How to Grow Great Garlic: Expert Tips for a Blue-Ribbon Crop

Fill your pantry with our season-by-season guide to growing garlic, including a description of hardneck and softneck varieties, what to do with garlic scapes, and more.

  • Softneck Garlic
    Softneck garlic varieties can be grown successfully in most any climate. Their flexible “necks” make them ideal for braiding and storing.
    Photo by Dreamstime/pretoperola
  • Planting Garlic Cloves
    Plant individual garlic cloves in fall, pointed end up, at least 10 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart.
    Photo by Fotolia/Beerfan
  • Drying Garlic
    After harvest, dry garlic for about three weeks in a shady spot to allow the bulbs to cure.
    Photo by Roberta Bailey
  • Garlic Roots
    A garlic plant's roots can spread as much as 6 inches underground.
    Photo by Roberta Bailey
  • Georgian Fire Garlic
    Roberta Bailey shows off a spectacular braid of prize-winning ‘Georgian Fire’ garlic.
    Photo by Roberta Bailey

  • Softneck Garlic
  • Planting Garlic Cloves
  • Drying Garlic
  • Garlic Roots
  • Georgian Fire Garlic

If I could grow only one crop, it would be garlic: pungent, mouthwatering, plump-cloved, health-promoting garlic. Over the years, I have learned some tricks on how to grow garlic that’s truly exceptional. Before you dig in, you need to know the basic types to choose from. Garlic (Allium sativum) is divided into two subspecies: var. ophioscorodon and var. sativum.

Most often planted in climates with cold winters, ophioscorodon garlic is called “top-setting,” “ophio” or “hardneck” garlic; the family includes Rocambole, Continental and Asiatic types. Leaves grow from a hard, central stalk, and then an edible scape (flower head) forms, with tiny buds called “bulbils.” Most hardneck varieties form four to eight cloves around the central stalk’s base. Their flavor tends to be pungent, but often has subtle notes.

The sativum varieties do well in all climates. Called “softneck” or “artichoke” garlic, heads tend to be large, with 12 to 20 small cloves and no central stalk. Leaves, which sprout directly from each clove, are quite flexible and best for braiding. Generally, softneck garlic can be either pungent or mild, but lacks subtlety.

What to Do This Fall

For the biggest heads, always plant individual garlic cloves in fall. Each clove will form a new bulb by the next summer. Garlic thrives on spring and summer sun and moderately cool nights — it needs heat to form its bulb. Choose a site with deep soil rich in organic matter. Soil that has been built up with cover crops the previous year is ideal.

Before planting, add 1 to 2 inches of compost or well-rotted manure to a deeply cultivated plot. Garlic requires nitrogen to nourish fall root growth. I add nitrogen in the form of fish meal or alfalfa meal at a quarter- to a half-pound per 10-foot row. Organic soybean meal supplies slow-release nitrogen that lasts in the soil until bulb production takes place the next spring. Apply a half-pound per 10-foot row. (You can buy soybean meal, alfalfa meal and kelp meal at farm and feed stores.) The organic soil additive Azomite, a type of rock dust, has significantly increased the yield and size of my garlic crop. I add a half-pound per 10-foot row. If you can’t find Azomite, kelp meal applied at the same rate can supply extra minerals.

Start with certified disease- and pest-free garlic from a reputable supplier. Make sure it has been tested to be free of garlic bloat nematode. If you plant infected cloves, the nematodes will colonize your soil. They kill garlic before the bulbs mature. Seed cloves are also vulnerable to Penicillium decay, a disease that appears as a bluish-green mass. Garlic may be susceptible to basal rot, white rot or botrytis rot (which is sometimes called “neck rot”). Basal rot may cause yellowing and dieback of leaves, and may manifest as a white fungal growth at the bulb’s base. White rot causes fungal growth on the stem that extends around the bulb’s base, and afflicted bulbs will have a blackened neck with water-soaked outer scales. Botrytis rot causes water-soaked stems and gray, fuzzy fungal growth. Little can be done to control these diseases; you’ll need to pull affected plants.

11/24/2017 5:05:11 AM

Hello Roberta My name is Phyllis Hickman and I will be planting my 1st garlic garden today in fact. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee and we have mild to moderate cold winters. The space I plan to begin is in a well drained raised bed with good rich soil and will get plenty of sunshine. Which I hope helps! I'm not at all new to farming and gardening. I've lived on this 106 acre farm all of my life. But garlic is new to me. I bought elephant and Romanian red bulbs to begin with, which I can only hope wasn't a horribly bad choice. If you have any advice, I'd love to hear it, as it definitely looks like you're a Pro! Thank-you and best regards, Phyllis Hickman

10/27/2017 6:03:18 PM

I've planted garlic before but had to move before they matured. I never asked the new owners how they liked my garlic... Now, 30 years later I'm trying again with Siciliano Softneck. (They are tiny bulbs...) Will plant later in November. Zone 9a in Sacramento, northern California.

8/19/2016 11:45:40 PM

I am new to Garlic, never used it before and never really had it our food. grew up with salt & pepper as our spice. just getting into making Spag sauce not sure how much to use at that. Anyhow, I live in AZ desert and have no winter other then the occasional light frost. Is this growable here? Article says plant in fall which is when I plant my tomatoes and green peppers when its not so hot. I'd love to try Garlic!

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