How to Grow Garlic ~ A Guide to Planting, Harvesting, Curing, & Storage
You can grow your own garlic, and it’s totally worth it.
We just completed our third season growing garlic, and I’m obsessed. So much so, that I wanted to learn more about it this summer and took a trip to the local library. The book I found was all about garlic—-the history, how to grow it, and more! While there were some interesting tidbits, I have to say that the book also brought up a couple points that greatly misaligned with what I had experienced in my own garden. Therein lies the lesson my friends—-gardening is extremely climate specific and experience is often the best teacher. So now I’ve been inspired to share my story, my process, and I hope it helps others in my garden zone grow garlic.
Growing Hardneck versus Softneck Garlic
When I set out to grow garlic for my very first time, all the things I read said that mild winter zones could not grow good hardneck garlic. Because of that, I purchased only softeneck varieties and did, in fact, have an amazing harvest that year. If you are interested, one of the most successful varieties was Early Purple Italian. I still grow it today!
Later that year, I managed to meet a few local gardeners who proclaimed that they had been growing hardneck garlic here, SUCCESSFULLY, for years! I took hold of those words, hugged them, cradled them like a little baby, and placed my first order for hardneck garlic that Fall. Why was I so desperate to grow hardneck garlic? Continue reading….
stores longer (6-8 months)
mild climate friendly
does not develop scapes
Ideal for colder zones
Said to have more complex flavor
Shorter storage life
We grow both hardneck and softneck garlic in our garden.
So why hardneck garlic? I wanted garlic scapes! Those twisty, twirly, delicacies of Springtime. About a month before hardneck garlic is ready to be pulled, the bulb puts up these flower stalks called “scapes.” It is said that if you cut the scapes from the plant, you can encourage all the energy to go into bulb formation (which is what we ultimately want). Those scapes are also edible, so you basically get to try a new seasonal food AND have garlic later. Win! NOTE: you should cut the scapes before they actually bloom into a flower (SEE PHOTO).
There is some trial and error involved in growing garlic—in growing anything really—but some varieties will perform well in certain climates and not in others. Ask local gardeners or farmers what they have had success with. Better yet, purchase some garlic from a local farmer at a farmer’s market!
Soil Preparation & Planting Tips
In my zone (10b) we typically plant garlic in mid-October. If you are in the same zone (or mild winter zone) I hope you’ll subscribe to my website so you can access my planting schedule (it’s FREE). For colder zones, the idea is to get your garlic in the ground early enough for it to establish a strong root system (but not sprout out of the ground) so it can survive winter under mulch.
To put it simply, garlic is HUNGRY! They are heavy feeders, and really benefit from healthy soil full of nutrients (I like to call it “rich & loamy”). Our usual process is to prep every bed with a topping of a few inches of aged compost before planting. You can check out my full soil prep process in How to Amend Your Soil Organically.
Make sure your soil has good drainage, as waterlogging can cause your garlic bulbs to rot in the ground.
Garlic likes full fun.
For planting, I start by making my holes for the cloves. Each one should be about 2 inches deep, spaced about 4 inches apart (see video below).
Next, separate each clove of garlic from the head. You’ll notice a pointy end, and an end that has a flatter area. That flatter area is where the roots grow out, so it’s techincially the bottom of the garlic. Plant pointy side up!
Place your cloves in the planting holes and cover with soil.
Here’s a little video of me planting garlic last year:
Cover with mulch. This step is especially important in colder zones, but even in a warmer climate the mulch will help with water conservation and protecting your garlic on those rare frosty nights. I use a variety of different mulches in my garden, but they are all organic mulches in regards to the fact that they will breakdown over time and build your soil health. Want to know more? Check out Let’s Talk Mulch! Mulching a Backyard Vegetable Garden.
Feeding & Fertilizing Garlic
Watering your garlic can be tricky and highly variable. You really want to avoid overly moist soil (especially in the beginning) because your cloves can rot. As stated above, water well after planting, but I typically won’t water again until the soil has dried out in the top inch or so. Until the garlic greens start to poke out the top of the soil, water deeply but not often. For the rest of the season, water like you would other vegetables, always being careful about waterlogging and too much water.
Harvesting Garlic ~ How & When
Garlic is in the ground for 8-9 months. In our zone, the garlic harvest usually happens at the beginning of June. At least 1-2 weeks before you plan to harvest all your garlic, stop watering it. The deprivation of water will help prep the bulbs for harvest and prevent the heads from rotting underground. You’ll start to learn when the time is right to do this, but in general the lower leaves start to die back and you can dig down and inspect a bulb to determine if it is almost harvest time.
Watch the video below for the signs of when to harvest your garlic. There are a lot of different ways to do it, and in the end, I think you’ve got to use your best judgement. Personally, I look for a lot of factors such as: at last 6 dead lower leaves (or 3 sets of 2) and the width of the stalk.
If you are sure it is time to harvest the garlic, go for it! Make sure to use a garden fork or shovel to carefully loosen the soil around the bulb, so you can pull it out without breaking it. After pulling it out of the ground, brush off dirt carefully. You don’t want to rip the outer skin because you want that intact to protect the garlic. DO NOT wash your garlic.
Now you are ready to cure your garlic.
How to Cure Garlic for Storage
Curing is the process of preparing your garlic for storage. The goal is to dry it out so mold or mildew won’t overtake it in storage. This process can take anywhere from 3-6 weeks depending on your local temperature and humidity.
Lay or hang the garlic stalks in a well-ventilated, shady, and dry space for at least 3-6 weeks. You don’t want to expose the bulbs to direct sunlight because it can negatively impact the flavor of your garlic.
There are different ways to hang your garlic while it is curing, but one year I laid it out on a wire garden cart in my garage, and another I used an old metal grid and tied small bunches of my garlic to it for drying. You can see an example below.
How do you I know when my garlic is done curing? It is done curing when the leaves and stalks are completely dried out. The outer skins of the garlic will also be papery—much like the garlic you buy in a grocery store. Lastly, the roots of the garlic will be very stiff (almost like a bottlebrush).
Once your garlic is done curing, you can trim the roots off with scissors, chop the top of the stalk down to a couple inches, and even peel off the very outer layer of skin (the dirtiest layer) to reveal a really gorgeous garlic bulb.
Store your garlic in a cool, dark, dry place where there is still good air circulation. You can periodically check your stored garlic to make sure it is not rotting or going soft. Remember, softneck garlic stores longer than hardneck garlic (6-8 months!) so you might be better off eating/using your hardneck garlic first.
Does garlic need to be soaked before planting? A lot of people ask me if it is necessary to pre-soak garlic. Personally, I don’t and never have. I like to keep it simple in the garden whenever possible, and we still get great harvests each year with no problems. The only time I would suggest soaking, is if you have tried growing garlic and continually have problems with disease. It is said that soaking can help the prevent some diseases.
Where can I buy seed garlic? While some gardeners do have success planting garlic from the grocery store that has sprouted, I don’t recommend it. There’s a whole world of garlic out there with different flavors and colors, that I recommend buying seed garlic from a reputable vendor that specifically grows garlic for selling for seed. You’ll get quality and dependability. Here are some vendors:
Can I save my own garlic to plant the following year? Yes! We don’t always grow enough to save for seed the next year, and I like to add new varieties, so I usually buy my seed every year. Regardless, you CAN save your biggest cloves from your harvest to plant again in the Fall. In fact, a lot of gardeners recommed this. Why? Because your garlic becomes acclimated to your climate, and saving the biggest cloves means you are selecting the strongest garlic that has the best chance of thirving in your garden and producing well.
What hardneck garlic will grow well in zone 10b? This is not an exhaustive list, but so far I’ve had success with Chesnok Red, Ajo Rojo, and Rose De Lautrec.
Can I grow garlic in containers? Yes! I’ve seen garlic grow well in various containers and grow bags like these.
How to Braid or Plait Garlic
Braiding or plaiting garlic is best done with softneck garlic. As the name implies, hardneck garlic develops a stiff neck (as a result of the scape stem) that can’t be braided. I still bundle mine in a cute-fashion and tie with twine.
If you are interested in briading garlic, every gardener has their own opinion on WHEN. From personal experience, I find it best to braid a week or two after harvesting. The leaves have had some time to dry out, but are still pliable enough to braid without breaking. Watch my video below for how I braid my garlic. You can see I waited a little long to do it (life got too busy), so the leaves break a lot while I’m braiding. Either way, it still worked out.
Leave a comment below: Have you grown garlic? Tell me your favorite varieties or ask me a question!