Gardening

Garlic Growing Guide

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Whether you are a beginner or seasoned gardener, garlic needs to find a place in your yard!  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!

Great Garlic 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 really don’t like garlic 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 & 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

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 it’s 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.  Store bought 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 store bought garlic, but otherwise I would recommend going with seed garlic.  Each individual clove is broken off and planted where it will multiple into it’s own garlic bulb containing 5-10 cloves.

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 types appropriate for your climate, but 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 it’s energy on growing the bulb and boosting it’s “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 that 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 flower

Planting & Harvesting

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 prior to the ground freezing.  Once the ground freezes, the garlic will go dormant until the spring, but in the mean time it will get a wonderful 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.

Brave garlic shoots are just fine with a late spring snow

Separate your seed garlic into cloves.  Space the cloves 4-6 inches apart.  Push each clove a couple inches into the soil with the pointy end up.

Garlic likes to have evenly moist to slightly dry soil.  If the soil becomes waterlogged the bulbs will rot, so proper drainage is important.

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 these around late June/early July.

In late summer (late July/early August depending on climate) the leaves will be turning 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 is does, pull the rest of the bulbs up.

Allow them to dry in a well ventilated place until the tops & bulbs are completely dry.  A warm location 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 either tie or braid the garlic leaves and hang until you are ready to use, or you can cut the stem a few inches above the bulb and store in a 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.


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8 Comments

  1. Robynne Catheron says:

    Hi Liz! Excellent information here. I’ve always wanted to try growing garlic but never had the courage to venture into the unknown. I think I’ll try it this fall! You mentioned drying it in sunlight- is that indoors or outside? Probably a dumb question, but I’m clueless here ?
    I want to grow only organic vegetables, just a few of the less common ones; some to keep but most to give or sell. It’s just me, but I love garlic, and I live on a busy, but rural road. How many garlic plants would you recommend I start with? Is twenty too many?

    Thanks for any advice!

    1. I love garlic too! I don’t think 20 is too many – if you have too much, no one is going to turn down a gift of fresh garlic! I like to dry my garlic outdoors in the sun, but the weather needs to cooperate for that. You can definitely also dry it in a sunny window though.

  2. Scott says:

    I am looking forward to planting hardneck garlic in Orleans next month. I have successfully done so for several years (as it IS so easy to grow!). I like to read about the subject this time of year and I came across your post. I enjoyed reading it, but question re curing: “A sunny location is best for this.”
    Other reads on curing state that curing garlic in the sun may lead to “sunburn” or worse. (I’ve always cured my crop shielded from the sun).
    Cheers.

    1. Hmm interesting, I have always cured my garlic & onions on my deck which is mostly sunny, but definitely has some dappled shade, and have not noticed any ill effects. I know I have read that the garlic can experience flavor loss if the sun is too strong. I might have to run some experiments next year with curing in a couple different locations. Thanks for the info

  3. Cori Shannon says:

    Hello, We are hoping to order Hard Neck Garlic Bulbs for our Garden Center, and have only been able to find vendors of Soft neck varieties. Are there Hard Neck varieties that you might recommend specifically for the Cape? Thank you so much, we appreciate your advise. If you have a suggestion where we may find it as well, please include this. Thanks!

    1. Hi Cori, I have in the past got hard neck garlic locally at Mahoneys, but also have had great luck with ones that I ordered online from Gurney’s Seeds

      1. Cori Shannon says:

        Thanks so much Liz! Do you remember what hard neck variety you found at Mahoneys?

        1. Unfortunately I don’t remember. Last year I grew Purple Glazer from Gurney’s and they were really good

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