Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Garlic
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Garlic
Garlic is best planted in mid-autumn.See our tips on both planting and harvesting garlic. It’s so easy to grow—and frost-tolerant, too!
Garlic cloves from grocery stores are often old and mushy. It’s so simple to plant your own cloves.
Beyond its intense flavor and culinary uses, “the stinking rose” is also good in the garden as an insect repellent and has been used for centuries as a home remedy.
When to Plant
- We advise fall planting. Yes, garlic can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked, but fall planting is recommended for most gardeners. Garlic roots develop in the fall and winter, and by early spring they can support the rapid leaf growth that is necessary to form large bulbs.
- In areas that get a hard frost, plant garlic as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the first expected fall frost date, before the ground freezes. The timing may vary with local climate; the aim is to give a long enough period before the ground freezes for the plant to develop good roots, but not enough time to for it to form top growth before freezing temperatures set in. In northern climates, planting is usually between September and November. In southern areas, February or March is a better time to plant.
- Select a sunny spot.
Best Soil for Garlic
- Garlic likes fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7. If your soil is on the thin side, add healthy additions of compost, plus aged manure or 5-10-10 fertilizer. (Don’t use fresh animal manure, as it can cause diseases.)
- For an easy and large harvest, garlic grower Robin Jarry of Hope, Maine, suggests using heavily mulched raised beds, especially in heavy soil. “I plant in raised beds for good drainage, and then mulch with about six inches of old hay after the ground freezes. I never water my garlic – I like low-maintenance vegetables!” Raised beds should be two to three feet wide and at least 10 to 12 inches tall.
- Lime the soil if you haven’t done so recently. Before planting cloves, work a couple tablespoons of 5-10-10 complete fertilizer, bone meal or fish meal into the soil several inches below where the base of the garlic will rest. Select healthy large clovers, free of disease. The larger the clove, the bigger the bulb you will get the following summer.
Planting the Cloves
- Get cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery.
- Do not plant cloves from the grocery store. They may be unsuited varieties for your area, and most are treated to make their shelf life longer, making them harder to grow.
- Break apart cloves from bulb a few days before planting, but keep the papery husk on each individual clove.
- Place cloves 2 to 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep, in their upright position (the wide root side facing down and pointed end facing up). Plant in rows spaced 10 to 14 inches apart. A single 10-foot row should yield about five pounds of the fragrant bulbs.
- Northern gardeners should mulch heavily with straw for overwintering.
- Mulch should be removed in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. (Young shoots can’t survive in temps below 20°F on their own. Keep them under cover.)
- Cut off any flower shoots that emerge in spring. These may decrease bulb size.
- In the spring, as warmer temperatures come, shoots will emerge through the ground.
- Fertilize garlic in the early spring by side dressing or broadcasting with blood meal, pelleted chicken manure or a synthetic source of nitrogen.
- Fertilize again just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight (usually early May in most regions).
- Weeds should not be a problem until the spring. However, keep well weeded. Garlic doesn’t do well with competition. It needs all its nutrients.
- Garlic is a heavy feeder which requires adequate levels of nitrogen. Fertilize more if you see yellowing leaves.
- Water every 3 to 5 days during bulbing (mid-May through June). If May and June are very dry, irrigate to a depth of two feet every eight to 10 days. As mid-June approaches, taper off the watering.
Garlic has very few problems with pests in the garden (in fact, its a natural pest repellent!), and also very few problems with the diseases that plague other veggies. White Rot is one concern, but you should also keep an eye out for the same pests that plague onions.
- White Rot is a fungus that may attack garlic in cool weather. Not much can be done to control or prevent that problem except rotating your crops and cleaning up the area after harvesting. The spores can live in the soil for many years. The fungus affects the base of the leaves and roots.
- Harvest from fall plantings will probably be in late July or August. In Southern climates, it will depend on your planting date. The clue is to look for yellow tops. Harvest when the tops begin to yellow and fall over, before they are completely dry.
- It’s time for a sample! Lift a bulb to see if the crop is ready. The garlic head will be divided into plump cloves and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs will be thick, dry and papery. If pulled too early, the bulb wrapping will be thin and disintegrate. If left in the ground too long, the bulbs sometimes split apart. The skin may also split, exposing the cloves and causing them not to store well.
- Dig, don’t pull! We often dig up a bulb before the tops are completely yellow (in late June or early July) as some garlic types will be ready earlier. Careless harvesting can ruin a fine crop of garlic.
- To harvest, carefully dig up the bulbs with a spade or garden fork. Lift the plants, carefully brush off the soil, and let them cure in an airy, shady, dry spot for two weeks. We hang them upside down on a string in bunches of 4 to 6. Make sure all sides get good air circulation. Be careful not to bruise the garlic or it won’t store well.
- The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. The root crown should be hard, and the cloves can be cracked apart easily.
- Once the garlic bulbs are dry, you can store them. Remove any dirt and trim off any roots or leaves. Keep the wrappers on—but remove the dirtiest wrappers. Remove the tops and roots.
- Bulbs should be stored in a cool (40 degrees F), dark, dry place, and can be kept in the same way for several months. Don’t store in your basement if it’s moist! Do not store garlic in the refrigerator!
- The flavor will increase as the bulbs are dried. Properly stored, garlic should last until the next crop is harvested the following summer.
- If you plan on planting garlic again next season, save some of your largest, best-formed bulbs to plant again in the fall.
What type of garlic should you plant? There are three types of varieties of garlic: Softneck, Stiffneck, and Great-headed (Elephant). Most types are about 90 days to harvest, once growth starts.
- Hardneck varieties grow one ring of cloves around a stem, there is not a layer of cloves as there is in softneck varieties. They are extremely cold hardy, but do not store as well or long as other varieties. Flavor is more mild than softnecks. Common hardneck types include Korean Red, Duganski, Siberian, Music, Chesnok Red, German Red and Spanish Roja. These varieties produce tiny bulblets at the end of a tall flowering stalk in addition to a fat underground bulb of cloves.
- Softneck varieties, like their name suggests, have necks that stay soft after harvest, and therefore are the types that you see braided. Especially recommended for those in warmer climes, as it is less winter-hardy than other types. Strong, intense flavor. They tend to grow bigger bulbs because energy is not being diverted to top-set bulblets like hardnecks. Softneck varieties include Silverskin, Inchelium Red, California Early and California Late.
- Great-headed (Elephant) garlic is not recommended if you’re looking for a garlic taste. It’s less hardy, and more closely related to leeks than other varieties. The flavor is more like onion than traditional garlic. Bulbs and cloves are large, with about 4 cloves to a bulb.
Garlic can be harvested in early spring like green onions and sautéed as a side dish. Or, you can allow them to mature until mid-July when they become the traditional bulb with cloves.
Wit & Wisdom
- You can also harvest just the green scapes of hardneck garlic varieties. Harvest when the scape begin to curl (often around mid-June). This doesn’t hurt the bulb; in fact, the plant can put more energy into bulb formation. Use the scapes in cooking the same way you would garlic bulbs. We like to stir fry scapes the way we cook green beans—similar, with a spicy kick! Note that they get more fibrous and less edible as they mature.
- Learn how to make your own garlic powder to easily spice up a recipe.
- Roasted garlic bulbs are also a favorite of ours!