When you hear the word garlic, you probably think something like: ‘yummy,’ ‘vampires,’ ‘bad breath,’ or ‘yuck.’ If you say anything besides yuck, you’ll be interested to know growing garlic is a lot easier than many people realize.
Not to mention, it’s good for you as well.
If you’re someone who would like to grow garlic, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you how to grow garlic, care for it, and store it.
You’ll be prepared to cook delicious meals or keep vampires at bay in no time flat. Here’s how you grow your own garlic:
Quick Gardening Facts for Garlic
- Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (find yours)
- Soil: Loam, PH between 6.0 to 7.0, fertile, well-drained
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Planting: 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost date or 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date. Fall planting is more recommended for bigger bulbs.
- Spacing: 3 to 4 inches between plants and 6 to 8 inches between rows
- Depth: 2 to 3 inches deep for cloves
- Best Companions: Rose, apple, peaches, rue, chamomile, potato, kale, dill, yarrow
- Worst Companions: Beans, peas, sage, parsley
- Watering: Lightly after planting, every 3 to 5 days during bulbing
- Fertilizing: 2-3 inches deep compost manure before planting, apply all-purpose fertilizer 2 times a month after planting
- Common Problems: Purple blotch, downy mildew, rust, white rot, garlic mosaic, leafminers, bulb mites, onion maggot, thrips, lesion nematode
- Harvest: 90 to 100 days after indoor start, when most leaves have turned brown
Garlic Varieties to Plant
There are two main types of garlic. Each type has a few popular varieties of its kind. Here are your options for which kinds of garlic to grow in your garden:
This type of garlic is the kind most frequently seen at the grocery store. It gets its name because the stalk is flexible and gives the garlic a soft neck. Some popular varieties of this type of garlic are:
- Silver Skin: This variety has a bold flavor and is known for being stored up to one year once dried.
- Artichoke: This variety is an excellent option if you don’t like a strong garlic flavor. Artichoke garlic’s flavor is less potent.
Hard neck garlic is what its name says it is. This type has a hard stalk that goes all the way up the plant. Here are a few popular varieties of this type:
- Purple Stripe: If you like baked or roasted garlic cloves, you should grow this type of garlic. It’s best known for being used in this way.
- Rocambole: This variety of garlic is less challenging to cook with. It peels easily and stores well for up to six months when dried.
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic isn’t a seed; it’s a bulb. I think that makes planting extremely easy to do. There are a few steps and recommendations you should follow for the best turn out:
When to Plant Garlic
You can plant garlic either during the spring or fall. Depending on what planting zone you’re in will determine which time of year is best for you to plant.
As a general rule of thumb, if you live in a northern climate, plant in the fall. The reason is, it takes the ground a long time to thaw in the spring. If you wait until you can work the land to plant, your garlic won’t have enough time to develop a robust root system and produce decent sized bulbs.
Plant the garlic bulbs eight weeks before your first frost. Be sure to place a six-inch layer of mulch around your garlic bulbs to provide extra insulation during the harsh winter months.
If you live in a southern climate, it’s best to plant garlic bulbs in the early spring. I live in a southern climate and I plant my garlic bulbs in March.
As soon as the ground thaws enough to work the soil, I begin planting the bulbs, giving them enough time to develop a sturdy root system and have the time needed to produce quality bulbs.
Where to Plant Garlic
I recommend growing garlic in raised beds or a container. The reason being is it’s much easier to create loose enough soil for the bulbs to spread and grow in.
I put compost in the raised beds and plant directly in it. This also allows me to pick the best location for my garlic to have full sun.
Also, the soil tends to drain better in raised beds. Your garlic needs well-draining, loose soil to be able to grow properly.
Wherever you decide to plant, be sure to amend the soil. It’s important the soil is well-draining, loose, and loamy.
Putting Garlic in the Ground
The great thing about planting garlic is you can plant a lot of it in a small space. I leave a foot or less between each of my rows of garlic, and this gives each bulb ample room to produce.
Plant the bulb approximately two inches deep. Give four inches of space between each bulb.
When planting, be sure you break the bulbs apart. This will give you multiple cloves and each can start a new plant.
Place the broad side of the bulb into the soil and leave the narrow, pointy side sticking up. Cover the bulb with soil, leaving the point sticking out.
How to Care for Garlic
Caring for garlic is simple. You need to follow a few steps, and your garlic should thrive. Here’s what you need to do:
If you live in a northern climate and must mulch your garlic bulbs over the winter, remove the mulch when you know any potential for frost has passed.
Cut the Flowers
It’s common to see garlic bulbs ‘bloom’ in the spring. They develop flowers at the tops of the stems. If you see this, cut the flowers.
The more energy the bulbs put into the flowers, the less energy and nutrients are going to the bulbs. This leads to smaller garlic bulbs.
Ditch the Weeds
Weeds aren’t usually an issue in the early part of spring. As the days pass, you might find some weeds popping up between your garlic bulbs.
When this occurs, I run my fingers between the bulbs gently pulling at the weeds. I don’t want to pull too hard because I don’t want to disturb the bulbs.
I go over my garlic bed once a week gently pulling the weeds loose to keep nutrients going to the garlic and not the weeds.
As the season progresses, the garlic stems will get larger and begin to smother out the weeds. I usually don’t have to weed as much when this happens.
Keep an Eye on the Nitrogen
Garlic loves nitrogen, as do many plants. You need to keep an eye on the nitrogen levels in your soil. The best way to do this is to fertilize every couple of months.
If you begin to see the garlic stems turning yellow, you’ll know you have a nitrogen deficiency. Fertilize at the first sign of this and watch for improvement.
Garlic can be watered deeply one time per week to ensure it gets about 1/2 inch to an inch of water per week until May and June roll around.
When May and June hit, your garlic will begin to take off. This is when the bulbs of your garlic will grow larger.
This requires a great deal of water. During these months, you should water the garlic bulbs approximately three times per week, giving at least an inch of water total.
Prune as You Wish
Garlic doesn’t need to be pruned. If you choose to grow a hard neck variety, you can use the stems for meals. You can trim the tips of the garlic and sauté them or use them as a garnish.
Common Problems with Garlic
If you’re new to gardening, garlic could be a great plant for you to start with. The reason being the simplicity of it to grow. It doesn’t require much care, and there’s practically no threat to the plant from pests or diseases.
Garlic is frequently used to deter both pests and diseases in the garden, and of course vampires as well. Therefore, most things avoid garlic.
Some of the common pests garlic can deter are:
- Japanese beetles
- Cabbage loopers
- Fungus Gnats
The only threat you could potentially face is white rot. This is a fungus which could attack your bulbs during the cold weather.
There is no way to prevent this from happening or stop it once it does.
The best way to try to keep white rot out of your garden is to keep your garden clean and to rotate your crops regularly because the spores of the fungus can remain alive in your soil for years.
If you have it, sterlize your soil and don’t plant garlic there for a few years.
Best and Worst Companions
Garlic has many plants that love to be planted around it. Here are the plants which are best suited to be planted near garlic:
- Fruit trees
Though most plants thrive around garlic, there are a few who suffer from stunted growth when planted near it. Here are the worst companion plants for garlic:
How to Harvest and Store Your Garlic
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but harvesting and storing garlic is as simple as the rest of the process. Here’s how you reap the reward of the work in growing your own garlic:
Check the Tops
You’ll know it’s time to start checking bulb size when the tops of the garlic begin to fall over and turn yellow.
You don’t want the tops to be fallen over and thoroughly dried before harvest. When the heads begin to fall over and lose color, you should use your garden fork to gently dig below the bulb and lift from under the bulb to remove it from the soil.
If you’re pleased with the size of the garlic bulb, it’s time to harvest. If not, keep an eye on the tops of the garlic to make sure they don’t become too dry.
Keep checking back sporadically. If the tops begin to dry out, you should harvest regardless.
Lift and Pull
Harvesting garlic isn’t tricky, but knowing the right time is the only part of growing that can be complicated.
There’s no set time to harvest your garlic because it all depends upon when you planted it. If you’re a northern gardener who must start their garlic in the early part of fall, you could be harvesting garlic as early as July.
However, if you’re a southern gardener and plant in March, you may not harvest until November. This is why watching the tops of your garlic is vital to the growing process.
When you know it’s time to harvest your entire crop of garlic; you’ll use a garden fork to dig below each garlic bulb.
Allow the fork to lift the bulb up out of the soil gently. You’ll repeat this until every bulb has been removed from the soil.
Curing is a Necessity
When each bulb has been harvested, dust the dirt off of them. Be gentle because you don’t want to disturb the wrapping around the bulb.
Hang each bulb upside down in a shaded location with excellent airflow. They’ll hang there for 14 days to give each bulb time to cure.
When the wrappers are dry and feel like tissue paper, the garlic bulbs are ready to be stored.
Braid and Store
When it’s time to store your garlic bulbs, remove any leaves from them and trim back any remaining roots on the plant.
However, be sure to leave the wrappers intact on the plant. If you have wrappers which are extremely dirty, you can carefully remove them.
Otherwise, leave everything as is. If you wish to store the garlic individually, cut the tops of the garlic off and store in a wooden tray with sawdust or straw separating the layers of bulbs in the drawer.
If you’d prefer to leave the tops attached, braid them together and store the garlic in bulbs. They can hang in your pantry or kitchen as a functional décor item.
If you’re storing large quantities of garlic for the year, be sure to choose a dark, dry location that hovers around 40°F.
The great thing about growing your own garlic is you can take what you’ve grown one year and use it to develop a new harvest the next year.
Save the biggest bulbs of garlic from your harvest to use for planting next year’s crop. You’ll follow the steps above to plant and have garlic year after year.