How to grow garlic

One of the best plants to grow at home is garlic. This erotic vegetable is used to make a variety of dishes. The best thing about garlic is its wonderful health benefits. If you want to grow garlic at home, it is easy and inexpensive too. In this article, Boldsky shares with you tips on how to grow garlic in a pot or container:

The main thing about garlic is that it needs bright sunlight with well-drained and light soil. The bulbs of the garlic will also not tolerate water logging. To prevent water logging, you also need to dig in plenty of organic matter such as compost. This is important if want to grow garlic at home in a pot or a container.

How to grow garlic

Here is how you can grow garlic at home in a container or a pot:

Growing garlic in a mud pot at home:
Garlic needs a lot of sunlight for its growth. The soil in the pot should be well-dug. You need to use sandy loam soil as garlic grows best in this type of soil. To grow garlic in a pot at home, the pot needs to be of 20 cm or 8 inches in diameter. The depth of the pot to grow garlic should more or less same so that the roots are strong. After you have planted the pods of the garlic in the pot, cover it with a multi-purpose compost and also add a little fertiliser too.

One of the things to make note when you plant garlic in a pot is to place each of the cloves at a depth of 1 inch from each other. This space will allow the garlic bulbs to swell well. You should also keep in mind that the compost is moist at all times, especially during the hot season.

Growing garlic in a plastic container at home:
You need to get a big plastic pot to grow garlic at home. Garlic swells a lot in size and they need plenty of room to stretch out in the soil. Choose a plastic which is 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide, enough for it to swell. When you plant pods of garlic in the plastic pot, see to it that there are drainage holes at the bottom to allow the excess water to be released. Also, place the plastic container in an area which gets six hours of bright, direct sunlight.

It’s easy to grow your own garlic. It’s hardy, tolerates cold weather well, and does not need pampering. Whether in a garden or a patio pot, garlic grows well under most conditions and requires little maintenance.

Many gardeners, especially those in northern climates, plant their garlic in October. Others prefer to do it on the shortest day of the year — the winter solstice in December. Planting in the fall lengthens the growing time so bulbs get a jump start on spring and can grow larger. Some gardeners in more southern climates prefer to plant garlic four to six weeks before the date of the last frost.

Garlic is robust enough to survive the frigid months, but if the winter seems too cold or the snow doesn’t form a thick enough blanket over the plants, you can cover the bulbs and emerging shoots with straw or other mulching material for insulation.

You can try planting the garlic you buy from your local grocery store, but some grocery store garlic is treated with a sprout inhibitor that disrupts the natural growing cycle. If you don’t know whether your store-bought garlic is treated this way, visit a plant nursery or garden center to purchase naturally grown garlic that is suitable for gardening. If you prefer to try your hand with specialty garlics, visit a garden center or check a seed catalog.

How to Plant

To plant garlic, gently remove the outer skin from the entire bulb and separate the individual cloves, taking care not to damage them. (Leave in place the thin papery skin that covers each clove.) Choose about eight to ten of the largest cloves from the outside of the bulb for planting.

Place the cloves in the ground, tip up, in a place that gets about six hours of direct sunlight per day. Garlic needs to grow quickly to form large bulbs, and full sun fosters fast growth. You’ll also want to be sure the area in which you plant will not become waterlogged in winter.

Work the soil about ten inches deep, adding organic matter and perhaps even sand to improve drainage. Bury the cloves in this loose, fertile soil so the tips are about two inches beneath the surface of the soil and the cloves are four to six inches apart.

Apply a weak organic fertilizer every two weeks or so. Water the plants regularly so the soil is moist but not overly soggy, and pluck out weeds that would otherwise compete for nutrients and possibly overgrow the garlic.

Garlic prefers hotter and drier conditions as it matures. If you water the garlic less frequently near the end of the growing season, it will dry out a bit and its flavor will be better. Of course, the amount of water your garlic needs depends on your area’s climate, so keep a close eye on your soil.

Harvesting Garlic

It’s time to harvest your garlic when the green tops dry out and turn yellow-brown. This is typically about three to four months into the growing season — late summer or early fall. Some gardeners prefer to harvest their garlic on the longest day of the year — the summer solstice in June.

Harvest too early, and you get small bulbs. Harvest too late, and the bulbs may split. This indicates that they have already started their next growing season and diminishes their culinary quality.

Before you harvest all your plants, carefully dig up one bulb and examine it. Check its size, and count the layers of papery skin. If the bulb seems well formed, the cloves are plump, and there are about three layers of papery covering, harvest your crop.

If there are four or more layers, let the plants grow a bit longer. When you’re ready to harvest, use a small garden trowel to loosen the soil around each bulb. Then dig up the entire plant and shake off loose soil.

Some gardeners save part of their crop for planting again. Others believe that doing so heightens the risk of disease and results in smaller bulbs the next year. Because you can easily buy garlic to plant at a garden center, there may not be a need to save any cloves, unless you cultivate unusual varieties.

After the harvest, your garlic can last for months — just don’t pack it in plastic. Get more tips on the next page.

For more information about the subjects covered on this page, try the links below:

  • To learn about how to use garlic medicinally, read the article The Health Benefits of Garlic.
  • For more information about how to plant herbs, try How to Grow an Herb Garden.
  • If you wanted to know how to cook with garlic, our How to Cook Italian Food article has some great advice.

While garlic is quite easy to grow, here’s a list pointers to answer any lingering questions you might have:

How to grow garlic

The mild climate of northern California grows most commercial garlic. These varieties of garlic will not grow well in Minnesota, and will develop a “hot” flavor.

When choosing garlic for your garden, use varieties adapted to cold climates.

Note that elephant garlic is a type of leek, not a true garlic.

Hardneck types

How to grow garlic

  • Common hardneck types are Rocambole, Purple Stripe and Porcelain.
  • Hardneck varieties produce a flowering stalk, called a scape.
  • Flowers on scapes usually abort and form “bulbils,” or small, aerial cloves.
  • You can remove scapes just after they start curling and eat them. You can also use more mature scapes in flower arrangements.

Softneck types

  • Softneck types include Artichoke and Silverskin.
  • These varieties typically produce more cloves and are easy to braid.
  • Softneck varieties do not grow a flowering stalk like the hardneck types. Climate can change this quality. A variety that is softneck in one location can form a flowering stalk in a different location.

Planting

Growing garlic from cloves

  • To grow garlic, you must plant cloves. Purchase cloves from national or local garlic seed producers.
  • Avoid planting cloves from garlic purchased at the grocery store. This garlic, primarily the softneck variety, does not do well under Minnesota conditions.
  • Plant cloves in the fall, usually one or two weeks after the first killing frost.
  • Roots and shoots will emerge from the cloves by the first hard freeze, but shoots will usually not emerge from the soil until the following spring.
  • Separate individual cloves a day or two before planting.
  • Plant cloves in double rows, six inches apart. Center the rows on beds, 30 inches apart. Plant cloves pointed side up, with the base of the clove two to three inches from the soil surface.
  • Cover beds with three to four inches of leaf or straw mulch to prevent fluctuating temperatures during the winter and early spring, and to help control weeds.
  • Remove mulch in the spring after the threat of hard freezes is over to help the soil warm up. You can also leave it in place to help with weed control and preserve soil moisture.

How to keep your garlic plants healthy and productive

  • Proper watering will help growth of your garlic plants.
  • Soak the soil thoroughly when watering, to a depth of at least one inch each week during the growing season.
  • Sandy soils require more frequent watering.
  • Stop watering two weeks before harvest to avoid staining bulb wrappers and promoting diseases.
  • Control weeds early, they can easily overtake young garlic plants.
  • Use mulch to reduce annual weed growth. Use straw free of weed seed as mulch.
  • A thorough, shallow cultivation before reapplying straw mulch in the spring will reduce annual weed populations.

Insects are not a major problem with garlic, although onion maggot is a potential pest. Onion maggots bore into plant stems, causing the plants to turn yellow and wilt.

Garlic is vulnerable to several types of rot. Fusarium basal rot is the most common.

To avoid these diseases, plant only healthy cloves, manage weeds in the garden and take care not to injure garlic bulbs while working in the garden.

Plant garlic in an area where you have not planted onions, chives, leeks, shallots or garlic for the past four years.

Articles

Updated: August 21, 2019

Overview

Authors

Paula Ream

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Gently pull apart cloves, planting each one pointy-side up about two inches deep and six inches apart. Choose healthy, intact cloves, not those that are squishy or have been sitting around on your kitchen counter too long (plus, garlic from the grocery store is often treated not to sprout, so it might not grow). Each clove will yield one head when it’s time to harvest the following summer.

Recommended Varieties

  • Softneck (consists of many small cloves, stores longer): New York White
  • Hardneck or stiffneck (easier to peel, can eat the stems, called “scapes”): Russian Red, German Extra Hardy

How to Care for Garlic

Feed in the spring by top-dressing the planting bed with compost once the garlic has emerged (usually in late winter). Add ¼ cup of balanced fertilizer per two plants. Garlic doesn’t like competition, so weed regularly so your bulbs can grow to good size. Garlic tends to like somewhat dry soil in summer.

How to grow garlic

Sure, though it’s not going to form heads but instead will be eaten as “green garlic.” Trim off and eat the green shoots, like you would a scallion, when they reach 10 inches tall or so.

How do you grow garlic in pots?

Use a container that’s at least 12 inches deep, allowing about a gallon of soil per plant. Heads will be smaller than when grown in ground.

How do you grow garlic scapes?

Foodies love garlic scapes, the buds of hardneck garlic varieties; softneck varieties do not produce scapes. As the stem grows, it curls into a circle and ends with a pointed seedpod. Cut off these stems, and roast or sauté for delicate garlic flavor in dishes.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest?

Wait until about half the leaves have turned yellow or brown, then push a hand trowel into the soil next to the plant. Loosen the soil and lift up the whole plant. Don’t just yank it up and rip the stem off. Leave roots and stems on, and let it sit in the sun to cure for up to a few weeks on the garden bed or lawn (cover if it’s going to rain). You want to reduce the moisture content so it stores longer.

“Garlic is easy to grow and not needy like some other vegetables. Follow the tips, and you’ll get a decent harvest,” says Colin McCrate, founder of Seattle Urban Farm Company, author of Food Grown Right in Your Own Backyard and High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, and producer of the Encyclopedia Botanica podcast. “Once you’ve harvested garlic, keep air circulating around it by hanging it up, or it will become moldy. And never store it in a tight-lidded container.”

How to grow garlic

Archeological evidence suggests that garlic is one of the oldest crops in the world. It’s cultivation likely began around 5,000 years ago. References to garlic are found in ancient texts from India, Egypt, and China, and garlic bulbs have even been found in Egyptian tombs. Back then, garlic was probably used more as medicine and a nutritional supplement than as the flavoring agent and spice we consider it to be today. Recent research into allicin, the chemical that gives garlic its signature “garlickiness,” shows that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it looks like our ancestors were onto something. Regardless of whether you are using it as a medicine, a delicious spice to round out homegrown meals, or both, garlic is a wonderful addition to any garden.

Types of Garlic There are two categories of garlic which are both subspecies of Allium sativum. Colloquially they are referred to as “hardneck” and “softneck” garlic.

Softneck garlic is what most people are familiar with as it is the type most commonly found in the supermarket. The reason this is the typical commercially produced garlic is because it has a longer shelf-life and larger cloves than hardneck garlic. The name “softneck” refers to the lack of a woody stem protruding from the garlic head that is present in the hardneck varieties. This makes the stalk above the garlic head more malleable and easier to braid. Softneck garlic is less cold-hardy and does not require a long cold period to produce a bulb so it is ideal for growers in warmer planting zones.

Hardneck garlic is less common in commercial production due to its relatively shorter shelf life, but because it is much more cold-hardy than softneck garlic, it is well-suited to Northern gardens. In fact, hardneck varieties require about two months of cold weather to produce a full bulb the following summer. Unlike the softneck varieties, hardneck garlic has a woody stem running all the way up the stalk. This stalk is the remnant of the reproductive part of the plant called the “garlic scape” which can be harvested in the spring and has a delicious mild garlic flavor.

There is a third type of “garlic” commonly referred to as elephant garlic, which is actually a type of leek (Allium ampeloprasum) but strongly resembles garlic in appearance. It produces giant cloves that have a very mild garlicky flavor. This plant is less cold-hardy than true garlic so it will do best in warmer planting zones.

Regardless of which type of garlic you are growing, it’s best to start with certified seed garlic cloves which you can buy from most seed companies. Garlic bulbs from the grocery store are often sprayed with growth inhibitors that prevent them from sprouting on the shelf. Even organic garlic from the grocery store was likely grown hundreds of miles away and is therefore probably not suited to your planting zone. Once you grow your first crop, you can use that garlic to plant going forward as long as the cloves appear healthy.

How to grow garlic

How to Plant Garlic Garlic prefers well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter so a raised bed with a good amount of compost worked into the soil is the ideal growing environment. Because garlic is susceptible to fungal diseases and root rot, heavy clay soils that hold a lot of moisture are not ideal.

Although garlic is harvested in mid-summer, it is planted the prior fall after the first frost. Keep this in mind when deciding where to plant your garlic because you probably don’t want to occupy your prime garden real estate with garlic for eight months out of the year. To maximize the output of our garden beds, we usually plant potatoes or peppers immediately after harvesting our garlic and they are ready to harvest just before the cold weather comes in.

To plant your garlic, simply separate the cloves from the head and choose the biggest, healthiest looking ones to grow. Make sure to leave the papery husk on each clove as it will protect them from disease while they get established. You want to push your garlic clove about 3 inches into the soil with the pointy side facing up. Garlic does not like to be crowded so you should space each clove at least 6 inches apart. It also helps to heavily mulch the garlic beds to prevent weed pressure from competing with them.

The garlic will appear to be doing very little over the winter, but it’s actually establishing its roots beneath the soil and preparing to emerge in the spring. When the ground begins to warm the garlic will push a shoot up through the soil and produce a stalk. As I mentioned above, if you are growing a hardneck variety you will get a delicious bonus harvest of garlic scapes in the spring. If left alone, the garlic scape will eventually produce a flower, but it’s important to remove these early to prevent the plant from focusing energy on the production of the scape instead of the bulbs.

When to Harvest Garlic About eight months after planting, the leaves of your garlic will begin yellowing and drying out starting from the base of the stalk up. The common rule of thumb is when three to four of the leaves are dry and brown it’s time to pull your garlic.

Each dry leaf represents one layer of skin around your garlic head and three to four is the perfect amount to cure your mature garlic. If your plants begin to yellow and dry out long before the bulbs are formed and mature, you are likely dealing with a fungal problem and need to find a more well-drained planting site for next year.

How to grow garlic

How to Store Garlic Now that your fully mature garlic is up and out of the ground, you want to knock off any large clumps of soil that came up with the roots, but otherwise leave it as is. Don’t wash the soil off of your garlic or attempt to brush it off at this point because you might end up damaging the tender skins. The final step is to cure your garlic in a dark, well-ventilated area like a basement or closet with a fan circulating the air. The garlic bulbs should be exposed to the air on all sides so either lay them in a single layer on a wire rack or braid their stalks and hang them up.

The curing process takes about three to four weeks, after which you can brush off the remaining soil and store them for use in the kitchen. In ideal conditions, hardneck garlic can store for about six months and softneck garlic can store for nine months, but in the average kitchen they will likely not last that long. For long-term storage, you can dehydrate or pickle your garlic cloves to enjoy all winter. Just be sure to put aside enough cloves to plant for next year’s crop.

Gardeners just getting into garlic have some decisions to make: there are dozens of different varieties, and choosing which one to grow can be difficult. But it’s hard to go wrong. Experimenting with various varieties can lead to a new appreciation of a crop you already love.

Two Main Types of Garlic

Hardneck Garlic, sometimes called top-setting garlic.

Softneck Garlic, sometimes called artichoke garlic.

When to Grow Each Type of Garlic

Gardeners in cold climates usually grow hardneck types, such as ‘German Red’, ‘Maiskij’, ‘Music’, and ‘Ajo Rojo’. These produce tight heads of garlic with up to about a dozen cloves around a central stalk. Garlic connoisseurs say that hardneck garlics have rich and complex flavors.

Softneck garlic normally grows best in climates with hot summers and mild winters. ‘Nootka Rose’, ‘Viola Francese’, and ‘Inchelium Red’ are all softneck garlics, known for their productivity (some softneck types produce up to 40 cloves per bulb), for great traditional garlic flavor, and for their ability to keep for months.

If you live in an area where cool-season lawns (bluegrass, perennial rye, fine fescue) are the norm, a hardneck garlic seed is a good first choice; where warm-season zoysia and bermuda lawns thrive, soft-neck garlics are more often planted in home gardens. In transitional zones, you can have success with either type — but, no matter where you live, if you’re not sure which varieties to try, the best idea is to plant some of each. Trying several different types all at once gives you a chance to find out which ones perform — and taste — best in your own climate and conditions. Garlic is an adaptable plant, and even the experts like to experiment.

Choosing the Right Type of Garlic for Your Garden

Growing Hardneck Garlic

How to grow garlic

Hardneck garlics are known for their extreme hardiness. In warm climates the heads of hardneck garlic may be smaller than they would be in climates with bone-chilling winters, but you’ll still get a good harvest, and interesting garlic flavors. To improve the yield, cut off the tall flower scapes after they begin to curl around on themselves. The scapes are delicious in salads or salad dressing, and they can even be pickled. When you cut off the scape, the plant puts its energy into producing garlic cloves instead of flowers.

Growing Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic normally doesn’t produce a flower scape, which may account for its natural tendency to produce more cloves and to mature a little earlier than hardneck types. If you would like to make braid of garlic heads, grow a softneck type; ‘Siciliano’ and ‘Silver Rose’ are particularly good for making into pretty, long-lasting braids.

When it’s time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, it’s garlic-planting season, too. Plant in the fall for harvest the following spring, summer, or early fall. Like tulip and daffodil bulbs, garlic cloves should be planted with the pointed end up. Plant them three to four inches deep and six inches apart. That’s it: your garlic harvest is assured.

How to grow garlic

As far as I’m concerned, garlic gets the blue ribbon for backyard produce. It grows easily, tastes great, and takes up little room. Even those with small gardens can raise enough to be self-sufficient in garlic for a good part of the year.

All you have to do is plant the the right varieties at the right time and in the right soil. Then harvest when the timing is right and store correctly. Here are the steps:

1. Choosing Types of Garlic

How to grow garlic

If you look in a specialist catalog, you’ll find dozens of varieties, but for general purposes, the most important difference is between softneck and hardneck.

Softnecks get their name because the whole green plant dies down, leaving nothing but the bulb and flexible stems that are easy to braid. Hardnecks have a stiff stem in the center that terminates in a beautiful flower — or cluster of little bulbs — and then dries to a rigid stick that makes braiding impossible.

Softnecks, standard in grocery stores, are the easiest to grow in mild regions. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they’re less hardy and produce small, strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there’s a real winter since they’re more vulnerable to splitting — or simply refusing to produce — in warm climates.

Gardeners in most of the U.S. can try some of both. Specialty sellers will suggest best bets based on your climate and tastes (check out your gardening zones here). It’s also wise to get some seed stock from your local farmer’s’ market. Whatever that garlic is, it’s growing where you are.

2. Planting Garlic

Mid-fall, plant garlic bulbs in loose, fertile soil that’s as weed-free as possible. Insert cloves root-side down about 8 inches apart in all directions, burying the tips about 2 inches down. Green shoots will come up; mulch around them with straw. After a hard freeze kills the shoots, draw the mulch over the whole bed.

In spring, pull the mulch back when the new shoots emerge. Give them a shot of mixed fish emulsion and liquid seaweed. Keep them weeded. Water only if the soil is dry 2 or more inches down, never pouring water into the crowns of the plants.

3. Cutting Garlic Scapes

How to grow garlic

I spent most of my gardening life cutting off the flowering scapes of hardneck garlic so they wouldn’t draw energy from the bulbs. Then I read a story about a garlic growing guru who said it didn’t matter a whit.

Well, it isn’t really much bother. Tender young scapes are delicious and older, curly ones look wonderful in the vase. I set up an experiment, allotting 30 spaces each, in two rows, and planting the same variety in both of them. When the garlic were about half-grown, we set about cutting the scapes, but only from one row of the plants. At harvest, after trimming, we got 5 pounds of garlic out of the cut row, 6.5 pounds out of the one we left alone.

Tips for Cutting Garlic Scapes

1. There’s no harm in taking a few to eat, but don’t wait until they’re large. Most of the scapes for sale are bigger than the 4 to 6 inches long; they should be that length for best flavor and texture.

2. You can cut some for a vase too, but don’t take them too soon. If you wait until the tops are well-developed, you might get a head of tiny garlic grains that can be used whole and unpeeled in place of minced garlic. Or you’ll find a clump of small round bulbs, called topsets, that can be stored all winter long and planted close together in early spring, producing the garlic equivalent of scallions.

4. Harvesting Garlic

How to grow garlic

Garlic varieties are divided into early, midseason, and late, depending on your climate zone and the weather during the growing year. Heat speeds them up, cold slows them down. Although the harvest window is wide if you plan to eat the garlic fresh, it’s narrow if you want to ensure maximum storage life.

The bulbs are ready when most of the lower leaves have browned. The upper ones will still look green. “Lift the bulbs” usually describes moving things like daffodils, but it’s also a good way to think about harvesting garlic. Those heads are more delicate than they seem.

Choose an overcast day when the soil is dry. Loosen the soil with a digging fork, inserting it well away from the heads, then lift them out of the row and place them in a flat carrier.

5. Curing Garlic

Let the whole plants dry in a single layer out of the sun, where it’s warm but not hot. When the outer skin is papery, brush off as much dirt as possible and clip the roots. Rush this a bit if you’re braiding garlic stems. If you wait until they’re completely dry, they tend to crack and break.

The finished garlic will still look dirty compared to anything commercial. Leave it that way because further cleanup can shorten storage life. If you can’t bear the way it looks, try removing the outer layer of wrapper.

6. Storing Garlic

How to grow garlic

The ideal temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with moderate humidity and good air circulation, in the light, but they must be out of the sun. We keep our garlic stored in an unheated, but insulated, closet. Those less-fortunate in the storage department should avoid the refrigerator (excess cold leads to sprouting) and plastic bags, which can cause rot.