Planting Garlic in the Fall

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How and When to Plant Garlic

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Do you have your cloves in the ground yet? Garlic is incredibly useful in the kitchen and surprisingly easy to grow in the garden. The best time to plant it is in the fall. Learn how and when to plant garlic to maximize your harvest!

When to Plant Garlic

Fall is traditionally the best time to plant garlic in most regions. A good rule of thumb is to not plant garlic until after the autumnal equinox in late September. Just like onions and other plants in the Allium family, garlic is sensitive to day length and matures during the longest days of summer. Fall planting gives it a jumpstart on the growing season, and it will be one of the first things to come up in the garden next spring.Fall is traditionally the best time to plant garlic in most regions. A good rule of thumb is to not plant garlic until after the autumnal equinox in late September.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic is extremely easy to grow, but good soil preparation is necessary if you want to produce the best and biggest bulbs. They need deeply cultivated, well-drained, rich soil with a pH of 6.4-6.8. Add 2-3 inches of compost and well-rotted manure to the bed before planting.

Garlic bulbs

Use quality seed garlic and plant several varieties just in case one does poorly. Separate the cloves no more than 48 hours before planting to keep them from drying out. The largest cloves will produce the biggest bulbs. Plant individual cloves, peels intact, pointy end up, 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Mulch 5-8 inches deep with seedless straw. It will pack down over the winter to about 2 inches by spring and help to keep the weeds down during the growing season. Your garlic will form roots, but little or no top growth before the ground freezes solid.

Garlic emerges in the spring with straw mulch
Garlic emerges in the spring.

Early next spring, your garlic will be ready to grow, sending up tiny green shoots as soon as the ground thaws.

Caring for Garlic Plants

Feed the plants every other week with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer from when shoots emerge in early spring until approximately June 1. Water is critical during the bulb-forming stage in early summer, so try for an inch a week, including rainfall.

If you are growing hard-neck garlic—the best type for the northeast—around the summer solstice, your garlic will send up a seed stalk called a scape. This should be cut off to encourage the plants to put all their energy into bulb formation.

Garlic scapes in a garden
Garlic scapes.

These stalks curl into a loop and are delicious. Chop them and add to salad, stir fry, soup, scrambled eggs, or any dish you want to enhance with a little garlic flavor. Buzzed in the blender with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese, they make especially good pesto.

Leave one or two flower stalks standing to help you decide when to harvest your garlic. About four weeks before harvest, the outer wrappers on the garlic bulbs start to dry, so stop watering in July. Too much water at that stage can stain the wrapper or even cause mold.

Garlic Pests and Diseases

Not too many pests bother garlic but don’t plant it where you have had trouble with wireworms or nematodes. Disease is more of an issue in poorly drained soils. See our Pest & Diseases Pages for more information.

How and When to Harvest Garlic

Harvest your garlic around the end of July or early August, when the lower third to half of the leaves have turned brown and wilted, but the upper leaves are still green.

It can be tricky deciding exactly when to harvest, which is where the flower stalks can come in handy. If the leaves start turning brown and the scapes uncurl and stand up straight, it is time to harvest.

Storing Garlic

Hang bunches of newly harvested garlic to dry in a cool, well-ventilated, shady spot for 3-4 weeks to cure. After the leaves, roots, and outer wrappers are completely dry, brush off any loose soil, trim the roots to 1/4 inch, and cut the tops back to an inch or two above the bulb before storing. Under optimum conditions of near freezing temps and 65-70% humidity, hard-neck garlic will keep for five months and soft neck for eight months.

garlic bulbs labelled and ready for winter storage
Labeled garlic ready for storage—or use!

Save your biggest cloves to replant for next year. Old-timers say garlic “learns” because it adapts to your growing conditions and improves yearly. Grab life by the bulbs and plant some garlic this fall!

Learn more about garlic on our Garlic Growing Guide page.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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