Growing Your Own Garlic

Growing garlic - a pile of freshly harvested garlic plants with bulbs.
My Garden Life
November 25, 2020
Table of Contents

When it comes to the home vegetable garden, it’s important to choose vegetables to grow that are commonly used in the kitchen. Garlic must be one of the most versatile and sought-after flavors in all cuisines and growing garlic is simple compared to a lot of other vegetables. Plant a few cloves of garlic this autumn and you will be harvesting big, plump bulbs of garlic by midsummer.

Best Soil for Growing Garlic

As the days grow shorter, the nights longer and the cold sets in, it’s time to prepare the garlic for planting. Garlic is great for a small spot in the over-wintering vegetable garden. Garlic requires a free-draining sandy loam, with lots of organic compost to keep the soil light and full of nutrients and a pH between 6.5 and 7. Soil with a higher percentage of organic matter will result in bigger bulbs. To increase the organic matter for growing garlic simply add compost, well-rotted manure, or even a general garden fertilizer.

Close up of growing garlic plants in organic rich garden soil.

Selecting Garlic Cloves for Planting

Store bought garlic may not be the best choice when it comes to selecting cloves for planting. But, all garden centers will sell bulbs in packs. Your local garden center will offer a variety that’s best suited to the local climate conditions.

A purple mesh bag filled with garlic bulbs for planting.

When to Plant Garlic

Garlic is usually planted three to six weeks before the first fall frost and the ground freezes over. If you are lucky enough to live in a climate where the ground doesn’t freeze during winter, garlic can then be planted during the height of winter.

If you have missed the first frost and the soil is frozen, hold cloves temporarily in trays or baskets. Transplant these cloves as soon as the ground has defrosted. However, garlic roots develop during autumn and winter, which then supports the rapid leaf growth in spring which is necessary to form large bulbs.

Top view of a plastic container filled with garlic cloves for planting.

How to Plant Garlic Cloves

Plant garlic cloves at least two inches (5 centimeters) below the surface of the soil. Any shallower than that and the clove will rise through the ground and will be too close to the surface to root properly. Make sure the pointy end is facing up.

Space garlic four inches (10 centimeters) apart within a row. These rows should be 10-14 inches (25-35 centimeters) apart. This space is essential as full-grown garlic can be the size of a full-grown leek.

A woman's hands planting garlic cloves in a garden row.

Caring for Garlic Plants

When growing garlic in areas, with heavy frost, mulch the garlic heavily with straw for overwintering. Remove the straw as soon as the threat of frost has passed. In early spring, fertilize the garlic with bone meal, chicken manure or a general fertilizer during the first two months of spring.

A bed of garlic plants heavily mulched with straw.

During the last month of spring, do not fertilize the garlic anymore, allowing the bulbs to swell in size. During bulbing, the last month of spring, water every three to five days. Then, as summer approaches you should decrease watering. Cut away any flowers that form on the garlic, as flowering is energy intensive and will result in less energy being put into bulb formation.

Harvest and Eat Garlic Scapes

Since it’s best to remove the flowers from growing garlic plants, why not make use of them! Garlic scapes are the curly green stems of garlic plants, some stems have a bulge in the middle, which is an unopened flower.

Harvest garlic scapes in late spring, when they’re young and tender. Garlic scapes have many culinary uses such as, stir-fries, topping pizzas, or seasoning pan-fried fish. You can also freeze them to use later.

Fresh garlic scapes on top of a bowl of garlic bulbs.

Harvesting and Storing Garlic

Garlic can be harvested in early spring like green onions. Or they can be allowed to mature until midsummer. This is usually when the tops have begun to yellow and fall over, but before the foliage is completely dry.

Before harvesting the entire crop, dig out a bulb. The garlic head should be divided into cloves and covered in a thick, dry, papery skin. Once satisfied the garlic is ready for harvest, dig up the crop and carefully brush off the soil. Allow the bulbs to cure in a dry, airy, shaded place for two weeks.

Man with garden trowel harvesting a garlic bulb.

The bulbs have cured when the wrappers are dry and papery, and the roots are dry. Remove any dirt, keeping the wrappers intact as much as possible. Remove the tops and roots. Store the cured bulbs in a cool, dark, dry place. Properly stored garlic should last until the next crop is harvested. Be sure to choose out a few cloves for the next planting season.

Freshly harvested garlic bulbs drying on a wooden table.

Fresh garlic is an essential ingredient for making great pesto. You’ll love our favorite pesto recipe; it takes minutes to prepare and can be frozen for use later.

A jar of green garlic basil pesto surrounded by fresh ingredients.

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