Garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years and it’s not difficult to grow. But you’ll do better if you plant certified, disease-free bulbs from a garden center rather than trying to grow garlic bought from a grocery store.
We will tell you why and how in our comprehensive 2023 planting guide.
The first step in your garlic-growing venture will be to determine when to garlic: Generally, the best time to plant garlic is in the fall so that the roots can develop before the ground freezes. However, even though garlic does best in cold conditions, you can also plant it in early spring.
PLANTING GARLIC IN DIFFERENT CLIMATES
Growing garlic in colder climates is usually more successful than in warmer climates. But the variety you plant will also make a difference.
For instance, hardneck varieties do best in cooler areas while softneck garlic, with its softer flower stalk, does well in warmer environments.
Gourmet and heirloom cultivars are also easier to grow in warmer climate conditions.
Climate scientists differentiate between five main climate types as SciJinks, a USA government site produced by the NASA Space Place weather team explains.
The weather is hot and humid and average temperatures are more than 64°F/18°C throughout the year. Rainfall is more than 59 inches or 150 cm per year.
Forget about planting garlic in spring, it’s going to be too warm. Rather stick to fall planting in tropical climates. You can also plant in winter.
Dry climate zones are very dry and because the moisture in the air evaporates quickly, there is very little rainfall. This means that it is particularly important to keep the soil moist (not wet) while your garlic cloves or bulbs start to grow, even though it does thrive in full sun.
Since dry climates usually have very hot summers and quite warm winters, the best time to plant garlic is usually in early winter.
If garlic seeds are exposed to temperatures above 77°F/25°C before they are planted, the plant will grow but it won’t form a bulb. Even if it isn’t that hot, it’s a good idea to refrigerate the cloves before you plant them.
Temperate climate zones experience warm, humid summers with thunderstorms. Winter conditions are mild.
A good tip for gardeners living in a temperate climate is to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest it on the longest day. The shortest day is December 22, which is, of course, in early winter when the weather is about as cold as it gets.
Continental climate zones have very cold winters and warm summers. Winter weather conditions tend to be very cold with strong winds and snowstorms. The temperature can fall below -22°F/-30°C.
Garlic needs cool – about 32-50°F (or 0-10°C) – rather than icy cold winter weather for one or two months after it has been planted. It needs this period of growth to establish roots before the ground freezes. So, it’s best to plant early in the fall, and no later than mid-October.
It’s extremely cold in polar regions. Even in the summer months, the temperature doesn’t rise any higher than 50°F/10°C. For this reason, it’s best to grow your garlic in a greenhouse.
CHOOSING GARLIC SEEDS
Even though garlic and onions are members of the same allium family, we grow onions from tiny black seeds and garlic from individual cloves separated from a garlic bulb. When you buy garlic seeds, you will get a packet of individual cloves to plant.
When it comes to choosing garlic seeds, the choice may be greater than you imagine. The different varieties produce very different garlic bulbs in terms of color, appearance, and taste.
TYPES OF GARLIC SEEDS
As mentioned above, there is hardneck garlic, softneck garlic, as well as heirloom varieties. Heirloom garlic seeds (bulbs), like other heirloom seeds, have been handed down over generations.
Another excellent alternative is to buy organic garlic that you can eat or plant. A good place to look for it is at farmers’ markets or specialist outlets.
Once you’ve grown garlic successfully from seed stock, you can continue growing it by saving some of the bulbs and planting the cloves.
While it is possible to grow garlic from grocery-store bulbs intended for culinary use, the garlic bulbs and seeds intended for planting are treated so that they are disease-free. For this reason, you must never eat garlic produced as seed stock and sold for planting.
HOW TO PLANT GARLIC SEEDS
The first step when it comes to planting garlic is to decide on a suitable site, which should be well-drained and rich in organic matter. Michigan State University recommends about 5% organic matter. A raised bed will improve drainage and will give the plant space to spread its roots.
SOIL & FERTILIZER FOR GARLIC
Garlic generally prefers a slightly acidic soil or one with a neutral pH. You can dig in plenty of compost. Then turn the soil to a depth of about a foot or 30 cm.
Garlic also has a reasonably high demand for nitrogen, so it’s a good idea to incorporate a fertilizer before planting.
It is a heavy feeder as it grows, and you are well-advised to fertilize in spring by side dressing or fertilizing over the whole bed (presuming you planted in the fall).
If you have garlic bulbs, you will need to separate the individual cloves before you start to plant. The number of cloves you will need will obviously depend on the space you have available to plant. But you will find that one bulb goes a long way.
Be sure to give them enough space to grow. About 6 in/15 cm in a bed about 3 ft or 1 m wide works well. Rows can be about 10 inches or 25 cm apart, wider if you plan to add companion plants to the bed.
Garlic grows well with tomatoes, lettuce, beetroot, chard, roses, and both orange and lemon trees. It doesn’t like beans, broccoli, cabbages, peas, or strawberries.
Plant cloves 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) in the ground. Make sure that each clove is root side down, with the pointy bit facing up out of the ground.
Cover all the cloves with soil and firm it down very gently. In colder climates, cover the bed with a few inches of mulch.
Straw, leaves, and grass cuttings all do the job. A light mulch will also help to prevent the growth of weeds in areas with mild climates.
You can also plant cloves in pots, troughs, and other containers. The same guidelines apply.
HOW TO WATER GARLIC
Once you have planted your garlic seeds, water the beds well. Just remember that garlic doesn’t need a lot of water, no more than an inch or 25 mm a week during the growing season. So, the rule of thumb is to only water when conditions are dry.
During the growing season, the ideal is to ensure that the plants are watered to their full root depth. You should also aim to keep the soil moist, particularly when the garlic cloves start to grow.
Stop watering altogether about two weeks before you plan to harvest your garlic.
If you want to install an irrigation system, the best option is drip irrigation. But be sure to install this before you plant your garlic seeds otherwise you’re likely to end up digging some of the plants up.
HOW TO GROW GARLIC
We’ve discussed how to plant and water garlic, but what do you do when it starts growing?
Even if you plant cloves in mid-October, shoots might not appear until the following spring. When the leaves start to form, it’s important to feed with something like blood meal or a high-nitrogen fertilizer that will decompose slowly.
If you have chosen hardneck garlic that produces a flower stalk with small bulbs called bulbils, you will need to remove these. If you don’t, the food the garlic plant produces will feed the bulbils rather than the garlic bulb.
The bulbils develop in garlic scapes, sometimes often incorrectly called garlic flowers. They look a bit like flowers, but they aren’t true flowers because there is no cross-pollination to make them viable.
In early spring, when the plant stops growing new leaves, this is an indication that the garlic bulbs are starting to form. Some will be bigger and more healthy than others, but that’s the way nature works.
HOW LONG DOES GARLIC TAKE TO GROW?
All members of the allium family take a long time to grow. It can take up to nine months for garlic to grow – rather like a human embryo. But it does depend on when you plant your garlic cloves and what your climatic conditions are.
For instance, if garlic is planted in fall, in mid-October or November in some regions, before the ground freezes, it will mature through the cold winter and be ready for harvest by May or June. That’s only seven or eight months.
You will know that your garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves turn brown and they start to wilt. We advise using a garden fork to gently lift each garlic bulb. Rub off the dirt rather than wash the bulbs.
Growing garlic really is very easy. It does better in colder climates, but there are steps you can take to ensure success wherever you live. Admittedly, they do take a long time to grow, but there’s not a lot of maintenance involved.
Our 2023 Planting Guide is jam-packed with information that will help you grow the biggest, best garlic bulbs in your garden. There are guidelines for planting, growing, and watering your garlic, and tips for when to plant in different climatic conditions as well as when to harvest garlic.
Whether you plant your garlic in the fall or early spring, you will be rewarded with a delicious, health-boosting cooking ingredient. Maybe you’ll keep growing what will become your own heirloom garlic bulb cultivar.