Updated: Sep 15
Let’s talk garlic! A relative of onions, shallots, and chives, garlic is a universal seasoning that pairs well with so many dishes! Not only is it delicious, but it also boasts a ton of nutritional benefits. Here's what you'll need to know to help your growing Garlic thrive!
This step-by-step video and below transcript will walk you everything you need to know for growing garlic.
Listen to this Article:
A FEW GARLIC TERMS TO KNOW
Growing Garlic is easier when you know the terms, so below are the most common ones:
ANNUAL: Plants with a single growing season. Within one growth cycle, a garlic plant will form bulbs, and green leaves will emerge from the surface. After their leaves have browned, their bulbs can be dug from the ground.
SOIL HEAVING: The swelling and deswelling of soil that can be caused by a change in the water table, frost action, or the swelling of subsoils from high water levels.
CURING: The process of allowing garlic bulbs to reduce their moisture naturally. After harvest, find an airy, dry spot where you can spread them in a single layer, then leave them there for at least a week. Just be sure to avoid full sun – doing so will increase the storage life of your garlic by months.
PRIMARY GARLIC VARIETIES
There are a few different options for you to choose from when planting garlic! The steps for growing Garlic are very similar between the different varieties of garlic, so don't stress, just pick what you love. Below is a list of what I feel is the best garlic to grow in a vegetable garden.
SOFT-NECK (SILVERSKIN, ARTICHOKE)
The necks/stalks of this variety stay soft at harvest time. The plant produces larger cloves on the outside, with smaller ones in the middle.
It has a strong flavor and is the most common variety found in supermarkets.
Though it’s not as winter-hardy as the hard-neck type, it does store well, and it’s also the best variety for braiding!
HARD-NECK (ROCAMBOLE, PORCELAIN)
It has one ring of cloves around a stiff stem and can tolerate the coldest temperatures compared to other varieties.
When your winters are severe, this is the type of garlic you’ll want to grow.
Keep in mind it doesn’t store as well as the soft-neck variety, and has a milder flavor.
ELEPHANT OR GREAT-HEADED
This variety is intermediate between garlic and onion.
It has a mild flavor and a large bulb with few large cloves.
Generally, elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than to actual garlic.
Steps for growing Garlic from a clove
Did you know that garlic is grown from other garlic cloves? It’s true – but you’ll want to avoid using commercially sold ones from the grocery store. They might carry diseases and often aren’t suited to grow in your garden. Instead, get your cloves from a garden center or a seed supplier!
You’ll want to plant your garlic in the fall, about 4-6 weeks before the first frost. And if you’re looking to get big bulbs, simply plant the largest cloves you’ve got!
STEP 1: Break the bulbs apart and plant the individual cloves with the tips up. Make sure to leave all the papery pieces around them!
STEP 2: Plant them about 2 inches deep then cover them with soil. You’ll want to space your cloves about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart in rows that are 15-24 inches (38-60cm) apart.
Note: Elephant garlic varieties should be planted 3 inches (7.6cm) deep and spaced 8-12 inches (20-30cm) apart due to their size.
STEP 3: Mulch them heavily after planting in the fall season to protect your seedlings from heavy frosts.
Note: When planted in the spring, your bulbs will be small and yields will be low. If you plan on planting during this season, you can start as soon as the ground is workable.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Growing Garlic if you're growing from a transplant
Since garlic needs to be exposed to very cold soil temperatures in order to form its bulbs, it’s best to plant your cloves directly outside.
If soil temperatures do not fall below the needed 50°F in your area, you can actually trick your garlic into forming bulbs.
Simply wrap them in paper towel or in a cloth, then stick them in the freezer for about 2 weeks. This will imitate an exposure to frost.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
Growing Garlic anywhere. Below are the most common locations for home gardeners
RAISED BEDS: These are ideal for growing garlic, since they provide great drainage and in general have much warmer soil. Also, you can avoid compacting the soil because you won’t be walking directly on top of it to tend to your plants.
OPEN FIELD: Check your soil for its fertilizer needs as well as existing diseases before you start planting. Also, make sure that no other member of the allium family (onion, shallots, chives) has grown there in the past 3-4 years.
CONTAINERS: Another great option to use – especially if you just can’t get enough garlic! When your pots or containers are big enough, they can accommodate a few garlic plants. Just make sure they have holes in the bottom to allow for good drainage.
CARING FOR YOUR GARLIC
Growing Garlic at every step
Garlic can be grown in USDA zones 4 through 9, and it will tolerate a wide pH range when it comes to soil! It does, however, grow best in a soil that’s slightly acidic with a pH between 6.2-6.8
Your growing garlic plants will also need a weed-free and well drained growing area! Due to its shallow root system, any cultivation of your soil has to be careful and shallow so as not to damage your garlic’s roots.
You’ll want to water your soil to a depth of 12 inches (20 cm), and in general, growing garlic needs about 1 inch (2.5cm) of water per week.
Drought stress during their growth process will reduce your garlic’s bulb size, and will decrease your yield.
Stop watering them once their leaves start to mature and turn yellow. That way, your garlic plant will focus all its energy into forming bulbs.
Also, growing garlic usually overwinters outside to form bulbs. For this to happen they need temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for about 6-8 weeks.
During this time, they may already develop some roots, even if you can’t see anything above the soil.
Then, you’ll want to remove any mulch in the spring to let your garlic grow – just leave a little bit behind to help suppress weeds.
If you’re growing your garlic during the springtime, keep in mind that it prefers full sun for its growth!
Keep in mind too that during the early summer, you’ll also want to cut off the twisted flower stalk of hard neck garlic. This will channel more energy into its bulb production!
FERTILIZING GARLIC AND ADDING MULCH
Growing Garlic with the right food and protection
First, find out your soil’s fertilizer needs and then apply it accordingly before you plant. Some common fertilizers to start with are ones with a 5-10-5 ratio, a 5-10-10 ratio, an 8-16-16 ratio, or a 12-12-12 ratio.
You can use about 1-2 pounds per 100 feet – and when it comes to nitrogen, growing garlic has a moderate to high need for it.
After planting, once your growing garlic is 3-4 inches (7.6- 10 cm) tall, you can side-dress it with a nitrogen fertilizer.
You will also need to apply mulch, especially during the winter! This will protect your underground cloves against temperatures that are too low and will also keep your soil from heaving.
COMPANION PLANT FOR GARLIC
Growing Garlic around the plant friends that protect them best
The best companion plants for garlic are:
Brassicas (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and turnip)
Beets, celery, lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes are all great companion plants for garlic.
Don't plant garlic with:
Avoid planting your garlic near beans or peas.
NOTE: Garlic that’s been made into a tea or spray can be used as a systemic pesticide!
COMMON CHALLENGES…AND THEIR SOLUTIONS.
In general, you’ll want to avoid planting garlic in spots where other Allium family members have previously grown for 3-4 years, because it’s in these spots where your garlic will likely be more prone to disease. Growing Garlic that's free of diseases and common vegetable garden pests is easier than you may think. Here are a few to focus on:
ONION THRIPS: Insects that leave white specks on leaves. Its larvae burrow into the underground stems and can cause your young plants to yellow and wilt.
Solution: Remove any yellow plants immediately, and practice good crop rotation. You can also apply insecticidal soaps to deal with this
ARMYWORMS: Its larvae feed on the leaves, often skeletonizing them.
Solution: If you spot armyworms on the leaves of your garlic plant, simply hand-pick
NEMATODES: Microscopic pests that invade the stem tissue, which causes stunting as well as twisted and pale leaves. More often than not, young plants will eventually die.
Solution: Remove infected plants by digging them out completely, and practice proper crop
WHITE ROT: This fungus is spread through infected soil and water, and causes older leaves to turn yellow and die. It also damages the root system, causing the bulbs of your garlic to rot.
Solution: Practice proper crop rotation, destroy infected plant parts, and plant disease-resistant varieties when
FUSARIUM: This fungus attacks plants that are already weakened by other pests and diseases. Its symptoms are similar to white rot, and it’s most active in high temperatures.
Solution: Practice proper crop rotation, remove and destroy any infected plants, and plant disease-free seeds/ cloves when
PINK ROOT: This fungus usually appears when temperatures are above 75°F (24°C). It infects the roots of your plant, turning them pink and causing them to die back.
Solution: Try practicing a 3-4-year crop rotation to avoid
GARLIC RUST: White to yellow spots that appear on the leaves, eventually growing bigger and becoming more diamond-shaped.
Solution: Practice good crop rotation and keep your planting area free from
Growing Garlic for your plate and pantry
There’s a bit of a process when it comes to harvesting and storing your garlic – but it’s definitely worth it, and we’re here to help you through it!
Harvest your mature garlic when about 75% of its leaves have turned brown.
Take time to gently loosen the soil above and around the bulbs, then carefully lift the bulbs with a garden fork or a spade. The more gentle you are, the more you’ll avoid damage to the protective layers around the cloves.
Once you’ve dug out your mature garlic bulbs, place them in an airy, dry spot away from direct sunlight in a single layer. There, the remaining leaves can dry and turn brown.
Depending on how much moisture is still inside the plant, this part of the process can take up to several weeks.
You’ll know your garlic is fully cured when its skins are papery and the roots are dry. Once everything is dry, the bulbs can be cleaned and stored – yay!
To store your garlic bulbs, cut off the leaves about 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) above the bulb, then leave them in a cool area (32-40°F or 0-4°C) with dry conditions and darkness.
Your garlic should keep for 6-8 months!
Then, just make sure to save the largest bulbs for your next planting.
STORING YOUR GARLIC - WITH BRAIDS!
Braiding is a wonderful way to store your garlic bulbs. To make garlic braids, you’ll need to dig out your bulbs when their leaves are still green.
In general, soft-neck varieties are much easier to work with than hard-neck. Also, the ideal time to braid your garlic is when the stems are half brown but still bendable, and you’ll also need about 8-10 heads.
Here’s how to braid your garlic:
STEP 1: Start with three bulbs on a flat surface and braid the stalks once or twice.
STEP 2: Then, lay a fourth bulb just below the three others and place the stalk of the fourth bulb on top of the middle stalk in the braid.
STEP 3: Bring the far-right stalk up and over all of the other stalks, repeating this step with the far left stalk too.
STEP 4: Now, lay the next bulb below the existing 4, and repeat this process.
STEP 5: Continue until all of your garlic bulbs are braided in. Then, braid the final stalks for about 4-5 more inches and tie off the end.
Voilà – garlic braids!