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Growing Garlic: the BIG Guide of Planting to Harvesting

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growing garlic is rewarding and easy. It's best not to plant store bought garlic

Growing garlic is rewarding & tastes great!

Garlic is used for both culinary and medicine (we make a garlic, apple cider vinegar and honey mixture every time we get sick) and is generally easy to grow unless you live in a hot climate.

This post will talk about

  • When you should plant garlic
  • Planting garlic in the spring versus fall
  • Why you shouldn’t plant store bought garlic
  • Planting garlic bulbs versus garlic seed
  • Can you plant sprouted garlic?
  • Hardneck versus softneck garlic
  • How to grow garlic
  • Eating spring garlic & green garlic
  • Harvesting garlic scapes (& how it creates bigger bulbs)
  • Full bulb harvest & curing for winter storage
  • Garlic pests and disease

When should you plant garlic?

This is a common question about growing garlic, and the answer depends on your location and how you plan to eat it.

If you live in a location that doesn’t get cold winters, garlic is harder to grow. Garlic bulbs overwinter then sprout in the springtime. For zones 7-9 growing garlic can be a challenge, and you’ll have to play around with planting times. In our zone 5, we plant mid-Oct, so warmer climates might not plant garlic until December.

When you harvest garlic bulbs, the size changes depending on when it was planted. If you would like large garlic bulbs to cure for storage then you need to plant your garlic in the fall. If you wish to eat spring garlic, green garlic or if you plan on eating garlic fresh and not storing it, then you can plant garlic in the spring. Planting in the fall will allow the garlic to grow larger bulbs than in the springtime.

Timing of fall planted garlic is important

In general, you plant garlic in the fall a few weeks before the hard freeze. This is when the ground freezes, not the first fall frosts. If you plant garlic bulbs too early they might start producing green shoots and die during the cold snap of winter.

You want to time your bulbs to start growing roots under the earth before winter where they’ll stay dormant until spring.

Growing garlic- spring sprouting garlic

Planting Garlic Seed vs Garlic Bulbs

In general, most gardeners plant garlic bulbs and not the seed because it’s a lot easier. It’s actually also hard to find garlic seed. I loved this article about garlic seed from Ted Jordan Meredith who wrote the Complete Book of Growing Garlic. It goes into details of why garlic seed should still be preserved and the increase of garlic disease from the continuous planting of garlic bulbs.

It’s much easier to grow garlic bulbs than garlic seed & you should avoid planting store bought garlic

Planting garlic bulbs is the easiest way of growing garlic

Planting store bought garlic

I keep seeing posts online about growing store bought garlic and how easy it is. True, garlic seed for planting (which are just garlic cloves) is the same as garlic from the store in appearance. However, you have to be very careful when planting store bought garlic & there are some big reasons why you shouldn’t.

Most garlic in North America actually comes from China where it’s heavily fumigated and sprayed.

from the Hearty Soul:

Aside from being bleached with chlorine, it’s also heavily fumigated with pesticides, found to be grown in untreated sewage water and sometimes contaminated with lead.

You’ll notice the roots of Chinese garlic have to be taken off so that they don’t potentially spread disease

Planting sprouted garlic

If you can find local organic garlic at your store than you can plant

The downside is that you have no idea what the variety is, and whether it’s a hardneck or softneck garlic.

Planting Sprouted Garlic

Has your garlic sprouted? This happens towards the end of winter if you stored your own garlic, or sometimes if you brought store-bought garlic and your home is too warm and you forgot about it. Can you plant sprouted garlic? Yes you can, but I’d recommend you grow it for green garlic or spring garlic shoots instead of large bulbs.

If you plant sprouted garlic without separating the cloves first, you’ll end up with a mass of green garlic shoots which taste great.

Spring garlic shoots are super tasty!

Garlic shoots taste great!

Planting garlic bulbs in the fall

Hardneck vs softneck garlic

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Softneck is the variety you most commonly see at the grocery store because it lasts longer in storage. You can braid softneck garlic. Hardneck varieties grow a central garlic scape. Garlic scapes should be harvested to create bigger bulbs, they also taste fantastic. If you wanted to save garlic seed, you would need to grow hardneck garlic.

Where to buy garlic bulbs & Choosing garlic varieties

In the fall most garden centers will sell garlic bulbs to plant. In fact, anywhere you can buy bulbs or seed in your location should sell planting garlic come fall time. You can also special order it via seed catalogs from great seed companies. You can also google garlic farms in your area as they often sell bulbs to plant and offer more choices in garlic varieties.

We go to the Hills Garlic Festival as we have many specialty varieties to choose from

When looking at the description pay attention to the taste (some garlic varieties are spicy, some are better roasted)

I love the red & marbled varieties as they’re beautiful.

Preparing your garden bed

Garlic needs loose soil well drained soil amended with compost and/or decomposed manure. I’ve grown garlic in the ground or raised beds, they do like drainage in case you get many weeks of rain it can increase the chance of fungal problems. We also add azomite trace minerals.

You need to separate garlic cloves from the garlic bulb to plant

If you don’t separate the individual cloves to plant you’ll end up with a large mass of garlic shoots. These still taste fantastic, but you’re not harvesting garlic bulbs.

Planting the largest cloves will give you the largest bulbs

After you’ve broken apart all your garlic cloves, you want to organize them by size too. You want to plant the largest garlic cloves to grow the largest bulbs.

  • Space the cloves 4-6″ apart in rows spaced 1 foot apart.
  • Plant your cloves with the pointed end up and the blunt end down.
  • Plant each clove 1-2″ into the ground, cover with soil and compost and water the garden bed.
  • If you live in a cold climate you’ll need to mulch the garlic with straw, hay and/or fall leaves. Wood chips are too heavy.
  • In the spring remove the mulch once the risk of hard freezes are gone.
  • Your garlic will grow well very quickly, keep the bed weeded and watered throughout the summer.
  • Stop watering a month before harvesting (read more below).

How to harvest garlic scapes

Harvesting garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are the unopened flowers of hardneck garlic varieties and you definitely want to harvest them because they taste great and it allows the garlic to focus its growth on the bulb instead of going to seed (this will make for larger bulbs!)

Garlic scapes have a short harvest window, for our zone 5  it happens around mid-late June. They’ll begin to appear and be ready within a week to 10 days.

They come out of the center of the garlic plant and grow straight and will be have a yellow tip.

Garlic scapes versus spring green garlic

Within a few days they will curl in a round fashion and grow long enough to harvest.

Harvest scapes before the flower opens otherwise they’ll taste too chewy

I use a knife and cut just at the base of the spiral. Depending on the variety they will be ready at different times. They keep quite well and I often just store ours on the dinning room table for about a week, but the garlic juices are wonderful fresh as you’ll notice when you cut them. I check our garlic every couple of days for scapes that are ready and harvest accordingly. They are fun to carry on your arm due to the curl (& I often forget a harvest basket!).

They freeze quite well as a pesto but I still prefer to eat them fresh & often grilled or sautéed with other veggies.

Here are some recipes for using scapes.

When to harvest garlicHarvesting garlic

  • A few weeks before you harvest you’ll want to stop watering so the lower leaves start to dry up.
  • If you have hardneck garlic you’ll want to harvest the garlic scapes. Here’s how to harvest them + recipes for using them.
  • Always dig out your garlic, preferably with a fork not a shovel, instead of pulling them up as you’ll damage them and they won’t store well. If you do use a shovel you might accidentally cut the bulb, which is fine to consume right away but can’t be used for curing and storing.

  • Be gentle with your garlic! Don’t throw your bulbs or toss them onto the ground, the more rough handling the increased chance of bruising which reduces storage ability.
  • The best time to harvest your garlic is when the lower leaves are yellow and the tops are still green. If you harvest them too early they’ll be smaller and the wrapper won’t be as developed. If you harvest too late when all of the leaves are yellow the bulbs will start splitting and won’t store well.
  • Double check for garlic disease, which tend to all be fungal related. The bulb will look bad and be white or black and look like they’re decaying/rotting.

Below are some diseased garlic from fungal problems which you can troubleshoot here

Garlic diease

how to cure garlic

  • Once you’ve harvested you’ll want to keep them out of the sun and in a well ventilated area.
  • Brush off any dirt on the garlic bulbs but keep the bulb and tops together.
  • Hang up your garlic in bunches of 5-7. They need lots of good air flow to dry, out of the sun but in a well ventilated area.
  • Let dry for 2-4 weeks. This time depends on how much humidity is in the air, temperature etc. You want all the green leaves to turn yellow.
  • When they’re all dry you can clean up the bulbs and gently brush off any dirt.
  • Cut the garlic at the base of the stem and store in a cool dark place.
  • You can braid softneck garlic.

Tips for growing and harvesting your best garlic

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  1. You might have mentioned this in your article, but I am still a little confused. Once scapes are harvested do the bottom leaves start turning yellow and then I harvest the bulbs? How do I know when the bulbs are done growing and ready for harvest?

    • Hi Mickie,
      The bottom few leaves should be yellow but the tops still green. I often harvest one bulb to check by breaking it open and seeing how formed the bulbs are. I’ve grown different varieties in the same bed and the scapes and bulbs were ready at different times. I realize if you only grow 10 garlic you might not want to want to harvest too early, but you can still eat the ‘green’ garlic.

  2. You didn’t mention feeding the garlic at all during its growth. When and what kind of fertilizer should be used, if any? Can I just amend the top soil with compost?

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