Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned gardener, garlic should have a place in your garden! Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow, stores wonderfully all winter long, and is so versatile in the kitchen you can never have too much! Read on for my full garlic growing guide.
Adding garlic to your garden
Garlic is an easy addition to your garden. It takes up very little space and gets along great with many other plants. The garlic smell can even deter many unwanted garden pests. The smell can deter spider mites, aphids, ants, snails, rabbits, and even deer! Garlic can be tucked in among rows of potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and more.
Garlic is also a welcome friend in the flower garden and pairs especially well with roses, chamomile, geraniums, marigolds, yarrow, rue, and nasturtiums. The only plants that don’t like garlic growing near them are asparagus, beans, & peas. Click here to read more about companion gardening
Plant your garlic in well-drained soil that receives full sun. A raised bed or container will work perfectly! To avoid a build-up of plant-specific disease and to maintain healthy soil, practice crop rotation. You should not plant your garlic in an area that in the last two years has grown an onion family plant (onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, chives).
Garlic Seed or Cloves?
For most home gardeners, garlic cloves are used to produce new garlic plants. Garlic does produce very small seeds, similar in size to onion seeds, which can be harvested if you allow your garlic to flower. Growing garlic from cloves is much easier and will produce a plant identical to its mother plant. Unless you are looking to create new cultivars, growing from cloves is the way to go!
While you might technically be able to grow a new garlic plant using garlic you would find in the grocery store, I wouldn’t recommend it. You will have much better results with garlic meant to be used for seed. Grocery store garlic might not be a variety suited to grow in your climate. It also has usually been treated to prevent it from sprouting in your pantry.
If you live in a mild climate and buy organic garlic at the grocery store you might have luck growing grocery-store garlic, Otherwise I would recommend going with seed garlic cloves. Each individual clove is broken off and planted where it will multiply into its own garlic bulb containing 5-10 cloves. At the end of the growing season, set aside one of your best garlic bulbs to be used for seed for the next growing season.
What type of garlic should I grow?
There are hundreds of varieties of seed garlic available with a range of flavors from mild to strong. If you purchase at a local nursery, the selection will be garlic types appropriate for your climate. If you are buying online, you will want to pay attention to recommended growing zones. Garlic has hundreds of varieties, but are broken into two categories:
Hardneck Garlic – best suited for cold climates, hardneck garlic will also produce edible flower stalks called garlic scapes. The flower stalk should be cut down to allow the plant to focus all its energy on growing the bulb and boosting its “garlic” flavor. The scapes can be cut up and used in the place of garlic in any recipe for a mild garlic flavor.
Softneck Garlic – best suited for warm climates. Softneck garlic has a longer shelf life and milder flavor than hardneck varieties. This is the type of garlic most often grown commercially. Does not generally produce flowers but can be harvested early for fresh green garlic.
Garlic is most often planted in the fall, but it can also be planted in the early spring. If planting in the fall, plan your planting for 4-6 weeks before the ground freezing. Once the ground freezes, the garlic will go dormant until the spring, but in the meantime, it will get a head start on the growing season. When garlic is overwintered in the ground it encourages the seed to split into more cloves. After planting in the fall, cover in a thick layer of mulch to help soil temperatures stay even and avoid frost heaves. If planting in the spring, plant seeds in the ground as soon as the ground can be worked.
Garlic likes to have evenly moist to slightly dry soil. If the soil becomes waterlogged the bulbs will rot, so proper drainage is important. Separate your seed garlic into cloves. Space the cloves 4-6 inches apart. Push each clove a couple of inches into the soil with the pointy end up.
If you are growing softneck garlic, you can harvest some in early summer to use as fresh green garlic. If you are growing a hardneck variety, you will have the garlic scapes to use for an early harvest. Both green garlic and garlic scapes can be used the same way in recipes for a mild garlic flavor. In my zone 7 garden I can usually harvest scapes around late June/early July.
When to harvest garlic
In late summer (late July/early August) the leaves will turn yellow & brown and it’s harvest time! Harvesting at the right time is the hardest part of growing garlic. If the garlic is left in the ground too long it can get mushy and the cloves can start to separate. When the leaves begin turning brown, you can bend the tops over to help them along. I also stop watering them at this point. You want the tops & soil to be dry when you harvest. When you think they might be ready, dig or pull one or two garlic bulbs up. It should be large and feel full. If it does, pull the rest of the bulbs up.
Drying your garlic
Allow your garlic to dry in a well-ventilated place until the tops & bulbs are completely dry. A warm location out of direct sunlight is best for this. Expect the drying process to take anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on the weather.
When they are totally dry, brush any excess dirt off but don’t wash them. Sort the bulbs. Any that were damaged during harvest (pierced, bruised, or separated) should be used first as they won’t store well. Set aside the biggest and best bulbs for next season’s seed.
Keep the garlic in whole bulbs, if you divide it into cloves, they will rot much faster. You can tie or braid the garlic leaves and hang them until you are ready to use. You could also cut the stem a few inches above the bulb and store them in an airy basket. Garlic can be stored for several months if kept in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated location. Check on them often and use any that start to sprout.