My Garlic Sowing-and-Growing Guide

September 28, 2011

YOU’RE PROBABLY BUSY planting tulips, hyacinths and daffodils right now, but don’t forget that garlic, too, is an autumn-planted bulb. I’d nearly forgotten to plant my own crop of Allium sativum until thoughts of vampires jostled my memory. Read on, and I’ll show you how to sow, grow, harvest and store the bulbs:

There are two kinds of garlic — soft neck and hard neck. Soft neck varieties, including ‘Early Italian Purple,’ have thick, papery skins. This is the garlic you want for long-term storage (long-term meaning winter and early spring).

Hard neck types, like ‘Spanish Roja,’ have thin skins, and thus do not keep well. But — and this is a mighty important but — they produce the curly flowering heads, or “scapes,” pictured above. These scapes, which should be cut off when they emerge (they interfer with bulb-development) make the most divine pesto in the world. Personally, this is all the reason I need to grow hard neck garlic.

Planting – No matter which variety you grow, be sure to plant in autumn, well before the ground freezes. Choose an area which receives full sun. First, loosen the soil to a depth of 8 inches, and amend it with copious quantities of leaf mold. Next, separate individual cloves from a big head of garlic, and plant them 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, in rows which are 6 inches apart. Plant with the pointed tips up. Finally, cover the cloves and gently firm the soil.

Feeding & Watering – When green shoots begin to grow in spring, sprinkle between the rows an organic, balanced fertilizer. Provide one inch of water per week. So cared for, you can count on each little clove to produce one stem and one bulb, which in turn may include 20 individual cloves. Talk about a return on your garlic-investment!

Harvesting – Just when to dig the bulbs is largely a matter of intuition. Some gardeners harvest exactly 3 weeks after the scapes appear. Others insist on delaying harvest until one-half to two-thirds of the leaves turn brown. Still others claim that harvest time is when the garlic tops fall over, and 3 leaves have withered. I’m in this last camp. Of course, I always check first, by digging one or two bulbs. If the garlic seems to have formed individual cloves, and these are tightly covered with papery tissue, then I go ahead and harvest.

In any event, never tug on stems; reach under with your hands or trowel and lift up the bulbs.

Curing – Now let the bulbs dry, or “cure” for three to eight weeks in some warm, airy place which is out of the sun. I cure mine in the garden shed, setting the bulbs — their stems still intact — on an old window screen. The screen is balanced between two pots. This arrangement affords air circulation from both above and below. Once cured, brush off any clinging soil. Do not actually wash the bulbs until you are ready to use them.

Winter Storage – Garlic needs cold temperatures to store well. If you can manage it, 35°F is ideal. Mine have kept well at 40°-45° degrees. You can cut off tops now, if you don’t plan to braid them — a job which requires more dexterity than I possess. The fright-wig of roots can be clipped before storage, too. I try to use up my hard neck varieties by Christmas. My soft neck types are stored exactly like onions — in the cold, dark cabinet in my mud room, knotted up in panty hose.

Got a garlic question to ask, or a comment to share? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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Related Posts:
Garlic Scape Pesto
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Braised Kale with Vermouth & Asiago
Bok Coy with Ginger, Garlic, and Soba Noodles

Comments

  1. Phoebe says:

    Kevin, can I plant garlic from the supermarket?

    Also, good luck with that vampire costume, and happy halloween to you!

  2. Phoebe – A spooky Halloween to you, too!

    Yes, you can plant garlic purchased at the supermarket. It should perform as well as any you would order from a bulb dealer.

  3. Eric says:

    Planted 3 bulbs worth earlier this month. Should probably plant more. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Patty says:

    I planted a head I purchased at the garden center the last week of September and a few green shoots are up now. This is my first year planting garlic from cloves.

  5. Welcome, Patty – Sounds like you are well on your way to a bountiful harvest. Hope to hear from you again.

  6. Jen says:

    Yep…all the garlic is in!
    2 BIG beds of Amish, Siberian, Polish, German, Music, and California soft-neck.
    And it's true you get quite the return on your garlic investment.. one pound of planted garlic cloves can yield about seven to ten pounds of harvested garlic bulbs. If all goes well that means i'll have plenty to keep and use and plenty to sell at market.
    Can't wait to try your scape pesto next year! :)

  7. Jen – Good luck with that enviable collection of softneck garlic. You could sell the cut-off scapes at market, too. Just explain to customers that garlic scape pesto is highly addictive!

  8. Katreader says:

    Hmmm. I think I need to defrost some of my garlic scape pesto…

  9. Katreader – very wise of you to freeze this ambrosia. Garlic scape pesto + a bottle of wine = a party!

  10. Definitely planting some this year! We tried a few years ago and failed because we didn't know what we were doing.

  11. BBI – Follow the directions up top, and believe, you'll be swimming in garlic by mid-summer!

  12. ArtistryFarm says:

    The garlic scapes freeze well plain also. Just rinse, pat dry and toss into plastic bag for easy access later to use in any way you'd use regular garlic, but with a touch of green…

  13. Welcome, ArtistryFarm. I did not think to freeze my surplus scapes, and consequently lost some to rot. This won't happen next year, thanks to your great tip.

  14. Christine says:

    Can I plant my garlic cloves in Edmonton, Alberta Canada (zone 3)? I have a few bulbs from my grandmother but she said she always plants in early spring.

  15. Christine – welcome. As a rule of thumb, the best time to plant garlic in zone 3 is early September. But I'd go ahead and plant those cloves now. Be sure to mulch them with 2-inches of shredded leaves or salt hay before winter arrives.

  16. Angie Gorham says:

    if I use market purchased bulbs… how do I know if they are hard or soft neck?? (sounds like we're talking about clams!)

  17. Angie Gorham says:

    oh… sorry… forgot another question…. Zone 4… do I have to mulch them over winter like Zone 3?

  18. Angie – It does indeed sound like we're discussing clams!

    Hardneck varieties have only 4-6 cloves on the outside, and none on the inside. Softneck is the regular market type, with big cloves outside and progressively smaller cloves inside.

    Yes, you should plan to mulch the cloves when winter arrives. Pull aside the mulch in spring.

  19. Alex-where do i get quality bulbs in Kenya? am interested in planting them,

  20. alex – Nice to meet you. I tried, but could not find a source for garlic in Kenya. My advice is to contact an agricultural agency in your area, and ask them where to obtain bulbs.

  21. LJ says:

    Kevin– (or anyone who is following this post) — I got some great hardneck Russian heirloom varieties last fall at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA and built a raised bed for their new home. I think it is going to be great… but one big question for this rookie garlic-grower (but seasoned and passionate garlic lover!):

    Due to the mild winter, the bulbs have shot up greens all throughout each month! Not any real progress, of course, due to occasional stretches of authentic winter temperatures… but will this totally ruin the crop for this year? Should the greens be cut back or left alone? Any remedy or help I can give to my special new garden children?

    Thanks so much, from a worried ‘parent.’

  22. LJ – Garlic will LOVE your raised bed. And don’t worry about the green growth. My garlic always sends top growth up in the fall, and also during any warm stretch in winter. The greenery is hardy, and will not harm your harvest.

    And…You are going to become an excellent gardener, precisely because you DO worry!

  23. LJ says:

    Ah! Thank you, Kevin. I had visions of the greens pulling needed strength from the developing cloves beneath the top layer… and knew that had I any experience in this phase of garlicking, I’d have an answer built right in.

    It will not harm my harvest! Great! Now if only the stinkbugs leave my berries alone this spring and summer, I’ll have it made!

    Mil gracias de nuevo, Kevin!

  24. Shari Kurutz says:

    We live in Florida and planted garlic in the fall. Do you have an estimate of how long it will be before we will have bulbs? We dug up one plant and it looks close to the same as it did when planted except for the greens.

  25. Connie says:

    I came across your blog and absolutely love it. Can garlic be planted in containers like half barrels?

  26. Jacki says:

    We’ve just started a vegetable garden and our neighbor told us planting garlic will keep the bugs off the other plants. Is this true? also, since I cant plant it till the fall, any other suggestions for bugs?

  27. i am now going to try the garlic, thanks for the help

  28. Penster47 says:

    Now I know why I have so much trouble keeping garlic! I was putting it in the little cabinet OVER MY STOVE!! It was getting much too warm, but I have also tried to keep it in the refrigerator and didn’t have much luck with that either. I do have a spare bedroom that I don’t heat during the winter and that might work. I have heard of people baking the cloves and then squeezing out the soft cooked pulp and freezing it. Is this right? Will it keep that way without losing the flavor?

  29. Barb Ogilvie says:

    I am going to try something new with some of my garlic. I am going to use the food dehydrator, and then ground it to a garlic powder with my coffee grinder. Hoping this works! Don’t know why it wouldn’t

  30. Barb, It will work! Everything I’ve read states to slice the cloves into thin pieces first. Did you already try it with the whole cloves? How did it work?

  31. Diane says:

    Hi kevin. Planted my first lot of garil last year….. only 6 plants. This year stripped 6 large supermarket bulbs down that had started to shot away. Now my garden has over 4 dozen plants down. Am looking forward to my real first harvest of garlic.

  32. dona says:

    I have been planting garlic for 4 years now, every fall to dig up in the late spring…. AND every time I get very small heads. almost not worth using. I do all the steps to get a large head: fert., water, etc. I used garlic from grocery stores and growing ones from nurseries. what is going on? Each year is the same. small. I have sandy soil in zone 5, colorado.

  33. Hi Dona – Garlic doesn’t grow well in sandy well. My advice is to amend your soil — as I have — with leaf mold or some other type of compost. Also, plant hard-neck garlic. I can tell you the hard neck garlic I planted last fall produced ENORMOUS heads for mid-summer harvest. The individual cloves are huge, and what a strong, pleasant “bite” they have!

  34. Robin says:

    Hi all…
    If your having trouble with your garlic crop & used grocery store purchased garlic it may not be your gardening skills causing the problem. Some garlic growers use a growth retardant after harvest to prevent sprouting; be sure any store bought garlic is organic or buy seed garlic from a reputable source. Seed garlic may be higher in price but I’ve found the yields I get are much higher than the yields I’ve gotten from the grocery store garlic. In California (zone 9) we call garlic our holiday crop. We plant by Halloween, stop watering at Mother’s Day & harvest at Fathers Day!

  35. Mickie says:

    OMG, I have a note to plant my garlic this weekend, how nice to now know how, but can you print directions on how and when to plant the garlic pods (which are what I have)?

  36. Kim says:

    Thanks for this information! I just received the organic garlic bulbs I ordered back in May and am ready to plant, and ENJOY, lots of garlic next spring. Are there any pests/enemies to garlic bulbs that I should be on the lookout for?

  37. Dale says:

    Kevin,
    You recommended 35 degrees ideal storage. Is the refrigerator too damp for storing ?

    Also what about the seeds I saved from a few plants who hid from me this summer. Do you know anything about planting those?

    thanks, I always learn and/or enjoy something in every posting!

  38. Wolfgang says:

    Kevin and Dona,

    Planting the largest seed cloves results in the largest bulbs. Eat the smaller cloves, they only produce small bulbs. If you have a few rare garlic bulbs as I do and they are small, each planting will increase the bulb size until they reach their full potential in a few years.

    There are many varieties of garlic that do not produce large bulbs, such as the creole group, but their individual characteristics make them worthwhile to grow. A great book on garlic is Ted Jordan Meredith, The Complete Book of Garlic which I found on Half.com for under $20.00. After reading this book I have listed 20 new varieties to buy in the next few years in addition to the ones I already grow.
    Growing garlic and cooking with it is great!!! I just finished up cooking for my daughter’s wedding yesterday and garlic was in every course! Happy growing!!!!!

  39. Kevin, does it matter what zone you live in when planting this? I live in Zone 9.

  40. Carole says:

    Can I plant my garlic in large plastic planter pots?

    Thanks……

  41. S. Taylor says:

    I got my garlic in the ground yesterday. Early Italian Purple from Seed Savers. They sell organics and open pollinated. Can’t wait till the Spring to see what these babies bring. This is my first serious garlic planting….

  42. Carole – You can grow garlic in containers, but you’ll have to be careful about watering. Garlic needs steady moisture without saturation. And you’ll need lots and lots of containers if you want lots and lots of garlic!

  43. Anne says:

    I purchased garlc bulbs for planting this fall but we have had rain every few days and the ground has stayed too wet to plow. I am NE Georgia and wonder can I plant in early January (now)? Tomorrow will be (unless it rains tonight) dry enough to prep the soil.
    If it is too late would the bulbs still be good for planting next year? Thanks in advance for your help!

  44. Hi Anne – Go ahead and plant the bulbs now. The heads likely won’t grow as large as autumn-planted garlic, but at least you’ll have a crop by mid-summer.

  45. Jim & Kaydene says:

    Hi, we live north of Atlanta and I went ahead and planted my garlic back in November/December according to your instructions. Haven’t been down to the garden lately, today when I checked, low & behold I have 6-8 green sprouts everywhere I planted a piece of garlic. I had covered everything with a couple inches of dried leaves then laid the uprooted plants from the summer on top.

    What to do? Should I add another layer of leaves on top of everything? We have had both warm & cold weather, but I would guess it is much too soon for the garlic to be this far along.

    Looking forward to advise…

  46. jean says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Well we have moved to our new home in Terre Haute, Indiana, zone 5B, I think and I need to start making my raised beds. I am in a CSA here until summer so was able to purchase a pound of organic, untreated garlic locally grown and it is beautiful. I plan to plant it all in a raised bed but beds not made yet as we’ve just moved. So probably should be up and running mid April. If I plant the garlic then, let it grow all summer, then should I harvest in the late fall or early winter or just leave it until next spring? Would like to start planting it in the fall but not possible this first year. ALSO! I peeked in my many milk jugs that were covered in snow earlier this week and there are little green plants growing inside. So excited to see them and can’t wait to plant them out in May. Thanks for all your great tips and will definitely make the apple tart. Just love your writings and humor. Happy Spring!

  47. Clarice Lofgran says:

    Living in California, can we plant garlic any time of the year? I’m east of San Francisco. We get pretty hot weather in the summer and get frosts in the winter. This past winter, I lost lots of foliage on succulents and other plants to frost. thanks!

  48. jackie says:

    I leave in Uganda and growing garlic is what I want to do. Please advise how much capiital I need to start with, the pests that could endanger the garlic and we have two seasons, it’s either rainy or sunny

  49. Hi Jean – Congrats on your new place! You can plant garlic in spring, but your harvest will be puny. For a substantial crop with big heads, plant your garlic in autumn, and harvest in June or July (or whenever the green tops fall over).

    Hi Clarice – Garlic is not affected by frosts. My advice is to plant your crop in the fall.

    Hi Jackie – The only capital you need is…garlic! Garlic is generally not bothered by pests. In fact, it is a pest-deterrent!

  50. Amy G. says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I am enjoying seeing my garlice plants growing exponentially in the past week or two! I was wondering if a fish or fish and kelp fertilizer would be appropriate for feeding these guys? Last year, on my first attempt at growing garlic, I didn’t fertilize nor water as much as I should have (for shame!) and my garlic was quite small. I want to it right this time! :)

    Thanks for your advice!

    Amy

  51. Hi Amy G. – Fish, seaweed, and kelp fertilizers are terrific for garlic. You can foliar-feed, too, by simply spraying water-soluble food directly on the green garlic tops.

  52. Amy G. says:

    That’s great to know. It’s supposed to be in the 70s tomorrow (western New York), so it’ll be perfect to give them yummies. Thanks so much!

  53. Daniel Jagona says:

    Thanks for the most educative Garlic farming method.

    my concern is about the market ?
    where do i sell them ?

  54. Monica says:

    Live in middle Florida Oct through April. If I plant garlic in a raised bed in early October
    what will happen if I can’t harvest until the next October? Will it just rot?
    Thanks love your site.

  55. Cherie says:

    Hi Kevin, I have tried growing garlic so many times. I bought organic garlic and planted the cloves according to instruction and watched the beautiful green shoots sprout up and waited patiently the 9 months or so and low and behold – nothing underneath – nothing that even remotely looked like garlic – that is a long time to wait for such disappointment! I can grow lots of fruit trees and berries (I live in S. Florida) but veggies except for tomatoes and dandelion don’t grow for me. I have tried numerous times to grow peppers and I get flowers and then they fall off and I have nothing! I am determined not to give up – one day I will have a harvest if I can figure out what is wrong – I compost and use that soil as often as I can – any suggestions? thank you for your wonderful posts – they give such inspiriation

  56. MOSES says:
  57. Lisa B says:

    Kevin,
    Thank you so much for all your advice.
    I look forward to your posts each week.
    Do you have any advice on planting and growing onions?
    Thank you again!

  58. Hi Lisa B – Two onion posts for you: First, how to plant the seedlings; and next, how to harvest, cure, and store the bulbs.

  59. Cherie says:

    Hi Kevin, I really enjoy your posts – I live in S. Florida and have been very lucky with my fruit trees, all grown from seed and all producing wonderful fruit – vegetables and garlic are a different story – I planted garlic in a raised bed, using organic garlic and organic soil and the green shoots came up – I was so excited – all the info I read on garlic planting was that it took 9 months (which is a long time to wait) but I patiently waited and at the end of the 9 months I carefully looked and there was NOTHING – no bulb at all – I was so disappointed – this happened to me twice – the shoots looked healthy – what am I doing wrong??????

  60. barb says:

    HELLO.. I was wondering how well garlic would grow in a raised bed filled with pine needles.. I know this makes soil acidic and was wondering how garlic bulbs would do in this type of soil.. thanks!

  61. David H says:

    Hi Kevin,

    After I dig my garlic in July, I place lattice over five gallon buckets, then place chicken wire over the lattice. Then I put the garlic on the chicken wire with no bulb touching another. I then place box fans at either end of the lattice, turn them on low, and let them run 12-14 hours a day. This shortens the curing process down to about 10 days to two weeks. When the leaves on the bulbs are thoroughly dry, I trim the root end and leave about an inch at the leaf end. All this takes place in my pole barn. I live just north of Kansas City, Missouri, and plant the bulbs in a 4 X 8 raised bed in late October, early November. I plant them 4 inches deep and cover with about four inches of shredded leaves. Works wonderfully and has for the last eight years.

    David H

  62. Kate says:

    Thanks for the advice! I love garlic! I’ll plant this week! Cheers!

  63. Lynda says:

    Great article! I was right there with you and thinking “this is something I need to get outside and do today!”. That was until I got to the part about storing it in pantyhose… LOL. Where did you buy them? Does anyone even wear them anymore???

  64. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I usually plant my garlic crop around Veterans Day and harvest around July 4th. It has worked well for me here in the Lehigh Valley. I rotate the patch each year to thwart pests in the soil having an annual party inside the garlic bulbs. I have Canna, Mirabilis and Dahlia tubers coming out of beds here and there, right around the same time the garlic needs to go in, allowing beds to rotate and do double duty in timely fashion.

    If you are braiding soft neck garlic OR onions, use an old SHOE LACE interspersed with the long fronds being braided. Tie off the lace with a short tail onto one bulb that will be the bottom of the braid. Gather the shoe lace along with every third bulb you are adding to the braid. Tie the shoe lace around the fronds tightly at the very top of the finished braid, make a loop for hanging and trim off whatever tails or fronds are cluttering the appearance. The strength of the shoe lace will make hanging the entire heavy “project” less risky. Be careful not to slice through the lace when removing bulbs.

    The ability to hang your crop insures good aeration, although hanging it high means it will be warmer (as coolest temps are always on the floor.) I make braids with my onions then drape the braid over a tall basket handle, place each end of the braid into the base of the basket and set in on the cool concrete garage floor.

    As weeks pass and the stored garlic crop seems more prone to rotting, I often take a large amount and roast it, then make garlic butter and freeze that in parchment. I hate to lose even one clove in storage!

  65. Sandra says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I have a hard neck garlic from Seed Savers that I have been growing for over twenty years. I harvest when it turns 1/3 brown usually in mid to late July. I do wash it gently with the hose and put it in the green house to dry out for a couple three weeks. Then I cut the tops off and trim up the roots and store it in a brown paper bag in the dark of the basement stairwell maybe 50 degrees. Mine lasts almost all year until the next harvest, but some starts sprouting by then.

  66. Marcia says:

    Kevin, when I “liked” this article to put it on Facebook , the picture that appeared with it does not match the subject matter at all! It looks like some sort of biscuits with blue flower petals on them. Just as an FYI….

  67. Ruth says:

    Don’t forget the Annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival is in Saugerties, NY, Sep 28 and 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Details at hvgf.org.

  68. S. Taylor says:

    I guess I’m doing it wrong but the garlic I planted last Fall grew some awesome plants and I even had some go to seed. The seeds were also great looking so I saved them and put them in a shallow container of dirt to get them growing for next Fall. Am I doing that right?

  69. Charlotte DeBoer says:

    Thank you so much for the information on planting garlic – something that I love and use in almost every dish. Until reading your article I have been afraid to try planting garlic myself but I am off to the garden to give it a whirl. Your advice has been most helpful and encouraging.

  70. Vera says:

    Never consume the raw garlic you prepared the days before, discard the raw garlic you prepared today, the pesto in which is a raw garlic or any sauce w raw garlic.
    Never freeze prepared garlic unless it is cooked, like roasted or cooked in a dish.
    ……that’s bc garlic does oxidize while in contact with oxygen and it changes its chemical composition transforming the lovely garlic into a toxic product.
    …..same with the potatoes that become green, discard them they are toxic at this stage.

  71. Lynne says:

    I assume these suggestions apply to elephant garlic as well? I have planted mine and am hoping for the best crop ever. At least one bulb for seed cloves.

  72. Hi Lynne – You are right — elephant garlic is planted in the manner described above.

  73. Virginia says:

    This is exactly what I needed today. Heading out to plant my garlic and look forward to harvesting it next year. Can’t wait to try your garlic scape pesto, sounds wonderful!

  74. Eloise says:

    Where can garlic cloves be bought in Kenya?

  75. I am sure this piece of writing has touched all the internet people, its really really nice article on
    building up new web site.

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