How to Plant & Grow Garlic

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It’s easy to grow unique and delicious types of garlic! You can plant garlic in containers or in the garden and get a huge harvest. Learn the types of garlic, when and how to plant, best fertilizers, and more.

freshly harvested 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 bulb on blue wood table
A garlic bulb contains many cloves surrounded by a papery skin.

Garlic cloves are the individual pieces inside the bulb. Each garlic clove that you plant will grow into an entire head of garlic.

fingers holding a single clove of purple garlic
Garlic cloves are individual pieces inside the bulb. Each clove grows into an entire bulb 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

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.

head of seed garlic
The “stem” in the middle of this garlic bulb is called a scape.

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

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.

head of garlic on black counter
Softneck garlic has a layer of large, outer cloves and a layer of small, inner cloves.

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

Grandpa always told me to 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.

Garlic needs to be spaced properly so it has room to grow. Each clove should be planted 4-6″ apart and 3″ deep. 

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.

hand holding wooden garlic planting tool
This garlic planting tool is made of scrap wood, and makes perfectly-spaced planting holes.

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.

head of seed garlic
The outer papery cover is off, and these cloves are ready to separate and plant.

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.

garlic cloves separated, resting on paper bags
Don’t plant the smallest cloves; use them 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.

fingers holding a single clove of purple garlic
This garlic clove is upright (pointy part on top) and ready to plant.

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 straw.

Once your garlic is a few inches tall, conserve water and prevent weeds by mulching it with 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.

cover of plant partners book

Harvesting Garlic

Your garlic will grow through the winter and spring and will be ready to harvest in late summer, when the leaves dry out and start to turn yellow. Learn how to harvest and cure garlic in this article.

Hi, Im Pam!

I created Brown Thumb Mama to share my natural living journey, and help you live a greener life. Thanks for being here, and please check out the resources in my Natural Living Shop!

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54 thoughts on -How to Plant & Grow Garlic-

  1. 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.

  2. Hello ~
    You mention fertilizer throughout the growing season . I’m in zone 5
    Should I be removing snow to fertilizer garlic ?
    New at this , thanks !

    Peggy

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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
    Bill

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. I live in Southern California and am just putting my garlic in ground now. December 14, How often does it need to be watered?

  10. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.
    Good luck

  15. 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!

  16. 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?

  17. 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!

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    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

  19. How deep did you plant the cloves? Thanks! Love the plantermajigger….might have to talk the hubby into one of those! 😉

  20. 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.