Growing Garlic

Almost all garlic is planted from cloves - each clove planted creates a clone  - a clone from a wimpy, small, diseased clove will grow a wimpy, small, diseased bulb.  Likewise, a large, robust, plump clove will produce a large, robust, plump bulb!  It’s science!   When you choose your garlic for planting, plant disease free, beautiful, whopping cloves.

Plant garlic in the Fall about 4 weeks before the ground freezes.  This can range between mid September in northern climates to December in southern climates.  The idea is you want to plant cloves early enough so that they develop some roots before the ground freezes but not so early that the plant begins to grow leaves that will be damaged in the coming cold.

Plant garlic in well drained (garlic hates wet feet), nitrogen rich soil.  Raised beds work wonderfully for garlic.   Space your garlic 6-inches apart within rows and 8-12 inches apart between rows.  In northern climates, cover planted garlic with 6-inches of mulch.  Mulch can also be used in more southern climates to help combat weeds.  Garlic does not do well with weed competition and your bulb size will suffer if you do not tend your crop.

In the spring when leaves are over 6-inches  tall, fertilize your garlic with an organic nitrogen rich fertilizer.  Apply a second application of fertilizer 2-3 weeks after initial application.  After the second application of fertilizer do not fertilize again.  At this point you want garlic to begin refocusing its energy into bulb development and not leaf growth.

In late spring or early summer (depending on your growing zone) hardneck garlic will begin to grow scapes.   When your scapes are about 6 inches and just beginning to curl over themselves you can pull your scapes so that the plant will direct its energy into bulb development rather than flowering.  Harvest is often about 3 weeks after scapes appear.  

The secret to timing your garlic harvest perfectly is all about the leaves.  Each leaf is an extension of the protective wrappers that envelop the garlic bulb.  When 1/3 - 1/2 the leaves are dead and the remaining leaves are green it is time to harvest! The dead leaves will be the outer wrappers that can be peeled off to clean up the bulb while the green leaves will protect the bulb in storage.  It is better to harvest too early and have slightly smaller bulbs than to wait too long and have all the leaves/protective wrappers decaying making them worthless for protecting the bulb over any length of time.  These protective papers are the key to your garlic storage life.

To harvest, loosen the soil around the bulbs with a spade or shovel and pull the plant from the soil.  Knock off any excess dirt and immediately move your harvested garlic out of direct sunlight into a shed or garage or covered area so they can cure.

Harvested garlic needs to be cured if it is going to be stored for any length of time. Hang your garlic in groups of 10 in a dry area out of direct sunlight — we love to use the rafters in our shop building here at Sundries Farm.  An alternative to hanging garlic is to spread plants on drying racks.  Allow your garlic to cure for 3-6 weeks until all the leaves and hardneck center stalks are dry.

Once your garlic has cured you will be free to trim the roots from the bulbs, remove the soiled outer wrappers to reveal clean garlic papers beneath, and remove the excess leaves — we like to cut our garlic leaves back to 1-inch above the bulb.  Softneck varieties’ leaves are left attached if your plan is to make garlic braids or wreaths.  Store your cured garlic at room temperature in a breathable container and out of direct sunlight.  And at long last, eat it and be well!


USDA Growing Zones

Zones 3-5: Plant garlic in late September to early October. Hardneck varieties do best in these growing zones.

Zones 5-7: Plant garlic in mid to late October. Both hardneck and softneck varieties can be grown in these zones.  

Zones 7-9: Plant garlic in late October into November. Softneck varieties do best in these growing zones; plant hardneck varieties in cooler/ shadier areas of the garden.

Zones 9-10: Plant garlic in late October through December. Softneck varieties do best in these warmer growing zones. Hardneck varieties are not recommended for these zones.