All About Growing Garlic

Here is a concise primer on growing garlic that covers varieties, how and when to plant, pest prevention, and harvesting and storage.
By Barbara Pleasant
October/November 2009

Your reward for growing garlic is the world of flavors that await in every bulb! Garlic’s taste has several dimensions that come alive depending on how the plant is cooked. Shown here, from left to right, are braided softneck garlic, fresh elephant garlic, and purple stripe hardneck garlic.
ILLUSTRATION: KEITH WARD
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

Garlic Seed Sources

Find garlic seed stock for growing garlic.

Plant Garlic this Fall

Plan to plant garlic this fall, and enjoy unique varieties and their incredible health benefits.

Overview of Garlic's Health Benefits

This short video by Dr. Mao will give you a quick overview of the wide-ranging health benefits of ga...

Know When to Plant Each Crop in Your Exact ZIP Code

Use our popular When to Plant app to know when to plant each crop in your area.

(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page or check out our Food Gardening Guide app.)

The last crop to go into the garden, garlic is planted in fall and harvested the following summer. Flavorful, nutritious, and helpful for warding off vampires, garlic also is easy to grow as long as you plant varieties suited to your climate. Fertile, well-drained soils with a near-neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.0 are best for growing garlic.

Garlic Types to Try

Softneck types grow best where winters are mild, though some tolerate cold to Zone 5. Most varieties do not produce scapes (edible curled flower stalks), but softnecks are great for braiding. Subtypes include Creole, artichoke and many Asian varieties.

Hardneck types adapt to cold winter climates, and all produce delicious curled scapes in early summer. Popular subtypes include porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole varieties.

Elephant garlic produces a large, mild-flavored bulb comprised of four to six big cloves. Closely related to leeks, elephant garlic is hardy to Zone 5 if given deep winter mulch.

Check out our Chart of Garlic Types, which includes descriptions, growing tips, and great varieties to try. 

When to Plant Garlic

In fall, plant cloves in well-drained beds after the first frost has passed and the soil is cool. Cloves can also be planted in late winter as soon as the soil thaws, but fall-planted garlic produces bigger, better bulbs.

How to Plant Garlic

Choose a sunny site, and loosen the planting bed to at least 12 inches deep. Thoroughly mix in a 1-inch layer of mature compost. In acidic soil, also mix in a light dusting of wood ashes. Wait until just before planting to break bulbs into cloves. Poke the cloves into the ground 4 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, with their pointed ends up. Cover the planted area with 3 to 5 inches of organic mulch, such as hay or shredded leaves.

Harvesting and Storing Garlic

From early summer to midsummer, watch plants closely and pull them when about one-third of the leaves appear pale and withered. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil before pulling the plants. Handle the newly pulled bulbs delicately to avoid bruising them. Lay the whole plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun. After a week or so, brush off soil from the bulbs with your hands, and use pruning shears to clip roots to half an inch long. Wait another week before clipping off the stems of hardneck varieties or trimming and braiding softnecks into clusters. Do not remove the papery outer wrappers, as these inhibit sprouting and protect the cloves from rotting.

Storage life varies with variety and with growing and storage conditions. When kept at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, rocamboles store about four months, other hardneck garlic varieties usually last six months, and softneck and elephant garlic store for eight months or more. Hang your cured crop in mesh bags, or braid softneck types and suspend from rafters in a cool basement or garage.

Saving Garlic Bulbs for Planting

Many garlic varieties fine-tune their growth patterns to the climate in which they are grown, so planting cloves from bulbs you grew yourself can save money and also result in a strain that is especially well-suited to the conditions in your garden.

As you harvest and cure your crop, set aside the biggest and best bulbs as your “seed” stock. One pound of cured bulbs will break into about 50 individual cloves, which is enough to plant a 25-foot-long double row.

If allowed to flower, some varieties produce fleshy bulbils (little bulbs) atop the flower stalk. Elephant garlic often develops elliptical, hard-shelled corms underground outside the main bulbs. Garlic bulbils and corms can both be replanted. The first year after planting, bulbils and corms will grow into small plants that can be harvested as scallion-like “green garlic” in late spring, just before the roots swell. If left unharvested, bulbils and corms develop into full-size bulbs in two to three years.

Garlic Pest and Disease Prevention Tips

Tiny onion thrips rasp pale grooves into garlic leaves, but they have many natural predators. Keep areas near garlic and onions mowed to reduce the weedy habitat thrips prefer. Monitor populations with sticky traps, and use a spinosad-based biological pesticide to control serious infestations.

Onion root maggots seldom infect garlic planted in soil where onion family crops have not been planted for two years, but the mobile adults may still lay eggs around the base of young plants. Where pest pressure is severe, dust the area around plants with diatomaceous earth in late spring, which is when the egg-laying females are most active.

Prevent fusarium and other soilborne root rot diseases by growing garlic in well-drained, fertile soil. Avoid injuring the roots when weeding, because diseases often enter plants through broken tissue.

Garlic Growing Tips

Experiment with types and varieties, because each reacts differently to weather and rainfall patterns. A spring hot spell that bothers one variety may benefit another. Our Seed and Plant Finder can help you track down the garlic varieties you want.

To grow garlic greens for cooking, plant whole bulbs 12 inches apart in the fall. In spring, when the greens are 10 inches tall, grab them with one hand, and use your other hand to lop them off with a knife. You should get two more cuttings before the plants give out.

You can make garlic powder by drying thinly sliced garlic at 150 degrees until it’s crisp. Grind to a powder in a food grinder or blender.


Cooking with Garlic

Without a doubt, garlic works flavor miracles when added to food. The pungency of raw garlic varies depending on the variety, and all types of garlic mellow when cooked. In addition to tossing chopped garlic into soups, stews, and stir-fries, try baking whole bulbs with a little salt and olive oil, and then spreading the soft, creamy flesh on warm bread. If you grow hardneck types of garlic, be sure to harvest the curled scapes that appear in early summer. Scapes can be eaten fresh, or blanched and frozen.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .


Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next






Post a comment below.

 

Barbara Pleasant_3
10/23/2009 8:34:36 AM
Chi, you can certainly grow garlic in a pot, but not to get big bulbs. Instead, set aside little cloves and plant them 1 inch apart and 2 inches deep. Then leave the pot outside, where it’s cool. Garlic will break dormancy and start growing roots better under cool conditions. When the greens appear, harvest the plants as “gallions” – scallion-like edibles with the flavor of garlic. Steph, I also avoid commercial garlic powder, raw garlic, and dried onions in the interest of digestive comfort, but I have no problems with lots and lots of garlic in cooked dishes. DKR, we have some feral garlic, too, and I think the only way to move it on is to dig it out. Also make sure flowers are not allowed to produce mature seeds. If I didn’t deadhead my garlic chives, they would take over the world.

chiwawamom
10/17/2009 11:14:13 AM
Has anyone tried planting it in pots? I live in S. Louisiana, so winters here rarely get below 20 degrees. Our first frost won't be until mid-December, so I hope to get a make-shift greenhouse, attached to the side of the house, done in time to start a few plants. I was in a car accident recently and the fall garden will not happen this year. I hope to plant a few pots with fall veggies, though, and would love to start a garlic pot, if possible.

Stephanie_21
10/7/2009 10:53:08 PM
Courious if anyone else out there is allergic to garlic...it seems that every food I eat with garlic raw or powder give me terrible stomach cramps...really really bad. even though I like it I never want to eat it again!!! Or who knows maybe its something else, altered in some way??? Doctors do not have a clue about it. Any help would be great. I am thinking about trying to grow my own because I can control how it is handled. (oh and this problem just started a few years ago). thanks

DKR_1
10/1/2009 2:03:08 PM
My question is how do you get rid of it. My mother planted some in the yard over 25 years ago. It has spread everywhere, when you pull it out, you always leave a little behind and it comes back. This stuff is small, not very usable and everyting smells like it if you end up cutting it off.








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.