If you're new to gardening and looking for an easy crop to add to your garden, learning how to grow garlic is an excellent choice.
Growing garlic at home doesn't require a green thumb, but it does require some patience.
In this article, I'll walk you through how to plant garlic at home, as well as how to care for, harvest and store garlic.
Garlic is a versatile and flavourful addition to countless culinary dishes, and you can easily grow it right in your own backyard!
This easy-to-grow crop can be planted in the ground, in a garden bed, in raised beds and you might even be able to grow it in a container (with some luck).
This essential kitchen garden crop is fairly low-maintenance, but it does take a long time to grow. We'll get more into that in a moment.
For now, here's what garlic needs to grow well.
🌿 Growing Requirements
Weather: Sow in cool weather
Sunlight: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight (full sun)
Spacing: 15 - 20 cm (6 - 8 inches) apart for most varieties.
Soil: Garden soil or potting mix for vegetables (i.e. ProMix Organic). Best amended with compost and an organic all-purpose fertilizer.
Start Indoors or Direct Sow: Direct sow
🤔 Choosing the Right Variety
Before you start planting, it's essential to select the right garlic variety for your climate.
There are two main types of garlic to consider:
- Softneck Garlic: Softneck garlic has a soft stem and is well-suited for warmer climates.
This type is commonly sold in grocery stores (for cooking) because it has a long shelf-life.
- Hardneck Garlic: If you live in a region with harsh winters, hardneck garlic is your best bet.
Not only are they cold tolerant, but they actually need a cold period (called vernalization) to grow properly.
Hardneck garlic produces scapes, which are edible shoots, and tends to have a more robust flavour compared to softneck garlic.
Note: Elephant garlic is another variety that you might have heard of. I'm leaving it out of this article because it's actually botanically closer to a leek than actual garlic, and requires different care.
🛍️ Where to Buy Seed Garlic
I pre-order seed garlic from West Coast Seeds, but you can find it at your local nursery or greenhouse in early autumn.
Even though it's called "seed garlic", you're not actually planting the garlic from seed. Seed garlic refers to bulbs of garlic that are meant for planting.
I prefer to pre-order my garlic rather than buy it in person at the store.
This is because there are more varieties available online than in-store, and the bulbs are only shipped when it's time to plant them, which I find very helpful.
If you are going to pre-order garlic, try to do it as soon as your favourite seed company allows you to. Seed garlic tends to sell out very fast!
My current favourite variety is Majestic garlic, as it grows well in my cold climate and it's delicious!
If you're in Zone 5 or 6 in Canada, this is a great variety to try. It's resistant to disease, cold weather, and drought.
Garlic Varieties to Try
Softneck garlic options include Italian softneck garlic (pungent flavour), California Early garlic (typical classic garlic flavour), and Kettle River garlic (a rare artichoke variety with rich flavour).
Hardneck garlic options include Majestic garlic (pronounced flavour with distinctive heat), Music garlic (rich flavour), Persian Star garlic (sweet and spicy flavour) and Spanish Roja garlic (complex flavour with mild heat).
Tip: Make sure to read the descriptions of each variety and pick one that suits your climate! This might mean drought resistance, cold tolerance etc.
🪴 When and Where to Plant
Planting Time: Garlic is typically planted in the fall when the weather is cool. This allows the bulbs to develop and establish roots before overwintering and ensures a good harvest the following summer.
In my area (Southern Ontario), we usually plant garlic in October. Ideally, you want to get them planted about 6 to 8 weeks before the ground freezes.
Selecting a Location: Choose a sunny spot in your garden or on your balcony that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
Ensure that the soil is well-draining, as garlic doesn't do well in waterlogged soil.
Planting in Containers
Although you should technically be able to grow garlic in a container or raised bed, I have not had any success with that yet.
I grow my garlic in my garden bed, along with my flowers. If I didn't have space there, my next choice would be a raised bed because of the volume and depth of the soil there.
If you must grow in a container, make sure it's deep and try to protect it from freezing solid during the winter. The low volume of soil in most containers makes this challenging.
👩🏽🌾 How to Plant Seed Garlic
While it might look like there are a lot of steps here, this process is actually very easy. With some practice, you'll be going through the motions without even thinking about it!
Preparing the Soil
Garlic prefers well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Here's how to prepare your soil:
- Loosen the Soil: Use a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. This will help the garlic roots penetrate easily.
- Amend with Compost: Mix in homemade or bagged compost to enrich the soil with nutrients. Aim for about 5-7 cm (2-3 inches) of compost per square foot of planting area.
- Fertilize: Add a balanced fertilizer according to the package instructions. I like to add Gaia Green's all-purpose fertilizer at planting, and then again in the spring.
Planting The Cloves
The actual planting of the garlic cloves is actually very easy to do.
Some people pre-soak their garlic before planting, but I haven’t found that I need to do that.
- Separate the Cloves: Carefully break apart the garlic bulb into individual cloves, being careful not to damage them. Don't peel them! Use only the largest cloves for planting, as they will produce the biggest bulbs. Do not plant any cloves that look damaged (discard these) or are very small (cook these).
- Spacing: Space each clove about 15 cm (6 inches) apart, and space each row 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) apart.
- Planting Depth: Plant each clove with the pointed end facing up and the flat end down. I recommend planting them about 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) deep, especially if you live in a climate that gets very cold winters (like in Southern Ontario).
- Cover: Cover the holes with soil.
- Water: Give your garlic a good drink to help settle the soil around the cloves.
- Mulch: Add a layer of mulch (straw or leaves) that's about 3 inches deep. This will help regulate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Your garlic will likely sprout during autumn, and then stay dormant throughout winter.
Sometime near the end of winter, into spring, you'll start to see it growing again. This is normal.
🍁 Fall Care and Maintenance
Watering: Once you've planted your garlic cloves, keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. You won't need to water the garlic during the winter months.
Weeding: Regularly remove weeds around your garlic plants to prevent competition for nutrients and water.
Fertilizing: As I mentioned earlier, I like to add an all-purpose 4-4-4 fertilizer at planting. You only need to do this once in the Fall.
Garlic Scapes: If you're growing hardneck garlic, you'll notice scapes (edible stems that grow from the base of the garlic) forming around June. Snip these off to encourage the plant to put more energy into bulb development.
Tip: Garlic scapes are delicious in stir-fries!
🌱 Spring Care and Maintenance
Soil- Prep: Once winter is over, you can remove the mulch that's on top of your garlic (unless it fully broke down).
Watering: Once the snow has melted and the ground has thawed, you'll want to start lightly watering your garlic again. I tend to water a bit heavier during very hot weather.
Be very careful not to overwater your garlic, though, or it will negatively impact the development of your garlic bulbs.
Weeding: Continue to regularly remove any weeds around your garlic plants, as you did in the fall.
Fertilizing: I like to add another round of all-purpose fertilizer to my garlic in the spring (March, for me). I just scratch it into the soil. Do not apply fertilizer once the stalks have become thick and it’s close to harvesting time.
Garlic Scapes: If you're growing hardneck garlic, you'll notice scapes (flower stalks) forming in late spring. These are usually ready to be harvested by summer, when they become curled. Snip these off to encourage the plant to put more energy into bulb development.
🔪 How to Harvest Garlic
Garlic is ready to harvest in summer when the lower leaves start to turn yellow and brown and dry up.
Don't wait for the plants to dry completely, or the bulbs may split apart.
Here's how to do it:
- Stop Watering: I stop watering my garlic about two weeks before I plan to harvest it. I’ve found that this helps the bulbs to firm up, helps to prevent rot, and makes the soil easier to lift. Of course, if it rains you can’t help that and it's usually not a big deal.
- Check the Bulb Size: If you dig gently around where the bulb should be, you can usually tell if it looks big enough to harvest.
- Lift Carefully: Use a garden fork or trowel to gently loosen the soil around the bulbs, being careful not to damage them. Then lift the garlic from underneath the bulbs. Don't try to pull the garlic out of the soil like a carrot.
- Brush Clean: You can gently brush off any excess soil but don't trim any part of the garlic, yet.
Tip: You can save a few of your largest garlic cloves in a brown paper bag to grow for the next season!
🧄 How to Cure Garlic for Storage
Garlic needs to be cured before being stored.
Curing helps the garlic bulbs to develop their flavour. It also removes moisture and makes them suitable for long-term storage.
To begin the curing process, lay the harvested garlic bulbs in a single layer (or hang them) in a shaded, dry and well-ventilated area for 2-4 weeks.
(Softneck garlic can be braided together for convenient hanging, and it looks pretty, too!)
If you're going to use your garage, be sure to open the doors daily so air can circulate around your garlic. Good air circulation is key to proper curing.
(This will also help with the smell!)
The curing is complete once roots and papery skins are dry
Storing Your Garlic
Once your garlic is cured, you can cut the bulbs off the dried foliage and trim the roots. It should now look like the garlic that you would buy from the grocery.
Do not wash your garlic before storing it! The moisture will ruin them. Instead, brush off any dirty or remove the most dirty outer papers from each bulb.
Store the bulbs in a cool dry place in mesh bags or garlic netting, which allows them to breathe.
Do not store your garlic in plastic, as moisture can lead to rotting. Also, avoid putting it in the fridge (it's more humid in there than you might realize).
Hardneck garlic should stay fresh for 3-5 months, whereas softneck garlic can last up to 9 months.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
There are so many ways to enjoy garlic!
You can chop it up and add it to dishes, crush it and mix it with butter for garlic bread, throw entire heads into the oven to make roasted garlic, and even add them to pickles.
Learning how to plant garlic at home is a great skill and one that you're sure to use year after year.
🙋🏽 Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Hardneck garlic is well-suited to our cold winters. Just be sure to plant them deep and cover them with mulch (like fall leaves) to protect them.
Yes! That’s actually the ideal time for us to plant garlic. This gives the plants a chance to establish before they overwinter and helps us to get larger bulbs the following summer.
I usually harvest mine in July or August. The exact time varies depending on when I planted them in the fall.
Technically, you can. However, I do not recommend it. First, it may carry viruses, diseases or parasites that could potentially contaminate your soil. (No, they won't make you sick if you cook and eat them). Additionally, it's likely that it has been imported and won't be suitable for your climate, especially if you live in a cold climate. That being said, you could try growing locally grown garlic purchased from a farm stand or farmer's market in your area!
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