvest garlic a few days early rather than a few days late! After harvesting, wash all bulbs clean. Dry in a ventilated shady area for 2-3 weeks. Hanging from a wire or a rope with the bulb down will insure quicker drying. When dry, cut stem leaves an inch above the bulb. Cut roots 1/4" long and store in a dry 65-75°F area until used. Hanging in a paper bag, or in a basket on the kitchen counter is an ideal storage place but not above the dishwasher! Braided garlic should be stored in a dark, cool area of the kitchen.