Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow in the garden. It’s easy to grow, requires little maintenance, and rewards you with delicious flavor for months on end after its harvest. Garlic is also wildly versatile – the delicious taste gives it many culinary uses and it’s medicinal properties can’t be missed either. You just can’t ever have too much garlic on hand! Each year I plant enough garlic to last our family almost an entire year; until the next growing and harvesting season.
Garlic likes full sun, but can still grow in partial shade. It requires well-drained soil…and the richer the soil, the better. If you can add organic compost to your garlic beds, do it. The better the soil, the healthier and more robust your garlic will be. Raised beds are ideal for growing garlic in most climates. Apartment and patio gardeners have great success with growing garlic in containers, just as long as they are kept well hydrated and the pots easily drain away excess moisture.
Start with a clove.
To grow garlic, you simply plant the cloves (the small sections of the garlic bulb). Each clove will grow into a new garlic bulb. Larger cloves do tend to give larger bulbs, and likewise with smaller cloves.
While you can technically grow garlic from a bulb of garlic you purchase at the grocery store, it is best to use “seed garlic” or bulbs that are raised for starting new beds of garlic. The grocery store varieties may or may not grow, depending on their qualities, if they are hybrids and so on. That’s why we recommend always ordering heirloom garlic from a trusted grower. This will give you better success rates…and better garlic, too. Then, you can save a few bulbs for re-planting the next season, or order new “seed garlic” again.
It is recommended to soak your garlic in a jar of water for a few hours before planting. This will help protect your crop from fungal diseases. Some wives tales say to add a tablespoon of baking soda to the water mixture while you soak, but personally I’ve always had great success with just soaking in plain water. (But I might give the baking soda a try, just for fun!)
Garlic should be planted in the fall as temperatures begin to cool down. For most of us, that is somewhere between September and November. Just don’t wait too long – make sure to get it in the ground before the first hard freeze.
How to Plant
When you plant your garlic, plant it with the flat end down, and the pointed end up. You will want to plant it about 2 inches below the soil line. Your cloves should be spaced about 6-8 inches apart.
Garlic does not compete well with weeds, therefore you should mulch your garlic bed with about 6 inches of organic mulch: straw, dried grass clippings, or leaves.
Shoots will begin to grow right through your layer of mulch within 4-8 weeks, depending on the climate where you live. Don’t worry if the garlic seems to quit growing in the cold winter months. It will go dormant for a few months, and will start up growing again in the spring.
Care and Maintenance
Like most plants, garlic needs about an inch of water each week during its growth periods (fall and spring). You won’t have to fuss with it much in the winter as it goes through the dormant stage, but don’t let the beds get bone-dry. During the winter, I tend to let Mother Nature water my garlic and I pretty much leave it alone.
Around June 1st, you will want to stop watering your garlic by hand (and let Mother Nature take over again). This will help your bulbs firm themselves up before harvest time, which won’t be too far away.
Fertilize your garlic with an organic, liquid fertilizer like ProtoGrow every 2-3 weeks in the spring. I start around March 1 and fertilize my garlic every 3 weeks until the end of May.
Around June, again depending on your climate, your garlic will start to send up a flowery top. This is called a scape. They can be long and spikey, or curly. You should remove these stalks to allow your garlic to keep growing into mature, large bulbs. But don’t throw the scape away! They are delicious and savory and make wonderful additions to soups, dips, and other recipes.
Around late June to early July, your garlic will be ready to harvest. When your leaves begin to turn yellowish-brown and dry up and look like they are withering away, it’s time to harvest. Carefully dig up your bulbs. Yanking or pulling can break the stalk away from the bulb and this may cause the entire bulb to rot and become a loss.
After harvesting, remove your garlic from the sun. Tie them into bundles of 5-10 bulbs, depending on size, and hang them up to dry and cure for about 6 weeks in a dark and dry area. I use my garage to do this – but it does leave my garage smelling very garlicky. You may prefer a drafty area that allows for more air circulation.
Once the garlic is thoroughly dry, you can cut back the stalk and trim off the roots. Leave about 1-2 inches of stalk above the bulb, especially if you plan to keep the garlic in containers or bags. You can leave the stem and braid your garlic into traditional garlic braids, if you so desire. I just cut them and store in a container that I keep in a cool, dry area in my kitchen.