How to Grow: Garlic
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
Garlic, in my opinion, is one of the best vegetables (besides peppers) to ever exist. It can really transform a dish with its amazing flavour profiles. It not only taste amazing, it's easy to grow, and with such a vast variety out there, why not try more than what the grocery store is offering!
Depending on your growing region will depend on what type of garlic you will grow. To learn which type of garlic will grow best in your area: what's the difference between softneck and hardneck garlic?
Once you've gotten your garlic picked out, purchased and brought home, it's now time to scout your backyard for the perfect spot to plant it.
Garlic likes loose, rich, well draining soil. It doesn't like wet roots so avoid planting in clay soil (which doesn't drain well). Depending on your situation, it's preferable to grow garlic in raised beds, but if that's not manageable they can be planted in the ground. Do not plant them in a mount of dirt, it can't have any light exposure.
Garlic requires more nitrogen than most expect, especially at the beginning.
- Cow manure is a good option for nitrogen.
- Poultry manure
- Horse manure
If this is your first year, you won't have to worry until next year.
However, if it isn't. Garlic should never be planted in soil that had a plant from the Allium family the previous season - onions, garlic, chives, leeks, shallots and scallions. Pests and diseases are more susceptible if planted again in the same spot. Three year rotation is usually ideal before planting in the same spot again.
When to Plant Garlic
Plant cloves from September to November. That may seem like a broad window but it depends on your climate.
Plant 4 to 6 weeks before your ground freezes. This gives the garlic enough time to develop roots and not let the tops break through the ground.
Plant garlic that can tolerate your type of winter.
- Softneck - best for milder winters (some exceptions)
- Hardneck - most are best for cold winters, only a few prefer the milder winters
Some people may decide to plant in the spring or are forced, depending on the variety you want to grow. Best advise is not too, as much as you can. It can work, but it also has a higher risk for disease, smaller bulbs, and a much later harvest.
ALWAYS AN EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: varieties like Turbans or Artichokes do better in spring and should be planted when the ground softens up.
Vernalization: if you decide to plant in spring or your climate never gets cold enough, it's best you "vernalize" your seed stock. Which means you place your seeds in the fridge, it exposes the seeds to the cold temperature that your area or winter season lack. This is done to stimulate its growth potential. Do this 2 weeks prior to planting!
PROTIP: Your local garden centre will get their garlic cloves around the time you should be planting them. Take note of when you bought and planted them for next year.
Bought Garlic Seeds
Depending on the garlic you purchased it will come as a bulb or in individual cloves.
Your Garlic Seeds
Using your own garlic seed will come as a bulb (of course). It is in your best interest not to separate the cloves from the basal plate until as close to planting time as possible.
When it comes time to separate them, do so as cleanly as possible. You want to keep the "foot", bottom of the clove, intact where the roots will grow, and leave the skin on the individual cloves.
Spacing is important to give the garlic enough room to spread out their roots and their leaves.
Too little space = small bulbs
Too much space = wasted space
10-15cm (4-6 inches) apart.
12 inches between rows
If you have a mild winter: 3 inches, pointy side up and the foot down,
If you get colder winters: 6 inches (3 inches deep + 3 inches of mulch on top)
PROTIP: Depending on your ambition for garlic, prep gardening labels to let you know what kind of garlic you are growing.
Labeling is always a good idea.
Next draw out each bed you plan on planting each garlic in, label the beds with each type of garlic and the day you planted them. This will help you later identify which garlic is which during harvest time.
Place each variety in a bowl with their labels or in a giant apron with a lot of pockets. This helps keep everything organized and ready to plant efficiently. (this is a good idea if you have more than one variety).
Before plopping them in the ground:
Lay them down on top of the soil to where you will eventually plant them. This will help you keep track of spacing and let you have time to label as you go.
Fall time means free mulch! All those falling leaves around that you rake up and put to the curb, well we don't need to do that anymore. You'll want to make sure that you save them to use as mulch for your garden beds. You'll also want to make sure they are well-shredded or else it isn't advised to use them. If you use full leaves, it can cause water issues.
PROTIP: for best results use a leaf blower, that has a bag, in reverse and shred them until they are in little tiny bits.
Another option would be to find a source of straw, not hay, but straw. You'll want to make sure that your source understands the difference or you could end up with a bed full of hay seeds sprouting... never fun to deal it.
If you experience really cold weather, mulch around 3" of whatever mulch you decided to use. Wait to mulch until the soil is frozen for the season. Early December:
- 3" on top for severe winters
- 1-2" if less severe winters
Why Mulch? It helps insulate this underground crop from heaving out of the ground during cycles of freezing and thawing over winter.
Mulching is not recommended for climates that are wetter, as excess water can be problematic for garlic.
Garlic requires even moisture during their growing season. Why?
- Not enough means the bulb doesn't develop into it's full size (honestly better than too wet).
Stop watering 2 to 3 weeks after cutting off the scapes. (keep reading to learn about scape removal).
Garlic needs good nutrients to produce a good size bulb. Trying to keep everything organic as possible, your best bet is compost. In the spring time, once the shoots come up, apply compost around the garlic or a low, non harsh, liquid fertilizer.
Too much competition will diminish growth of the garlic. Make sure to keep beds weed free as much as possible.
Garlic scapes are a long leafless stem and flower bud. Removing the scape allows all the energy and flavour to stay down into the bulb instead of into forming the umbel (flower). So, it is crucial that you harvest the scape, but not the end of the world if you don't.
Just after the scape has finished curling is the best time to harvest. The bottom of the scape will feel very stiff and thick. Gently snap or clip it off where it is soft. I use pruners I got from Halifax Seed. Scapes stiffen bottom up, so find where that soft spot is before you snap away!
Scapes are juicy and the juice is garlic juice. If you have a sensitivity to garlic in a concentrated form I would probably donate these to your friends and/or family. If however you aren't I have a great recipe you can use them in.
After a long 9 month wait, it's time to harvest.
Like suggested in the watering section, stop watering your garlic 2-3 weeks after cutting off the scapes. We want to let the bulb dry out as much as possible so that it doesn't have water left in it to mold later. It is also harder to clean off damp soil safely without bruising the bulb.
Your garlic is ready to harvest when the bottom third of the plant has turned brown. For good measures you can also scrape away some dirt to see the bulbs (like you would with carrots) and feel the tops of the cloves to see how mature they have become.
Be careful pulling out the garlic bulbs out of the ground... they are really in there and it may sound cool when pulling them out (from experience, you feel pretty strong after pulling one out, bit of an ego boost). To avoid damaging the fragile bulbs, it's advised to use a small shovel and loosen the ground and roots in between your garlic plants.
Once out of the ground, remove as much dirt as you can with your hands, don't wash them, as it invites mold and take them out of the sun ASAP!
Your next step is to Cure the Garlic for Storage.