How to Grow Garlic

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Adding garlic to almost any dish can help give food a spicy, fragrant taste. The garlic plant and bulbs can also be used to treat illnesses such as the common cold and can help to remove harmful metals from the body. Also, the scent of the garlic will often deter garden pests. With so many benefits, whether to your taste buds, your health, or your garden’s health, it makes sense to consider growing your garlic. But to ensure a fruitful yield, it’s essential to understand where, when, and how to plant this particular bulb(1).

Image showing a quick grow guide overview including the amount of sun, water, fertilizer, and harvest time

Hardneck versus Softneck Garlic

There are hundreds of garlic varieties available, but when it comes to first growing your bulbs, you’ll most likely encounter two main types. The first is softneck garlic. This variety is relatively common, and it’s also quite hardy, making it easy to grow. It also lasts longer when stored. Softneck garlic tend to produce between four and eight cloves per garlic bulb, and each clove is reasonably small.

The other most common variety is hardneck. This garlic type has a woody stem in the middle of the bulb. Hardneck garlic features larger cloves with a more complex but milder flavor. The cloves also tend to be easier to peel. Because of this, many people prefer hardneck. However, the hardneck variety does not stay fresh for as long as softneck. Also, it can be more difficult to find.

The hardneck garlic varieties grow best in hardiness zones seven and lower, while softneck works well in hardiness zones eight and up. Otherwise, both softneck varieties and hardneck varieties, as well as other varieties, can be mainly grown the same way. They mainly differ when it comes to harvesting, storing, flavor, and appearance.(2)

Garlic Seeds vs Bulbs

Image shows a shovel containing both a bulb and one filled with seeds for comparison

When it comes to planting, you have two options. You can grow garlic from a seed, or you can grow from bulbs. Seeds are produced from the flowers of these plants. They’re different than seed garlic, which is a clove explicitly sold for planting.

Planting Garlic Seeds

The seeds of the garlic grow in something called a bulbil, which does closely resemble a clove. Plants will often produce far more bulbils than cloves, so if you’re looking to plant a large amount, planting from seed is usually the right choice. You can buy garlic seeds from a reputable source, but you can also grow your own from a bulb.

Seeds first appear in late spring, after the garlic has grown flowering tendrils. Usually, gardeners trim these tendrils, as this directs the garlic’s energy towards developing larger cloves. However, if left untrimmed, the tendrils will eventually form bulbils, which can be harvested a few months later when they’ve dried out.

Although growing garlic from seed can be more rewarding and more cost-effective, it also takes much longer. Growing from seed usually means waiting an additional full year or two for a mature plant to develop.

Planting garlic bulbs in a soil in a row. There is a hand holding a bulb down into the soil with a bunch of other bulbs in a bowl.

Planting Garlic Bulbs

The easiest and fastest way to grow is by planting a bulb. You can buy seed bulbs from other gardeners or purchase an organic bulb from the grocery store. You can also choose a non-organic bulb, but these bulbs are sometimes sprayed with chemicals to stop them from sprouting. You want your bulb to have the ability to germinate.

Split the bulb up into individual cloves. Each clove will have a papery skin on it. This should be left intact.

How Deep to Plant Garlic

When you insert the clove into the soil with the pointed side up. The cloves should be planted about one or two inches deep. You want to avoid planting the garlic too deep or too shallow. Some gardeners recommend spacing the cloves out, but these plants don’t need too much room. Planting each clove three or four inches apart is perfect.

A person with gloves on putting bulbs down into the soil

Growing Garlic Indoors and Outdoors

Depending on your region and the variety you’re growing, you can plant either indoors, in pots, or outdoors. Garlic grown in pots can be easily protected from too much rain or harsh temperatures.

However, remember that garlic have a strong smell. If you grow in a pot, you may want to keep it on a patio or porch as opposed to indoors. Also, these plants need about seven hours of full sun every day, which can sometimes make it tricky to grow them indoors.

You can also start your plants indoors before moving them outside to ensure that they get a good start. Cloves can even start rooting in a cup of water. Submerge half of the clove in water with the point up. Once it begins rooting, you can take it outside and plant it.

Garlic Growing Season

Cloves or seeds can be planted in either the spring or fall. If you plant the softneck variety in the spring, you can harvest it three months later, although the garlic cloves will be smaller.

When planted in the fall, these plants do best, as they will yield larger cloves and fuller bulbs. The hardneck variety will go dormant for the winter, but will resume growing in the spring and can be harvested the following fall. The softneck variety will continue to grow straight through the winter. It can also be harvested the next autumn.

Bed of stalks growing out from the soil

Lighting for Garlic

Garlic loves light, so choose an area for planting that receives full sun for between six and eight hours each day. If the temperatures are mild enough, the plants might even prefer up to 10 hours of sun each day.

Watering Garlic

One of the most common problems garlic plants face is root rot. Rot can be caused by overwatering or soil that doesn’t drain well. Always plant in loose, fast-draining soil. You can also garlic in raised mounds, which can help with excess moisture problems.

Garlic plants should receive about one half to one inch of water each week. If outdoor plants are exposed to heavy rain, you may want to wait another week before watering again.

You can always check your soil’s moisture content by digging about four inches down, next to the plant. Be careful not to disturb the plant’s roots while doing this, however. You won’t need to water again until the soil at the bottom of the four inches feels dry.(3)

Necessary Nutrients for Garlic

Because garlics take so long to grow, these plants require a good deal of nutrients. In particular, they need a hefty dose of nitrogen. This plant also prefers a soil pH somewhere between 6.0 and 7.5. For these reasons, a fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as one that contains blood meal or alfalfa, and has smaller amounts of phosphorus and potassium is ideal. You can even select a fertilizer that features only nitrogen, such as a 12-0-0 NPK mixture.

It’s also a good idea to add small amounts of sulfur to the soil. Sulfur increases this plant’s flavor and also offers more healing benefits. You can increase the sulfur in your soil by sprinkling gypsum over the plants.

The plants can be fertilized every three or four weeks. You can fertilize while gardening, after removing any weeds. Fertilizing can be done either by gently tilling it into the soil at the side of the plants or by sprinkling it over the bed.

It’s best to apply more nitrogen-heavy fertilizers during the beginning and middle of the growing season. An all-purpose fertilizer, such as one with a 5-5-5 NPK mixture, is excellent for the end of the growing season.

When to Harvest Garlic

A man holding a bunch of bulbs in his hand that are fresh and still covered in soil

Just before the hardneck variety is ready to harvest, it will begin to grow curling tendrils. These tendrils, called scapes, are what will eventually flower and produce bulbils. If you don’t want bulbils, it’s best to trim the scapes away as soon as they appear. Luckily, scapes are edible. They have a more mild but still spicy flavor. You’ll know when to harvest the garlic cloves by checking the leaves of the plant. As soon as the leaves begin to dry and turn brown, the bulb is most likely ready to come up. When you dig it up, the bulb’s skin should be tight, and the cloves themselves should be large. Before harvesting all of the plants, leave them for a few days without watering. This will help the bulbs dry out, which will not only aid in pulling them up but will make drying and storing them simpler.

If the first garlic bulb you dig up is still small, the plants may need another few days to grow. Waiting to harvest for too long can result in garlic cloves that have split through their skin, which makes storing the bulbs difficult.  (4)

Now that you know how to grow garlic, you can see how easy it is to do. It may take some time for the plants to mature, but with only a little effort and a small amount of patience, gardeners will find that they have a steady supply of delicious cloves. Not only that, but the cloves can be used for planting the following year as well. This makes the plant one of the simplest, most rewarding, and healthiest options for both you and your garden.

About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years. Read More

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