When To Plant: If you live in a zone with cold winters, plant cloves of garlic after the first frost and about four weeks before the ground freezes, depending on what part of the country you live in that should be around October – November. Planting in the Fall will help the garlic develop a strong root system. If you live in a warmer climate, you can get away with planting garlic as late as February or March (as long as the ground is workable). Did you miss planting last Fall? You can still try Spring planting garlic as soon as the ground can be worked, but expect smaller bulbs and a less than optimal crop. Garlic loves moist soil, but not too wet so if it’s soppy wet weather, wait till it dries up a bit before planting.
Where To Plant: Plant in a sunny location, garlic thrives in full sun if possible but it will be ok with some shade. Garlic requires a well draining soil to prevent fungus and rot, if you have a raised garden bed it will thrive there since the drainage will be good. Apply compost and aged manure to make a rich soil, mulch lightly after planting to help with soil moisture (also weeds are a competitor to garlic and they can be deterred by a mulch layer). Before planting dig up the soil area really well (about 10″ deep) to provide a nice, loose soil environment for the garlic.
How To Plant: Separate a bulb of garlic and select large, healthy cloves from the bulb (the outer cloves). Do not plant any cloves that are bruised or show signs of mold. Leave the paper on the cloves when planting. Plant the cloves about 2″ deep (3″ to 4″ for colder climates) and 6″ to 8″ apart with rows 12″ apart. Plant each clove pointy side up and flat side down. In harsh winter zones, lay 4 to 6 inches of mulch over the planted garlic when the ground freezes to provide some protection from winter kill, remove when Spring arrives.
Watering Conditions: Water deeply at least once a week. The soil should be consistently moist and not dry, but don’t let garlic sit in water. A sign of overwatering is fungus growth or mold. Garlic has a shallow root system so don’t let the soil dry out. If there is no moisture in the soil 1″ deep, it’s time to water. Water well in the first few months then start easing off a couple weeks before harvest (when the top leaves start flopping over, that’s a sign to stop watering).
Harvesting Garlic: A sign that garlic is ready to be harvested: you’ll notice the leaves of the plant turning brown and start dying back (can begin mid-July for some varieties, earlier for warmer zones). Wait until there are only half of green leaves left on the plant (about 50% of the leaves have turned brown) and that the soil is dry before you dig it up. If you dig up the garlic when it’s wet, the result can be stained garlic. If you wait too long to harvest, the cloves will have burst through the skin and break apart. To test if the garlic is ready to harvest, pull up a bulb and cut it in half. If the bulb is good sized and the cloves fill the skins, it’s harvest time. Dig up the soil around the garlic, careful not to bruise the cloves with the garden shovel or fork. After the soil is loosened, pull up the plants with your hands, brush dirt off the cloves and prepare them for curing. Leave foliage on the bulbs until they finish curing.
Curing Garlic: Hang bulbs in bunches in a dry, well-ventilated location for a few weeks (2 to 3). Keep garlic sheltered from the sun. No place indoors to hang them? You can also dry bulbs on large screens (old window screens work well), just make sure they have good air circulation on all sides. You can even cure them outdoors if you find a spot where the sun and rain won’t touch them. The garlic is ready to come down when the skin is dry and papery. Cut away roots and extra foliage (about an inch from the bulb) and store garlic in the pantry or a cool, dark location (do not refrigerate).
Storage: Store in baskets, mesh bags, or paper bags to ensure the garlic can breathe and will get some air circulation, a cool location is best. If you’re saving some bulbs for planting next year’s crop, do not separate cloves until you plant and make sure the bulbs stay dry and out of the sun. You can also braid garlic and hang for storage.
Types of Garlic To Plant:
Softneck: Best type for long-term storage and typically produces 12 to 18 cloves of garlic per bulb (some up to 40!). Thrives in southern climates. Should store well for about 8 months. Braids easily.
Hardneck: Typically produces 6 to 12 cloves per bulb and is better suited for northern climates. Should store well for about 5 months.
Elephant Garlic: Has a milder flavor than regular garlic and grows huge bulbs. Stores well (up to a year). Doesn’t grow as well in northern climates where winters are harsh. Plant farther apart since the bulbs grow so big (about 8 to 10 inches apart and 3 to 4 inches deep). Did you know Elephant Garlic is actually a type of leek?
- You can try growing garlic from bulbs you purchase at your local grocery store, no guarantees this will work though since some producers spray the garlic to prevent it from growing. Your best bet is to pick up garlic from a seed catalog or local garden center.
- Hardneck varieties can produce flowers, when the scape (or flower stem) of the garlic starts to curl, snip it off to help your garlic produce larger bulbs (the plant’s energy will be directed to the bulb rather than producing a flower).
- If you find that the garlic you grow produces misshapen bulbs, this is likely because the soil you are growing it in is too heavy/clay. You may also have planted the garlic cloves upside down (they should be planted pointy side up).
- Did you know: Garlic can get sunburn, so when harvesting make sure to move garlic to a sheltered location.