Garlic is native to central Asia and it has been growing there for centuries. But remarkably, it now grows wild in southern France and Italy where it is revered as a classic ingredient in many recipes. There are more than 600 cultivars of garlic to choose from.
If you’d like to grow your own garlic bulbs, you’re probably wondering where you can plant them in your garden. The good news is that it will grow just about anywhere. Of course, wherever you grow garlic, because it is a bulb, it grows under the ground. But it does need cool air temperatures in its first months of growth to ensure that the bulbs form.
Where does garlic grow naturally?
We know that garlic originally grew naturally in central Asia. But researchers say that it probably grew in a much larger region, including where China, India, Egypt, and Ukraine are today.
According to the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s one of the oldest known horticultural crops. In fact, they say, people have been growing garlic for more than 5,000 years.
There are two types. Garlic Allium sativum is the name for soft neck varieties. Hardneck garlic is known botanically as Allium sativum subspecies Ophioscorodon.
The stem that stands above the bulb is the neck of garlic. It is covered with a papery wrapping that protects it.
Hardneck garlic, which evolved from wild garlic, forms a single layer of 4-12 quite large, uniformly-sized garlic cloves around the stem. They produce woody flower stalks (or scapes) that can’t be braided.
Hardneck varieties do best where winters are long and cold and the growing season is relatively short. Its shelf life (3-4 months) is relatively short.
Softneck varieties are the types of garlic that you will usually find in grocery stores. They have a milder flavor and store better than hard neck varieties. You can store most soft neck varieties for 6-10 months.
Typically, they produce 10-40 cloves in 3-5 layers. They don’t form a scape, so they can be braided if the stems are left intact.
Most types do best in relatively mild climates, growing best in plant hardiness zones 5-7.
Where is the best place to plant garlic?
The best place to plant garlic is in a designated patch in your vegetable or herb garden. A generously sized raised bed will work well in any outdoor space.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Garlic
Garlic will thrive if you plant it in loose, fertile soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t do well in heavy clay soils. The ideal pH (potential hydrogen) of the soil will be between 6.0 and 7.0.
If you live in a cold climate where the ground freezes in winter, it’s best to plant your garlic cloves in a raised bed or to create mounds for planting.
Remember that you will need to plant the cloves about 2-3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. If you plant them too shallow, they will risk freezing in winter and early spring.
You also need to choose a spot where it will get full sun for much of the day.
Step 1: Choose the Best Position
Find a sunny spot where you will have enough space to plant garlic cloves. It likes to get 6-8 hours of sunlight every day.
Step 2: Get Rid of Weeds
Garlic doesn’t like weeds, so dig them out, making sure you pull out all the roots.
Step 3: Check the Soil
Use a pH kit with a test strip to check the pH level of your soil. You can use good quality compost to lower the pH and make your soil more acidic. But do this gradually.
The pH of very acidic soils can be raised by adding limestone to the soil. Hydrated lime works more quickly, but it tends to over-lime.
Step 4: Prepare the Ground
Dig and turn the soil. It should be nice and loose so that the garlic bulbs have space to grow. Water the garden bed well a day before you plant your cloves.
Tips to Grow Garlic
Here are a few tips to help you grow garlic in your garden.
Tip 1: Companion Plants for Garlic
Garlic is one of the world’s oldest, best-loved, and most respected healing plants. Humankind has been using it medicinally since 15 BC.
And it doesn’t only benefit humans. If you plant it around orange and lemon trees, it will protect the trees from insects including caterpillars, borers, and cutworms.
Other great companion plants for garlic include beets, chard, spinach, summer savory, roses, and tomatoes. It will inhibit the growth of beans, peas, and strawberries.
Tip 2: How to Care for Garlic
Weed your garlic beds regularly and mulch around your garlic plants. While you’re at it, cut off the flower stalks and chop them up for stir-fries.
If you grow hardneck varieties, be sure to pinch off the flowers as they start to form. These will appear in early summer.
If you live in a cold climate, mulch with straw before the ground freezes. Then when the stems turn yellow, bend them downwards without breaking them. This will help to improve the formation of bulbs during the winter months.
Tip 3: When to Harvest Garlic
Garlic takes a long time to mature. It’s going to take 8-9 months after planting individual cloves of garlic until you can harvest the developed garlic bulbs.
But you’ll be relieved to find out that there’s no hard and fast rule in terms of when it’s ripe and ready for picking. It isn’t possible to pick garlic too early or too late.
The question, though, is when should you aim to harvest your garlic bulbs? You can harvest throughout the seasons, from early spring until the fall, depending on when you planted your garlic cloves.
Unlike onions, garlic plants stay green while they develop.
Gradually, a few of the leaves turn yellow as they start to die off from the bottom. When about half of them have died, but the rest are still green, you can harvest garlic.
If you grow hardneck garlic, it’s a little different because the garlic scapes form 4-6 weeks before the bulb matures. These are, of course, the tender flower stalks that grow out of the bulb-like long, curly leaves.
Tip 4: How to Harvest Garlic
If you’re growing garlic, no doubt you know what grocery store garlic looks like. So, before you harvest your homegrown garlic, check a couple of random bulbs to make sure that they are plump and well-formed.
You want to simply dig around the bulb without digging it up at this stage. If it isn’t quite ready, pat the soil down and leave it for a few more days.
When you are sure your garlic is mature, loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs with a trowel Then pull the garlic out gently, holding onto the base of the stem, just above the bulb.
Tip 5: When to Stop Watering Garlic
It’s important to keep the soil your garlic is growing in moist. But it mustn’t be wet.
Reduce the amount of water as the bulbs get close to maturity. But don’t stop watering your garlic plants.
Keep watering until half the leaves have turned brown. Then stop watering completely for about a week to allow the soil to dry out.
This will make it easier to harvest the garlic bulbs because the soil will be loose and not wet and soggy. It also stops the mature garlic bulbs from rotting.
Tip 6: Don’t Wash Newly Harvest Garlic Bulbs
Don’t wash your garlic or remove the papery wrapping. The very top layer is likely to come off on its own when you dig the bulbs out of the ground.
The problem with washing garlic bulbs is that the moisture can result in fungal infections. So, don’t risk it. Rather wipe away excess sand.
Tip 7: How to Store Garlic
Never put garlic into your refrigerator unless it’s been peeled, chopped, or minced. Then only store it for a short time otherwise it’s likely to get moldy.
The best place to store garlic bulbs or unpeeled garlic cloves is in a dark, dry cupboard. It also needs lots of air circulation. A small grass, cane, or wire basket is ideal.
Is garlic easy to grow?
Garlic is very easy to grow. In fact, it’s one of the most trouble-free crops you can grow in your home veggie or herb garden.
It takes up very little space. All you need is a sunny spot with loose, fertile soil that drains well.
Lots of people say they plant store-bought garlic cloves. But a lot of commercially grown garlic is chemically treated, so it is unlikely to sprout.
Rather buy certified “seed garlic” from your local garden center or an online store. It’s more expensive, but you’ll definitely get a much better yield, and the quality will be better.
Garlic is easy-to-grow and it makes a good companion plant for roses and several other vegetables. Our new 2022 garden tips for garlic are designed to help you grow this delicious culinary bulb in your home veggie or herb garden.
If you live in a cold climate, try planting hardneck varieties of garlic. If you live in a warmer area, try the softneck varieties.