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It’s easy to grow garlic! You can plant garlic in containers or in the garden and get a huge harvest. Learn the types of garlic, when to plant garlic, the best fertilizers to use, and how to harvest and cure garlic.
Garlic is amazingly easy to grow, and is one of the few crops that never fails me. I’ve grown it for several years in our backyard garden and always end up with a great harvest.
If you have a little patch of sun in your yard, you absolutely need to grow your own garlic. It does great in containers, raised beds, or directly in the soil. Let’s cover some garlic basics before we head out into the garden.
Are you a brand new gardener? Not sure what to plant or when to plant it? I can help.
You’ll find lots of great information in my new book, The First-Time Gardener: Container Food Gardening.
Types of Garlic
First we need to talk about garlic anatomy. The terms “garlic bulb” and “garlic clove” are two different things, and they aren’t interchangeable! A garlic bulb, or head of garlic, means this entire thing.
Garlic cloves are the individual pieces inside the bulb. Each garlic clove that you plant will grow into an entire head of garlic.
Garlic’s species name is Allium sativum. If you studied Latin in high school, you’ll recognize that the allium name means that garlic is related to onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. There are two major varieties, hardneck garlic (ophioscorodon) and softneck garlic (sativum).
By the way: elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is not a true garlic. It’s a type of leek that provides very mild garlic flavor. It’s impressive in size but not in flavor.
There are many different types of garlic, with different tastes, hardiness, and storage life. It’s important to know which kind is best for your garden before you start planting. When choosing which type to plant, consider its country of origin and your climate. If you’re in Florida, for example, a garlic variety that originated in Russia probably won’t grow well.
Hardneck garlic is best for growing in for cold climates. But what does “hardneck” mean? This refers to the thick stem or flower stalk that grows up in the middle of the bulb.
This thick stem is called a scape, and it usually grows into a squiggle at the top of its stalk. Scapes can be harvested while tender and green, for use in scrambled eggs or stir fry. They give a mild garlic flavor, equvalent to that of a green onion.
If you leave the scapes to grow, they will become woody (i.e., not good eats) and eventually flower. I harvest the scapes so that all of the plant’s energy is going toward growing a larger bulb.
Hardneck garlic typically has a single layer of large cloves, and the paper “skin” that encloses each clove is easy to remove.
Sounds like a dream, right? Bigger cloves, easy to use…the only drawback with hardneck garlic is that it’s not good for long-term storage. It starts to sprout and grow within 2-3 months of harvest.
If you harvest more garlic than you can eat, it’s easy to freeze extra garlic with these tips.
Popular hardneck varieties include Chesnok Red, Music (or Musik), and Spanish Roja.
Softneck garlic grows best in mild climates, and it doesn’t have a stem, or scape. Because the plant isn’t expending energy growing this stem, softneck garlic heads usually have more cloves than hardneck garlic.
The inner cloves are smaller, and there can be anywhere from 4-8 larger, outer cloves. This can be helpful for chefs who want the option to choose larger or smaller cloves in a recipe. You can also save the very largest cloves from your harvest to plant next year.
If you like to braid and hang garlic in your kitchen, you’ll want to use softneck garlic. You can easily braid the leaves, since there is no woody stem. Softneck garlic keeps up to 9 months.
Popular softneck varieties are Inchelium Red, California Early, and Nootka Rose.
Planting & Spacing
Here in Zone 9, we plant garlic between September and October (the earlier, the better). Garlic has a 9-10 month growing season, so choose a part of your garden that won’t be needed until late summer.
You can plant garlic directly in the garden, in raised beds, or in containers. Use quality soil and add lots of well-rotted manure and homemade compost to make sure it gets the nutrients it needs.
Garlic needs to be spaced properly so it has room to grow. Each clove should be planted 4-6″ apart and 3″ deep, in full sun.
Because I plant so much garlic, Hubby made me this plantermajigger from a piece of scrap wood and some dowels. He attached a couple of old drawer handles on the top so I can easily press it into the soil and lift it out.
If you don’t have a plantermajigger, no worries. Just poke holes in the soil with a pencil or stick.
Prepare for Planting
Now it’s time to prepare your seed garlic. I like the different varieties from Renee’s Garden and Botanical Interests, but you can use organic garlic from the farmers’ market too. Don’t use the kind at the grocery store, because it’s usually sprayed with chemicals and stuff that keeps it from sprouting.
First, take off the outside “paper” so you can see the individual cloves.
Then pop the cloves off the base and get ready to plant. Note: don’t plant the tiniest cloves, like the one in the lower left corner. Tiny cloves make tiny crops! Save those for cooking.
You’ll push one clove into each of the little holes you made. Be sure you’re planting them right side up, with the pointy part up and the root-attachment down.
After you’ve put one clove in each hole, spread some soil over and pat it down gently. Then water the area with diluted kelp fertilizer to start ’em off right.
After a week or so, you’ll see the green shoots sprouting through. Now it’s time to do something that seems counterintuitive–it’s time to mulch the entire area with a few inches of straw.
Why on earth would we do that? If you’ve ever had garlic sprout on your counter, you know it will grow under the toughest conditions. The straw mulch insulates the ground, keeps the soil moist, and prevents the weeds from growing. The garlic will grow right through the straw, and the weeds won’t.
Watering & Fertilizing
Even though your garlic plants are mulched with straw, they still need to be watered and fertilized throughout the growing season.
Before watering, move a bit of straw aside to see if the soil is moist. If it is, you don’t need to water yet. Come back and check again in 2-3 days. If the soil is dry, water until the ground is saturated. Check the soil each time you water, to prevent downy mildew or bulb rot due to overwatering.
Garlic needs monthly applications of fertilizer to thrive. I like to use diluted kelp fertilizer or side-dress the plants with bone meal to give them maximum nutrients.
Pests, Diseases, Companion Plants
Great news! Most garden pests will leave your garlic alone. There is a small chance you could see damage from onion thrips or onion maggots, but I’ve grown garlic for 20+ years and have never seen insect damage.
It’s more likely that you’ll see downy mildew or bulb rot from overwatering, so always check the soil before watering.
Garlic is a wonderful companion plant! Companion plants are plants that help other plants grow better, or keep pests away. Garlic is a great companion plant for fruit trees and roses. You don’t want to plant garlic near peas or beans, since the garlic will inhibit their growth.
Learn lots more about companion planting with the great book, Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden.
Harvesting & Storing Garlic
Your garlic will grow throughout the winter and spring and will be ready to harvest in late summer.
When the bottom leaves start to turn brown, stop watering the garlic patch. Your garlic will be ready to harvest about a week after that last watering. Here in Zone 9, my garlic is usually ready to harvest in early July.
You might be tempted to harvest your garlic by pulling the leaves, like you do with carrots. However, I’ve found that this will just break the stems off and leave the bulbs underground. (FAIL)
As you can see, garlic roots are deep and strong. They’ll hang on to the soil and the leaves will give way first, you can guarantee it.
I’ve had the best success with using a shovel or fork and digging down between the rows to lift the bulbs out gently.
Shake off the large clumps of dirt but don’t disturb the outer wrappers or wash the garlic. I leave them outside in the shade for one day (if it’s under 90F outside) and then bring them in to complete the curing.
Curing the garlic helps concentrate the flavors, and allows the garlic to keep longer without sprouting.
I used to bundle the garlic and hang it in the garage to cure. However, because the temperatures aren’t stable out there, it proved to be a bad idea.
Now I use a homemade drying rack (that looks suspiciously like a baby gate) and it works perfectly.
It’s sitting a few inches off the ground so it has good air circulation, and is inside the house and out of the sun.
Before setting the garlic out to cure, dust off any chunks of dirt. Leave the roots and paper intact, and cut off the stems about halfway up.
Lay out the garlic in a single layer on the drying rack. It’s OK if the bulbs touch each other, but try not to pile them on top of each other.
Let the garlic sit on the drying rack, out of the sun, for about 2 weeks. (Your kitchen will smell amazing during this time.)
After the garlic has cured, trim the roots off and cut the stems down to storage length. Don’t trim them with scissors! Use clean pruners (these are my absolute favorites) so you don’t introduce any contaminants into your crop.
Reserve several of the largest cloves to plant next year.
Your garlic will keep at room temperature for several months. You can even braid it and display it in your kitchen. How cool is that?!?
There are lots of delicious ways to use your homegrown garlic! Here are some of my favorites:
If you still have garlic left over after all that cooking, it’s easy to freeze it for future use. Learn how easy it is to freeze garlic!
56 thoughts on -How to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Garlic-
Brilliant advice on growing and freezing garlic – thank you so much.
The only thing extra I have found we have to do here in rural NZ is put chicken wires around and over where it is plant – otherwise the local pukekos pull it out one by one:).
Thank you, I use to garden when the children were small but our baby is 43, I am 70. Would like to grow the vegetables we can not afford to buy. I will follow you.
Great explanation of how to grow garlic! Thank you. My question is I live in northern Michigan, do I plant in September and October as well? We have some pretty cold winters.
You mention fertilizer throughout the growing season . I’m in zone 5
Should I be removing snow to fertilizer garlic ?
New at this , thanks !
I see several people asking when to plant in central Florida, but no replies. When should I plant in central Florida?? And thanks for the article.
You can plant garlic as early as September. I would definitely plant by December to be sure you get a good harvest.
How do you preserve all that garlic to use year round?
You can freeze it! https://brownthumbmama.com/how-to-freeze-garlic/
I live in Massachusetts when is it best for me to plant garlic?
End of October 1st week in November
What other ground cover could I use than straw?
Dried leaves could work, you’d just want to make sure they don’t get matted together if they get too wet. That’s one of the advantages of using straw–less surface area to stick together.
Yes, just like your daffodil and tulip bulbs!
How long does the garlic need to dry before you can use it? And what is the best strategy for drying?
John, you only water enough that it gets wet to the roots ONCE. Make certain it is well drained soil, then, when you check the surface of the soil beneath it’s insulation, if it is dry – water. If not, don’t or you will be overwatering. That is all I know.
Bill, the folks at your local nursery can absolutely suggest the right garlic for your climate. You can also ask the local Cooperative Extension–they’ll have great info. Good luck!
Hi young lady, enjoyed your garlic write-up, what I didn’t see, do I have to go to a nursery to find the ones that will grow best in my area? or do you have another suggestion
Thanks for any help that can get this old mans garlic garden going
That’s what I’d like that know too
Is there s certain month to plant the garlic in central Florida?
For very early spring onions, I plant them in oct/nov and can harvest in feb/March. I plant more onions as soon as I harvest the winter onions in a different site. Rotation of crops is important for disease and pest resistance.
I grow garlic year round. I grow type of garlic that give me the standard in ground garlic head ton the top of the stalk is a bloom that produces small reddish balls as an additiona seed. I was told it is an Ilatian garlic. A fantastic producer.
I live in Southern California and am just putting my garlic in ground now. December 14, How often does it need to be watered?
I am planting garlic for the first time. I live in the pacific northwest and will be planting in my green house. How often do i need to water?
I am planting garlic for the first time. I am in the pacific northwest and will be putting in a green house. How often should i water it?
I ‘m not sure about ‘growing’ in the winter, but I just let mine alone in the fall; it freezes and dies down over the winter, then one of the first things up in the spring.
That plantermajigger thing is so badass whoaaa, and hell yeah thanks for the tips =)
Yes it will. I live in Canada and it grows very well. I plant in September and dig it up the following August.
Love your site . . . only wish your tutorials were set up for easy printing! I have binders that I set up and I print up articles and put them in there for easy reference when I am actually out in the garden, doin’ my thing!
yes it will. I plant my garlic in Oct. and hope I get a good snow cover. if you don’t get much put a straw cover to insulate.
The article says 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart. 🙂
It has for me! I’ve left in ground for at least 2 winters here in southern Pennsylvania and I just harvested it this month!
Muy bien explicad, lo practicaré,gracias!
I love Papa’s plantermajigger! Great instructions! Thanks!
i remember grandma growing winter onions but dont remember how she did it. do I plant my onion bulbs the same as garlic or do I have to get winter onion variety?
How long would your crop last after you harvest it? How long does it remain fresh and edible? Do you harvest them all at once, or just as you are using them? Also, how do you recognize that it’s ready to harvest? Thanks!
Good questions! I harvest them all at once, when the tops turn brown (usually mid-summer). I harvest them all at once and let them cure or dry in the shade for a few weeks. I keep half to use fresh (lasts for about 6 months) and I freeze the rest: https://brownthumbmama.com/2013/11/how-to-freeze-garlic.html
Thank you! That was wonderful!
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Love the tutorial and the plantermajigger! Thanks for sharing on Wildcrafting Wednesday!
Why did you plant it in the ground vs. the planter box?
I tried growing garlic in containers a few years ago and they just didn’t grow well. Since I have the space to plant them in the ground, I’m saving the garden boxes for other winter crops.
Can I plant garlic where I planted potatoes?
You can, but you’ll definitely want to amend the soil with some compost or worm castings. Potatoes are heavy feeders!
Can I plant these indoors? or do they need the cold months in the ground?
I suspect that they need to be outdoors, but have never tried them inside. If you do, let us know how it goes!
I grow garlic indoors during the winter under a grow light with several other veggies, it’s never failed me to produce an awesome crop every year.
What time of year do you put them in the ground? You should market the planter thingamajigger 🙂
That’s what I would like to know! What time of the year do you plant it? I live in Michigan. Plant in fall and harvest in summer?
In Michigan plant early to mid October and harvest mid July when the stalks start to turn a little gold. Stop watering first of July. Pull plants a gently knock off most soil. Place in low light area so tops dry. When tops dry cur off stalk. Clean rest of soil off but don’t fuss too much. Leave paper in tact. Store in mesh cloth or clean sock and hang in dark area with low humidity. Low humidity is very important. Under 60% is best and 40 is better. Higher humidity causes it to sprout… you don’t want that. Enjoy. If you can make it to the Howell Farm Market there is a guy selling hard neck that I grow. Great crop! He is from Pinckney.
What about Texas? When should I plant? Just north of Houston so usually lots of moisture, fairly mild winter.
Can I grow garlic in south florida
I just planted some in central florida and they are growing great!!
How deep did you plant the cloves? Thanks! Love the plantermajigger….might have to talk the hubby into one of those! 😉
I don’t have a plantermajigger, but I do enjoy doing up my own garlic. I don’t even wait for it to pop up, I plant it and cover with a nice, thick layer of straw as soon as it’s in the ground. Definitely keeps the weeds suppressed and supposedly insulates the bulbs a bit as well.
Will garlic grow over the winter if the ground freezes?