How to Grow Garlic

german extra hardy

Here in the Northeast we often think of there being a short growing season. In other regions many folks garden as if there's a beginning and an end as well. But gardening, anywhere you do it, is circular. There may be slow times, but planning ahead for what's around the bend is crucial. Right now we're thinking about next year's garlic. Here we are, another turn of the season. Soon (but hopefully not too soon!) cool days and nights will be creeping in. Although it's too early to be pulling out the sweaters, cooking warm soup, and tucking-in the garden, it's not too soon to think about the golden age of the year, fall. In addition to the annual clean up and "tuck-in," autumn is the best time of year to take notes, reflect on mistakes and successes and enjoy the last gasps of warmth and sun.

So, it's really quite wonderful that one of the last planting tasks in the garden is getting garlic in the ground. Planting in general may feel counter to all the other fall tasks, but when you plant garlic you are putting-it-to-bed, since it needs a cold cycle to perform well. On the other hand, the very act of planting, looking forward to spring and summer and harvest brings the cycle of the seasons together quite nicely, proving that a garden never begins or ends, only changes.

Quantity

How much you plant depends on what you want out of your crop.

The shortest answer is that 1 pound can plant between 15 and 30 feet depending on the variety, and the amount of space you give it. (That's a single row. Space rows 12 inches apart in whatever bed system you use.)

If you would like to produce your own seed stock and your own eating stock, plan to reserve the top 30% of your harvest for planting. Each pound of garlic can produce between 50-75 heads of garlic, since each clove can produce a head.

Location

Since we follow a vegetable rotation, we know where our garlic will be well ahead a planting time. This gives us plenty of time to make sure the beds are well worked, weeded, ammended and prepared.

Here's what you need to consider. Plan ahead a few weeks before your planting date:

naked-garlic-21. First, pick your site. Garlic prefers rich, well-drained soil, weed-free soil and full sun. Ideally, pick a spot that is in full sun from winter through spring. It can be difficult to grow a crop in your weediest beds, so consider this when scouting during the summer.

2. Consider your mulching options. Compost, aged manure, and weed-free hay or straw mulch are good choices. Give yourself plenty of time to get this figured out--don't leave it for later lest you forget!

3. A few days prior to planting, prep your site. Visit our bed prep post for tips on how to get a good, even garden bed.

Planting Garlic

Pick a sunny day in early to mid-October, when the soil is still warm. Try to leave enough time before the ground freezes solid for the garlic to set roots. (Garlic can be planted any time before the ground freezes solid, though, ideally 3-6 weeks prior.)

Begin by breaking apart the heads of garlic into cloves. Count the cloves and determine the amount of space you need.  Most hardneck varieties have 50-90 cloves per pound. Garlic prefers full sun, so choose a spot that will get full sun for the spring and early summer. Each clove will be planted at 6" spacing, in rows 12" apart. Weed and work a proper amount of garden space. After cultivating the space, mark the rows. Plant cloves root side down, 2" deep, at least 6" apart, in rows 12" apart. Water and cover with mulch. Your garlic will need to be tended to in the spring, once the ground warms and it begins to grow.

Spring growing conditions and care: Garlic begins to poke through the ground as soon as the soil warms. If you covered your garlic with a thick mulch layer, rake it back to help warm the soil faster.

Garlic prefers rich, weed-free soil and ample water. Beginning in the spring, pull weeds when small, taking care not to damage your garlic when pulling them out. Hardneck varieties produce garlic scapes in the spring. If left on the plant, the scapes will draw energy from the bulb, reducing size and quality. Once the scapes emerge, cut them off immediately to direct the plants' energy into bulb production. The scapes are an edible spring delicacy.

Fertility: Giving your garlic a nutrient boost in the early spring is highly recommended. Garlic performs well with a nitrogen boost in the form of alpha meal, or a light side-dress of compost.

 

18 thoughts on “How to Grow Garlic”

  • Tina

    Does garlic like full, all-day sun? What sun exposure is best? Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Tina, Sorry for leaving that out! Yes, garlic prefers full sun, although you can get away with partial shade, it certainly does much better in full sun.

      Reply
  • Diane

    Hi Erin. Thanks for the info & pics. Question: Is there any benefit to soaking garlic cloves in liquid seaweed for a few hours right before planting? I've seen some website suggest this, but I don't know if it's necessary or preferred. Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Diane, I have heard of soaking the cloves in seaweed before planting, perhaps we will trial this technique this year! The idea behind this is to give the cloves a nutrient boost so that the heads have a better chance of growing big. I am sure there is no harm as long as you only soak the cloves for 24 hours or less. It is also important to make sure you plant garlic in rich soil, and if needed, use a seaweed fertilizer in the spring when the garlic is doing most of its growing.

      Reply
  • Stephen

    We try to get ours planted before Canadian Thanksgiving, so that means first week of October. I had a customer tell me she planted hers a month ago and she has several inches of growth which she says will over winter.
    I don't mulch right away nor do I water but I do like for there to be some dampness in the soil at least when planting.
    Mulching comes a little later when people in town start bagging up the autumn leaves which I collect(when they are not looking)bring home and spread all over the garden including the garlic beds.
    Over the winter I spread the bedding(wood shavings) and manure from the chicken coop onto the garlic. And finally, in the spring I spread a shredded wood mulch once the garlic has broken the soil surface.All this mulching helps supress the weeds and keep the soil moist.
    Thats how we do it here outside Orillia Ontario.

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Stephen, yes, usually in a warm fall when garlic is planted early it sprouts and over-winters here as well. I have also planted first and mulched later, although, once I waited too long...I like that your garlic planting ritual is so in line with the season. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • […] lots of organic matter as well as mulch. For detailed planting instructions, have a look at Erin's garlic planting guide. To learn more about this potent plant’s history and cultural reputation, take a look at our […]

    Reply
  • ujjala

    can you plant hard garlic in planters/containers?

    Reply
    • Erin

      That depends on how big the container is. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you container is big enough to follow recommended spacing and is deep enough to accommodate roots. Garlic does well in raised beds, where the soil depth is 12 inches. The main thing to consider with containers is making sure you use a high quality soil with plenty of organic matter. Containers and raised beds dry out frequently, and garlic needs a lot of water, so make you keep an eye on that.

      Reply
  • Jennie

    I don't think I will have the space to plant an entire pound of garlic bulbs plus my cover crop, will the bulbs last until next fall for planting?

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Jennie, garlic usually does not store that long. 1 pound plants roughly a 4x5 foot area. I recommend splitting a pound with a friend or neighbor if that quantity is too much.

      Reply
  • Sandy

    I am not sure of the best way to plant bulbils. Do you recommend the same depth and position as the cloves? And what is your experience with replanting the small bulbs from last year's bulbils? I have read it is best to replant all of the first year bulbs as they are still small but this year I had so many nice small bulbs that I am using many of them (for cooking and giving to friends.) Does it just depend on how many you want next year -- and how you feel about using smaller bulbs? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Sandy, Yes, your inclinations are correct. You can plant bulbils a bit tighter, they will form very small heads in their first year. It takes 3-5 years to get a normal sized head from bulbils, that's why we recommend plants the largest cloves from the largest heads to ensure a high volume crop. But that is just one way to do it! If you plant smaller cloves from smaller heads, you might see your heads getting smaller and smaller each year, but if you are doing a mix then you should have a nice range.

      Reply
  • julie

    Hi there -
    Just received my garlic shipment from you. Since I won't plant for about another month, how do you recommend storing it? Is room temperature OK? Or should I keep it in the fridge?
    Thanks!
    - Julie

    Reply
    • Erin

      Hi Julie, We recommend dry, dark, and cool. I don't recommend storing in the fridge, the condensation that occurs has a tendency to make the garlic damp. You should also open the box it was shipped in and vent the bags to keep good air flow.

      Reply
  • Nicholas

    Hi,thanks vry much for such a gd advice.Am kenyan farmer and it takes my cloves 6 wks to germinate.what can i do to make it shoot abit faster?Any one can advice pls.Thanks

    Reply
  • Linda

    This is an old post but I'm wondering how I know when my garlic cloves s ready to harvest. I planted two types of hard neck garlic from you last Fall. All are up with green leaves but not seeing the scapes (flower stalk, right?) yet. So I will wait. How do I know when they are ready to harvest?

    Reply
    • Matt C

      Linda, generally the first half of July is time to harvest. You'll have got your scapes (providing they were hardneck) and should cut them once they've curled around once (they're delicious sautéed). Once scapes are cut, the growing energy will go into the garlic heads. Don't water at this point (any more than it rains). 2-3 weeks later you will see the very top leaves turn brown at the tips, which tells you they're done. Dig out carefully, brush off dirt and store by hanging or laid out on mesh to air, for a few weeks to cure.

      Reply

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