Mad About Berries

How to Grow Garlic

Garlic, a staple in kitchens around the globe, is revered not only for its distinct flavor but also for its health benefits. This versatile bulb has been used for centuries in culinary dishes and traditional medicines.

Garlic belongs to the Allium family, which also includes onions, leeks, and shallots. Growing garlic in your own garden can be a rewarding endeavor, offering a fresh supply of this essential ingredient right at your fingertips. Unlike many other crops, garlic requires minimal space and can thrive in various climates, making it an excellent addition to both novice and experienced gardeners' plots.

Published: March 25, 2024.

garlic cloves 1

Garlic Ideal Growing Conditions

Garlic flourishes in well-drained, fertile soil, with ample sunlight. The key to achieving a bountiful garlic harvest lies in understanding its preference for specific growing conditions.

Garlic plants prefer cool temperatures during the initial growth phase, with warmer weather as they mature. A pH level between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for garlic, ensuring the soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline.

To prepare the bed for planting, incorporate a generous amount of organic matter, such as compost, to enrich the soil. Adequate spacing is crucial to allow for proper air circulation and root development.

How Long Does Garlic Take to Grow?

Garlic's growth cycle varies depending on the variety and planting time, but generally, it takes about 8 to 9 months from planting to harvest. This timeline applies to garlic planted in the fall, which is the typical practice in many regions to achieve optimal growth and yield.

The process begins when garlic cloves are planted in the fall, a few weeks before the first hard frost. This timing allows the cloves to establish roots and, in some cases, sprout green shoots before the onset of winter.

Throughout the winter, the garlic lies dormant beneath the soil. As the weather warms in early spring, garlic resumes its growth, capitalizing on the cool spring months to develop robustly.

By late spring to early summer, garlic plants focus their energy on bulb formation. The timing of the transition from vegetative growth to bulb development is crucial and is influenced by increasing day length and temperature. This period is when the bulbs gain size and mass.

Garlic is usually ready for harvest in the summer when several of the lower leaves turn brown but a few of the top leaves remain green. This typically occurs in late June to July in the Northern Hemisphere. Once harvested, garlic needs to be cured for several weeks in a dry, well-ventilated area before it's ready for storage or use, adding a bit of time before the garlic is fully ready from the garden to the kitchen.

The exact timing can vary based on local climate conditions, the specific garlic variety (softneck or hardneck), and the timing of planting. Softneck varieties, which are generally grown in milder climates, might have a slightly shorter growth period, while hardneck varieties, favored in cooler climates, follow the traditional 8 to 9-month cycle more closely.

How to Plant Garlic

The planting process begins with choosing the right type of garlic. There are two main types: softneck and hardneck.

Softneck varieties are known for their longer shelf life and are commonly found in stores, while hardneck types offer a wider range of flavors and produce edible flower stalks called scapes.

When do you plant garlic?

Garlic is typically planted in the fall, a few weeks before the ground freezes, which allows for root establishment.

How deep to plant garlic?

To plant, separate the cloves from the bulb, keeping the papery husk on, and plant them pointy-end up, about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Cover with soil and a layer of mulch to protect from severe winter freezes.

planting garlic

Can You Plant Garlic in the Spring

Garlic can be planted in the spring, although this practice is less common than fall planting and may result in smaller bulbs. Spring planting is an option if you missed the fall planting window or if your local climate does not allow for fall planting due to extremely cold winter temperatures.

When planting garlic in the spring, choose the earliest possible time when the soil is workable and not too wet. This gives the garlic a longer growing season to develop before the hot summer months, which signals the plants to begin preparing for harvest.

In spring planting, the cloves will not have the benefit of the cold period (vernalization), which is crucial for initiating bulb formation, which is why the resulting bulbs may be smaller than those planted in the fall.

For gardeners in very cold climates, where the ground freezes deeply and thaws late into the spring, planting garlic as soon as the soil can be worked may still yield a harvest. It's essential to select varieties that are suitable for your climate and to provide them with optimal growing conditions, including well-drained soil and plenty of sun. Adding a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at planting time can also help support their growth.

While spring-planted garlic generally produces smaller bulbs, it can still be a worthwhile endeavor, especially for culinary enthusiasts eager to grow their own garlic. It's also a useful approach for growers looking to make the most of their garden space throughout the year.

How to Care For Garlic

Caring for garlic involves several straightforward steps.

Watering is essential during the initial growth phases, but it's important to reduce frequency as the bulbs start to form. Overwatering can lead to rot or fungal diseases.

Garlic benefits from the application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at the start of the growing season to support healthy growth - compost, worm castings, aged manure, NPK fertilizer with slow release, etc. But, be sure not to overfertilize plants, since that may lead to excess growth and weak plants.

Keep the area around the garlic plants free from weeds, which can compete for nutrients and water. As the plants grow, you may need to remove the scapes on hardneck varieties to ensure energy is directed toward bulb formation.

garlic plants

Garlic Pests and Diseases

Garlic, though robust and resilient, is not immune to its share of pests and diseases, which can impact its growth and yield.

One of the most common pests affecting garlic crops is the onion maggot, a small, white larva that targets the roots, potentially destroying the bulb. Garlic can also fall prey to aphids, tiny insects that suck sap from the plants, weakening them and sometimes transmitting viral diseases.

Another pest, the garlic borer, tunnels into the stems, hindering the plant's ability to transport nutrients and water.

Diseases, too, pose significant challenges to growing healthy garlic. White rot is a fungal disease that attacks the roots, turning them into a soft, decayed mass. It's particularly troublesome because the fungus can survive in the soil for many years, awaiting the next garlic crop.

Similarly, botrytis rot or neck rot affects the bulbs, especially during storage, making them unsuitable for consumption or future planting. Rust, a fungal disease characterized by orange pustules on the leaves, can reduce the plant's vigor by interrupting photosynthesis.

Managing these pests and diseases requires a proactive approach.

Crop rotation is a fundamental practice; avoiding planting garlic or other alliums in the same spot for at least three years can help minimize the risk of soil-borne diseases. Implementing good sanitation practices, such as removing plant debris and avoiding overhead watering, can reduce the likelihood of fungal infections.

For pest control, barrier methods like row covers can prevent flies from laying eggs, and encouraging beneficial insects can help manage aphid populations. Selecting disease-resistant varieties and ensuring proper spacing for adequate air circulation are also crucial steps in preventing outbreaks.

Garlic Harvest and Storage

Harvesting garlic at the right time is crucial for optimum flavor and storage potential. The best indicator is the plant's leaves: when the lower leaves start to brown while the top ones remain green, it's typically time to harvest. Carefully lift the bulbs with a gardening fork to avoid damage.

After harvesting, garlic needs to dry or cure in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area for a few weeks. This process is vital for storage, as it allows the outer layers to harden.

Once cured, trim the roots and stems and store the bulbs in a cool, dry place. Properly stored garlic can last for months, ensuring a continuous supply for your culinary needs.

garlic bulbs drying outside


Few Final Words

Growing garlic is a simple and rewarding process that enriches your garden and kitchen alike. When given the right conditions, careful planting, and proper care, a successful garlic harvest is almost ensured.

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a beginner, the journey from planting to harvesting garlic offers a fulfilling experience, culminating in the joy of using home-grown garlic in your cooking. With its myriad of health benefits and culinary uses, garlic stands out as a must-have in every garden.

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