Growing Garlic: How to Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Store Garlic

Garlic.

You’re either going to say ‘yummy,' ‘vampires,' ‘bad breath,' or ‘yuck.' If you say anything besides yuck, you’ll be interested to know garlic is a simple crop to grow.

Not to mention, it’s good for you as well.

If you’re someone who would like to grow garlic, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you how to grow garlic, care for it, and store it.

You’ll be prepared to cook delicious meals or keep vampires at bay in no time flat. Here’s how you grow your own garlic:

Quick Gardening Facts for Garlic

  • Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (find yours)
  • Soil: Loam, PH between 6.0 to 7.0, fertile, well-drained
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Planting: 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost date or 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date. Fall planting is more recommended for bigger bulbs.
  • Spacing: 3 to 4 inches between plants and 6 to 8 inches between rows
  • Depth: 2 to 3 inches deep for cloves
  • Best Companions: Rose, apple, peaches, rue, chamomile, potato, kale, dill, yarrow
  • Worst Companions: Beans, peas, sage, parsley
  • Watering: Lightly after planting, every 3 to 5 days during bulbing
  • Fertilizing: 2-3 inches deep compost manure before planting, apply all-purpose fertilizer 2 times a month after planting
  • Common Problems: Purple blotch, downy mildew, rust, white rot, garlic mosaic, leafminers, bulb mites, onion maggot, thrips, lesion nematode
  • Harvest: 90 to 100 days after indoor start, when most leaves have turned brown

Garlic Varieties to Plant

There are two main types of garlic. Each type has a few popular varieties of its kind. Here are your options for which kinds of garlic to grow in your garden:

1. Soft Neck

This type of garlic is the kind most frequently seen at the grocery store. It gets its name because the stalk is flexible and gives the garlic a soft neck. Some popular varieties of this type of garlic are:

  • Silver Skin Garlic: This variety has a bold flavor and is known for being stored up to one year once dried.
  • Artichoke Garlic: This variety is an excellent option if you don’t like a strong garlic flavor. Artichoke garlic’s flavor is less potent.

2. Hard Neck

Hard neck garlic is what its name says it is. This type has a hard stalk which goes all the way up the plant. Here are a few popular varieties of this type:

  • Purple Stripe: If you like baked or roasted garlic cloves, you should grow this type of garlic. It's best known for being used in this way.
  • Rocambole: This variety of garlic is less challenging to cook with. It peels easily and stores well for up to six months when dried.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic isn’t a seed; it’s a bulb. This makes planting extremely easy to do. There are a few steps and recommendations you should follow for the best turn out. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Fall Planting

You can plant garlic at two different times. Depending on what planting zone you’re in will determine which time of year is best for you to plant.

As a general rule of thumb, if you live in a northern climate, plant in the fall. The reason is, it takes the ground a long time to thaw in the spring. If you wait until you can work the land to plant, your garlic won’t have enough time to develop a robust root system and produce decent sized bulbs.

For this reason, you should plant in the fall. Plant the garlic bulbs eight weeks before your first frost. It should give the bulbs enough time to develop a healthy root system without producing above the ground.

However, be sure to place a six-inch layer of mulch around your garlic bulbs to provide extra insulation during the harsh winter months.

2. Spring Planting

If you live in a southern climate, it’s best to plant garlic bulbs in the early spring. I live in a southern climate; therefore, I plant my garlic bulbs in March.

As soon as the ground thaws enough to work the soil, I begin planting the bulbs, giving them enough time to develop a sturdy root system and have the time needed to produce quality bulbs.

3. Raised Beds are Best

Through my experience, I must recommend growing garlic in raised beds or a container. The reason being is it’s much easier to create loose enough soil for the bulbs to spread and grow in.

I put compost in the raised beds and plant directly in it. This also allows me to pick the best location for my garlic to have full sun.

Also, the better the soil, the better the soil drains. Your garlic needs well-draining, looser soil to be able to grow properly. Raised beds make it much easier to provide the right environment for garlic to grow in.

4. Amend the Soil and Plant

Finally, you’ll need to amend the soil wherever you decide to plant. It’s important the soil is well-draining and fluffy. This makes it easier for the bulb to grow.

As previously mentioned, we purchase composted manure from a local farmer. I use this manure to fill our raised beds we created from cinderblocks.

From there, I pull the compost back and plant the bulb approximately two inches deep. Place four inches of space between each bulb.

When planting, be sure you break the bulbs apart. This will give you multiple bulbs of garlic from each bulb you plant with.

Be sure to place the broad side of the bulb into the soil and leave the narrow, pointy side sticking up. Cover the bulb with soil (leaving the point sticking out), and you’ve successfully planted garlic.

The great thing about planting garlic is a great deal of it can be planted in smaller spaces. I leave a foot or less between each of my rows of garlic, and this gives each bulb ample room to produce.

How to Care for Garlic

Caring for garlic is also very simple. You need to follow a few steps, and your garlic should thrive. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Remove Mulch

If you live in a northern climate and must mulch your garlic bulbs over the winter, remove the mulch when you know any potential for frost has passed.

2. Cut the Flowers

It’s common to see garlic bulbs ‘bloom’ in the spring. They develop flowers at the tops of the stems. If you see this, cut the flowers.

The more energy the bulbs put into the flowers, the less energy and nutrients are going to the bulbs. This leads to smaller garlic bulbs.

3. Ditch the Weeds

Weeds aren’t usually an issue in the early part of spring. As the days pass, you might find some weeds popping up between your garlic bulbs.

When this occurs, I run my fingers between the bulbs gently pulling at the weeds. I don’t want to pull too hard because I don’t want to disturb the bulbs.

I go over my garlic bed once a week gently pulling the weeds loose to keep nutrients going to the garlic and not the weeds.

As the season progresses, the garlic stems will get larger and begin to smother out the weeds. I usually don’t have to weed as much when this happens.

4. Keep an Eye on the Nitrogen

Garlic loves nitrogen, as do most plants. You need to keep an eye on the nitrogen levels in your soil. The best way to do this is to fertilize every couple of months.

If you begin to see the garlic stems turning yellow, you’ll know you have a nitrogen deficiency. Fertilize at the first sign of this and watch for improvement.

5. Water Adequately

Garlic can be watered deeply one time per week to ensure it gets about ½ inch to an inch of water per week until May and June roll around.

When May and June hit, your garlic will begin to take off. This is when the bulbs of your garlic will grow larger.

This requires a great deal of water. During these months, you should water the garlic bulbs approximately three times per week.

6. Prune as You Wish

Garlic doesn’t need to be pruned. If you choose to grow a hard neck variety, you can use the stems for meals.

You can trim the tips of the garlic and sauté them in your meal or use them on top of your meal as an added garnish.

Common Problems with Garlic

If you’re new to gardening, garlic could be a great plant for you to start with. The reason being the simplicity of it to grow, it doesn’t require much care, and there’s practically no threat to the plant from pests or diseases.

Garlic is frequently used to deter both pests and diseases in the garden, and apparently vampires as well. Therefore, most things avoid garlic.

Some of the common pests garlic can deter are:

The only threat you could potentially face is white rot. This is a fungus which could attack your bulbs during the cold weather.

There is no way to prevent this from happening. You’ll know the fungus lives in your soil if it attacks your plants.

The best way to try to keep white rot out of your garden is to keep your garden clean and to rotate your crops regularly because the spores of the fungus can remain alive in your soil for years.

Best and Worst Companions

Garlic has many plants which love to be planted around it. Here are the plants which are best suited to be planted near garlic:

Though most plants thrive around garlic, there are a few who suffer from stunted growth when planted near it. Here are the worst companion plants for garlic:

How to Harvest and Store Your Garlic

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but harvesting and storing garlic is as simple as the rest of the process. Here’s how you reap the reward of the work in growing your own garlic:

1. Check the Tops

You’ll know it’s time to start checking bulb size when the tops of the garlic begin to fall over and turn yellow.

You don’t want the tops to be fallen over and thoroughly dried before harvest. When the heads begin to fall over and lose color, you should use your garden fork to gently dig below the bulb and lift from under the bulb to remove it from the soil.

If you’re pleased with the size of the garlic bulb, it’s time to harvest. If not, keep an eye on the tops of the garlic to make sure they don’t become too dry.

Keep checking back sporadically. If the tops begin to dry out, you should harvest regardless.

2. Lift and Pull

Harvesting garlic isn’t tricky, but knowing the right time is the only part which can become complicated.

There’s no set time to harvest your garlic because it all depends upon when you planted it. If you’re a northern gardener who must start their garlic in the early part of fall, you could be harvesting garlic as early as July.

However, if you’re a southern gardener and plant in March, you may not harvest until November. This is why watching the tops of your garlic is vital to the growing process.

When you know it’s time to harvest your entire crop of garlic; you’ll use a garden fork to dig below each garlic bulb.

Allow the fork to lift the bulb up out of the soil gently. You’ll repeat this until every bulb has been removed from the soil.

3. Curing is a Necessity

When each bulb has been harvested, dust the dirt off of them. Be gentle because you don’t want to disturb the wrapping around the bulb.

Hang each bulb upside down in a shaded location with excellent airflow. They’ll hang there for 14 days to give each bulb time to cure.

When the wrappers are dry and feel like tissue paper, the garlic bulbs are ready to be stored.

4. Braid and Store

When it’s time to store your garlic bulbs, remove any leaves from them and trim back any remaining roots on the plant.

However, be sure to leave the wrappers intact on the plant. If you have wrappers which are extremely dirty, you can carefully remove them.

Otherwise, leave everything as is. If you wish to store the garlic individually, cut the tops of the garlic off and store in a wooden tray with sawdust or straw separating the layers of bulbs in the drawer.

If you’d prefer to leave the tops attached, braid them together and store the garlic in bulbs. They can hang in your pantry or kitchen as a functional décor item.

If you’re storing large quantities of garlic for the year, be sure to choose a dark, dry location which hovers around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Plant Again

The great thing about growing your own garlic is you can take what you’ve grown one year and use it to develop a new harvest the next year.

Save the biggest bulbs of garlic from your harvest to use for planting next year’s crop. You’ll follow the steps above to plant and have garlic year after year.

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