Garden Blog

How to Grow Garlic

How to Grow Garlic

Our favorite bulbous storage crop: Garlic. Garlic is a part of the Allium family which also includes leeks and all types of onions (storage, perennial, bunching, etc.). It is an essential ingredient in our kitchens and medicine cabinets - do not underestimate the magic of garlic. So if you’re trying your hand at growing it this year (or aspire to grow it soon), read on for everything you need to know to grow garlic!

Soil Preparation

You’ll want to prep your garlic bed a few weeks before planting. Hoe or till the bed to kill any weeds and add a hefty layer of compost and organic matter. If your soil is heavy or your region is prone to a rainy spring, create hills or raised beds for planting. This allows for better drainage. Hoe again at planting time. 

Planting Garlic

Garlic can bruise easily, so be very gentle when handling the bulbs during planting, harvest, and storage. Store your garlic in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant. 

When to Plant

For most parts of the US, you should plant your seed garlic in October. If you are very far north, you may need to plant in mid-September. If you are very far South, it may be December or January. You should check with your local Agricultural Extension Office for information about the best planting time for your region. 

How to Plant

When you receive your seed garlic it will either be as loose cloves or whole bulbs. If it is in whole bulbs, you’ll want to “pop” the cloves. This means removing the outer paper and separating the individual cloves. Don’t unwrap each clove (like you would for cooking), although if the clove skin comes off, it’s still fine to plant. Lightly squeeze the bulb to check for damage or softness. If you find some, those cloves should not be planted. With any garlic bulb there are always 1-3 naturally occurring very small cloves. Only plant the big, fat ones for bulbs and save the little ones for eating! You could also plant them close together and harvest them early as garlic scallions. Plant them point-end up and root-end down about two inches deep, spaced five inches apart. 

Optional: mulch heavily for the winter. This will help prevent weeds and reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation by keeping in soil moisture for the next nine months. 

Fertilizing 

Garlic benefits from being planted in good quality soil, high in organic matter. Most root establishment happens before winter arrives, but will continue slowly throughout winter. In mid-spring (March) a top dressing of a nitrogen fertilizer will give the plants an extra boost. 

Harvesting 

Hardneck Garlic

Harvest the scape (flower stalk) in spring by snapping off the tendril at the point where it comes out of the plant stalk. Do not let the plant flower or it will reduce the bulb size. These garlic scapes can be eaten and used similarly to how garlic or green onions would be used in the kitchen! Pull bulbs when there are only five or six green leaves left on the plant. Don’t wait too long or the bulb will begin to split! 

Softneck Garlic

Pull bulbs when there are 5 green leaves left. Softneck garlic does not produce a scape. Don’t wait too long to harvest these either as they can also split. 

Curing and Storage 

Do not wash the garlic at harvest time. Instead, just brush off whatever soil is stuck to the bulbs. Store the whole plants in a cool, dry place with good airflow, either laid out flat or hanging in small bundles. Good air flow is very important to prevent mold. After about six weeks, when the plants are thoroughly dry, clip the stalk, trim the roots, and clean off the remaining dirt. 

Seed Saving 

Select the largest, healthiest bulbs for seed stock. Don’t use any discolored or soft bulbs. Replant in the fall to harvest again the following year. 

Hardneck vs. Softneck

Please check out the information on specific varieties for the nuances of flavor and character. Hardneck garlic has larger but fewer cloves per bulb with thicker skins. They produce an edible scape in spring and are considered closer to “wild” garlic with a spicier taste and more cold tolerance. Softneck garlic has smaller but more cloves with papery skin. They do not produce scapes but many varieties store for longer and can tolerate warmer weather. Softnecks can be braided. 

Elephant Garlic

Elephant garlic is actually not a true garlic, but rather it is a form of bulbing leek. The bulbs can get very large and retains a milder garlic flavor that is great for roasting. Plant the cloves as you would for garlic but with increased spacing of eight to twelve inches. Sometimes the plants make a flower stalk. Snap these off if they appear and treat it like a scape or leek flower. Harvest the bulbs when the edges of the leaves begin to brown but are still quite green. Cure and store as you would garlic.