Those who practice fall planting know this – it’s actively manifesting your comeback in the next year. Unlike most plants, the gardening cycle and seasons are beautifully represented in garlic growth. You’ll plant in fall, the plants will hibernate in winter, they’ll sprout in spring, and you’ll get your reward in summer.
Very few plants survive the cold in winter. As such, you can think of garlic like a super vegetable – the ‘winter soldier’ for all the marvel fans/gardeners out there. In this piece, we will take you through the steps of planting garlic and everything you ought to know. We have also done blogs on growing garlic and harvesting garlic.
But before we dive into the garlic planting process, here’s a couple of reasons why it’s a good idea
Why Planting Garlic Is A Good Idea
- It’s Low Maintenance
After planting and mulching in fall, there’s very little to do until harvest time in summer. So, if anything, your top responsibility will be to add a bit much more mulch in early spring to keep the garden free of weeds. And if you do the mulching well, this will be a breeze.
Make sure the plants get an inch of water every week during spring. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that receives a lot of rainfall, you might not need supplemental watering. However, if there are seasons of dryness, you’ll water them a lot. Garlic bulbs grow a lot in spring, so you cannot skimp on this.
The fact that garlic is low maintenance means that gardeners growing garlic in community gardens or a friend’s backyard can also reap a great reward in summer. Your garlic will not suffer if you go a couple of days without ‘visiting.’
- Garlic Loves A Cold Climate
Temperatures in some parts of the world can be as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. At such low temperatures, very few vegetables can survive – but garlic does. In fact, many garlic varieties do better in a cold climate than in a warm one. If you feel your winter is extra cold, consider mulching for winter protection.
- Minimal Diseases And Pests
Many home gardeners have commented that their garlic has gone disease and pest-free during summer. Sure, there are garlic pests and diseases, but they are rare in home gardens. If you’ve tried cilantro, sweet peppers, and carrots, garlic will prove to be a good relief.
- You Can Have A Lot In A Tiny Space
You can plant garlic 6″ apart on every side. With such small spacing, you can plant a lot of garlic on a single bed.
The biggest challenge of having a small home garden is that few vegetables survive. And those that can give small returns. But this isn’t the case with garlic. Even with a 4×4′ garden, you can plant about 40 cloves.
Depending on how much garlic you use, this should be enough for the winter. However, if you have an even larger space, then your harvest will serve you for longer. For instance, a 1600 sq. ft. garden can hold up to 220 cloves every fall. This represents a year’s supply of garlic plus cloves for planting.
- Options, Options, Options
If you are a beginner, you probably think all garlic is the same. And the fact that local groceries tend to stock one of two types of softneck garlic doesn’t help.
The thing with softneck varieties is that it has small cloves that can be a pain to peel and chop. Hardneck varieties yield larger cloves that are a lot easier to work with. They also survive the cold better than softneck garlic.
You can read more on the different types of garlic to grow in this post
- Lasts Long In Storage
Anything can be fun if you turn it into a challenge. As a gardener, try picking a vegetable – any vegetable, and see if you can grow a year’s supply. It’s a cool challenge that will inch you closer to self-sufficiency.
One of the easiest vegetables to start this challenge with is garlic. Why? You can grow a lot of it in a tiny space, and if you choose the right types, you can store it for a long time in a cool place. The trick to long storage is drying it properly and keeping it in a cool place.
- Bonus Food Crop
Aside from the garlic bulb, some hardneck garlic varieties produce scapes, an early summer treat used in sautees or stir-fries.
Garlic scapes are flower stems that grow in spring. If you leave it, the scapes will flower and later produce seeds. But if your goal isn’t to get seeds, you should cut the scapes. This way, your garlic plants will focus their energies into bulb formation.
Now, garlic scapes are edible, and they have a garlic-y taste. However, from experience, it’s not the super tasty fresh type. As such, we recommend sautéing them in oil and salt and adding them to any dish that you’d use garlic and roast on a grill. You can use them on pasta, pizza, or pesto.
- A Great Complement To Gardens
There are loads of benefits to having a fall garden. These include; fewer diseases and pests to deal with, less weed pressure, and colorful harvests that will add some oomph to your holiday meals.
Unfortunately, by mid-summer, most gardeners don’t have space left in their gardens for fall plants. This is where garlic comes in – garlic harvest is done by mid-July. This means that you’ll open up the garden just in time for fall planting.
After harvesting, you can prep the garden for carrots and beets. You can also leave some room for radishes, cilantro, spinach, and salad turnips.
If you struggle to find space for fall planting in your home garden, then plant garlic and come July, you’ll have enough space for new plants.
- It Is Fun!
We’ve covered easy to grow, little to no maintenance, long storage life, and a bonus crop. All of these make garlic a top choice for home gardeners and, most importantly, fun.
If you’ve never grown garlic before, start today. In the next sections, we’ll guide you through the process.
Anatomy Of The Garlic Plant
Now let’s get to learning. First, so that we cruise together, you’ll have to understand the different parts of the plant.
Garlic falls under the allium family, which includes; shallots, leeks, onions, chives, and scallions. The scape is the middle part of the stalk that forms a loop when it sprouts. It usually emerges in late spring as a bonus crop that you can use in your cooking.
At the tip is a spathe that flowers and eventually forms bulbils.
On the other hand, the bulb is a collection of cloves. The number of cloves in a bulb varies depending on the type of garlic you use. Finally, it’s the individual cloves that you’ll plant in the fall.
If you are wondering how you can differentiate between garlic and onion plants, it’s in the leaves. Onion leaves are round, while garlic leaves are flatter.
Determining The Type Of Garlic To Plant
We’ve determined that there are different types of garlic you can plant. But how do you choose what to plant?
Below are some questions to guide you through the process.
What Type Of Climate Do You Live In?
Do you live in a warm or cold climate? If you are in a cold climate, then both hardneck and softneck garlic will thrive. However, if you are in a warm climate, your best chance of success is softneck garlic. But even then, too warm temperatures will get you extra-small bulbs. As such, we recommend pre-chilling your garlic.
Both hardneck and softneck varieties develop bulbs due to temperature, day length, and vernalization (exposure to winter cold). Hardneck garlic will start bulbing when days are 13+ hours long, when the temperatures are between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and the soil is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. When these factors are not up to standard, then garlic growth is affected.
For instance, when the weather gets too hot too soon in spring, your garlic will develop faster and produce small bulbs. To prevent this, you should have a longer vernalization time. Vernalization will trick the garlic plant into thinking it’s still winter.
Tip: refrigerate your cloves between 6 and 8 weeks before planting if you live in moderately warm areas and for between 10 and 12 weeks if you are in a tropical climate.
- Do You Like Large Or Small Cloves For Cooking?
If you don’t like the process of peeling and chopping tiny cloves, then hardneck or elephant garlic is great for you. Although not a true garlic, Elephant garlic yields a giant garlic head with equally big but few cloves. In addition, this garlic has a relatively mild flavor compared to other types of garlic.
- Do You Want To Store Garlic Through Winter?
If self-sufficiency is important, then you should get garlic varieties that have good storage. Generally, softneck varieties stores better compared to hardneck garlic. But there’s a tradeoff – dealing with small cloves.
- How Much Garlic Do You Use?
You can fit a lot of garlic in a tiny space. As mentioned, a 1600 sq. ft. garden can comfortably accommodate 220 bulbs. Think about how often you use garlic and work backward to find a number that’ll work for you. For example, consider the number of times you hold brunch at home or how often you give supplies to friends or those in need.
How Many Different Garlic Varieties Should You Grow?
You could opt to keep things simple and have one type or experiment with a couple. Since this will be your first garlic planting rodeo, you should try one softneck and one hardneck.
When To Plant Garlic Cloves
In the Norther regions of the US, garlic is planted in the fall. Wait until the first frost to clean your garden bed and make room for your garlic plants. Clearing out your raised beds of weeds should be the first thing you do in readiness for planting garlic.
But if you are in a warmer climate, you should push your planting closer to the end of November. If you plant earlier, your garlic might sprout. Your best bet is to wait until the ground freezes.
Now, in case you are wondering, yes, you can plant garlic in spring. But this will result in smaller bulbs since the plant will mature faster.
How to Plant Garlic Bulbs Successfully
Garlic is relatively easy to grow and it can do well in pots or even a raised bed. Regardless of the number of cloves you want to plant, here are a few things you need to do before your planting date.
Step 1: Prepare The Garlic Bed
The best practice is to rotate vegetable families every year. This means that you shouldn’t plant garlic where you planted other alliums like scallions, leeks, and onions in the last season. If you practice crop rotation, you should know where to plant garlic ahead of planting time. Ensure the planting spot receive 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day and has well-drained soil.
Garlic does exceptionally well in sandy, loamy well-drained soil. If you plan on planting in heavy soil. You should break it up with a digging fork and follow it with a garden rake to smoothen the surface several weeks before planting. Though some gardeners till their ground, it’s not recommended as it destroys the soil structure, and honestly, the process is all too noisy.
Step 2: Should You Add Organic Fertilizer?
When preparing the ground for planting, you should add well-rotted manure and other types of organic fertilizer. However, you won’t see any growth until spring. Throughout winter, the cloves you plant will be dormant. As such, adding fertilizer at this stage depends on you.
If you forget about it by spring, then you should do it at this point. Using some granulated organic fertilizer is great as it will release slowly into the ground and be of benefit in spring. Alternatively, you should write a note to your future self to spread some manure around the plants after leaves emerge (early spring).
And while we are at it, let’s look at what type of fertilizer you should use.
Nutrients Garlic Plants Need To Grow
Generally, there are three macronutrients every plant needs for healthy growth; Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients are often abbreviated as N-P-K. You should give these nutrients to your plant in large quantities.
- Nitrogen – helps with vegetative growth. Without enough nitrogen, the leaves will start to yellow or experience stunted growth. Side dress your garlic plants with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer like chicken manure, blood meal or store-bought fertilizer. Make sure not to add too much, as your plants will be large but with minimal production.
- Phosphorus – stimulates root growth and flower bloom. Without phosphorus, the plant leaves will turn purple or red.
- Potassium – supports the plant’s immunity against disease and also affects the quality of produce. Without potassium, the ‘fruit’ will be thin or small, and the plant will be more susceptible to diseases.
With that said, when buying fertilizer at your local garden store, you’ll notice three numbers on the packaging. They can be 4–7-5 or 12-0-0. The numbers represent the percentages of the macronutrients in the order listed. Thus, the best fertilizer is balanced (not lacking in one primary macronutrient).
Other macronutrients needed (although in smaller quantities) include – magnesium, sulfur, and calcium. In addition, some micronutrients include nickel, molybdenum, zinc, manganese, iron, copper, boron, and chlorine.
Step 3: Plant Cloves
The fun thing about homegrown garlic is that you can plant garlic from your own seed stock and avoid buying new seed garlic each planting season. And in the next season, the garlic seed will grow into an entire bulb with about eight cloves. If you don’t have garlic growing in your own garden, you order seed garlic from a reputable local nursery, local grocery store, CSA, or farmers market.
Just before planting garlic, you should start by breaking up the bulbs into individual cloves. Plant plump cloves to boost bulb production. You can do this over a bucket to catch any loose paper and cloves. Be sure not to damage the paper on every clove as it’ll offer a protective layer when you bury them in the ground.
And if you’ll be planting several varieties, you’ll need a system to keep track of every variety. Work with each type separately and, if possible, have them in separately labeled cans.
Step 4: Actual Planting
The ideal spacing for garlic is 6 inches between the cloves good air circulation for maximum growth. If you try smaller spacing like 4-inches, you’ll end up with smaller bulbs.
With 6 inches of space all around, you should have a lot of garlic planted, even in a small space. An easy way to measure the 6 inches on your garden is to mark 6-inch intervals on the rake handle. Alternatively, you can use a measuring tape and spread it across the garden.
You should bury the cloves between 4 and 6-inches deep in your raised beds. If you cannot get them that deep into the soil with your fingers, try using a garden fork, trowel or a dandelion digger. As you plant, have the point side of the clove facing up and the root facing downward. After planting, smoothen the soil and make sure the cloves are well covered.
Step 5: Mark Your Varieties
If you don’t have different varieties, you can skip this step.
If you do, it’s good that you track the different varieties available. Write them down on the garden map so that it’s easier to tell them apart when harvesting.
A good way to do this is to write the name of each garlic variety and stick the stake into the ground next to the first row. Then, if you are keen on knowing the results, you can document the number of each variety planted.
Keeping track of these figures will help you know just how much you need to be self-sufficient and track productivity as well.
Step 6: Mulch
After covering the cloves with soil, you should add a layer of mulch. Next, you can spread a layer of straw, hay, or grass clippings over the planted area.
The purpose of the mulch is to protect the soil from rain, wind and cold winters. Mulch also helps prevent premature sprouting, which occurs during periods ow warm spells, by keeping the bulbs cool. It also helps the soil to retain moisture. In the winter, mulch helps keep the soil from drying under the cold winter winds. Moreover, it helps reduce the number of weeds that grow as well as retain soil moisture.
Since the cloves will be dormant throughout winter, you don’t have to water them. Also, when it’s time to sprout, the scapes will push through the mulch, so you don’t have to remove it.
Step 7: Relax And Wait For Growth
There isn’t much you can do after you plant and mulch except waiting for sprouting in early when it gets warmer. But, it’s super fun and rewarding to watch the scapes peep through the mulch.
Garlic Maintenance And Care
As we’ve pointed out, garlic is one of the few vegetables that can survive the cold winter climate and thrive in spring. Therefore, you don’t need to do anything during winter. However, when spring comes, you should start paying a little more attention to the plants.
Below are some of the things you ought to do.
You should always keep garlic mulched throughout its growth cycles. In spring, green leaves will appear. They easily push through the mulch, and as such, you don’t have to help them by thinning the mulch layer (unless you put an overly thick layer). The golden rule of thumb is that if you can see the ground through the mulch, it’s thin, and you need to add to it.
Mulch should reduce the number of weeds you have to deal with. But for the few that survive, pull them out through the mulch. Unfortunately, garlic doesn’t do well when it competes with weeds.
Like many vegetables, garlic requires water for healthy growth. An inch of water every week is enough. If there are no rains, then you should be diligent in watering them. Using a hoseless often is better than shallow watering since it’ll encourage the garlic plant roots to grow even deeper. In June, you can start easing up on the water. At this point, the plants don’t mind dry conditions. After all, they are nearing maturity and will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.
- Side Dressing
If you had not added fertilizer to the garden soil before planting, you should do it when the leaves sprout in spring. Work the fertilizer into the loose soil with your fingers and recover disturbed spots.
- Harvest Garlic Scapes
From mid-June, you should start noticing the hardneck garlic varieties starting to push through the scapes.
You should cut any scapes that are 10″ long to force the plant to divert its energies to producing larger, mature bulbs. You can consider scapes as bonus crops since you can cook with them like you would with onions or garlic.
- Harvest Garlic And Curing
In early July, as the warmth starts to creep back into the earth, you’ll notice some garlic leaves turning brown and dying. This is a sign that your garlic is almost ready to harvest. Harvest garlic by unearthing the garlic bulbs from the ground.
If you have a lot of garlic, you can cure it before storing it. To cure the garlic, spread them out in a single layer in the sun. Pick a spot that’s warm and not hot. When the outer papery skin dries, you can start brushing off dirt and clipping the roots.
If you are braiding the garlic stems, you should rush this process because they might crack and break if you wait for them to dry completely. At this point, the garlic will not look pretty. However, don’t clean them up further because you could end up shortening their shelf life.
The best temperature to store garlic is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with great air circulation and moderate humidity.
Common Garlic Problems
Although it’s quite a hardy plant, there are some garden problems you should be on the lookout for. These include:
Fungal: fungal problems are by far the most common garlic plant problems. You might get hints that something’s wrong, like yellowing leaves or gray or fluffy white growth on the stem. Unfortunately, you can do very little about these diseases. Your best bet is doing a 4-year crop rotation. But if this isn’t an option, you could discourage the diseases by having wide spaces between the plants.
Nematodes: these are small roundworms living in the soil and that feed on bulbs and roots. They can destroy your crop within no time. If the plant lacks vigor or the leaves are bloated, then you might have a nematode problem on your hands. To have this problem under control, you can try shifting to another garden spot for a couple of years to starve the pests.
Mites: bulb mites feed on onions and garlic roots and stems. The affected plants are smaller and easier to pull from the ground, courtesy of their damaged roots. Like nematodes, you can move to a new garden spot or plant something else to starve the mites. Keep in mind that mites are a little bit more flexible in their feeding habits than nematodes. Therefore, leaving the garden fallow is recommended.
There’s no doubt about it; garlic is a rewarding vegetable to grow in your home garden. You can plant a lot in a small space without having to deal with pests or diseases, and it does well in cold weather – it’s a really tough plant.
If you’ve never grown garlic before, we hope this planting guide showed you how easy the process is. However, this is just the starting point. Be open to more learning and experimenting to improve your experience.
People Also Ask
1. How Late Can You Plant Garlic?
Fall is the ideal and recommended time to plant your garlic cloves. However, from experience, we’ve learned that you shouldn’t plant your garlic until the autumnal equinox. Why? Well, like other alliums, including onions, garlic is super sensitive to day-lengths and matures when the days are longest in summer.
2. Should I Put Garlic In The Fridge Before Planting?
Yes, you should. Chill the garlic cloves in your fridge for a couple of weeks before you plant them. This improves bulb development and helps you harvest large bulbs. However, you can skip this step if you aren’t concerned with bulb size and live in a cold climate.
3. Can I Plant Sprouted Garlic In My Fridge?
Of course, you can. Both sprouted, and unsprouted garlic cloves are fair game when planting. Also, it doesn’t matter whether they are from a nursery or they are store-bought. With that said, be aware that garlic bulbs you will find at your local grocery store are often treated to extend their shelf life. As such, they may be harder to grow.
4. What Can I Not Plant With Garlic?
Though they are a handful, some plants will suffer when you plant them next to garlic. Some of these plants include peas, asparagus, parsley, sage, and beans. However, there are many plants you can companion plant with garlic for healthy growth and to avoid using harsh chemicals to maximize yield. Some of these plants include; carrots, eggplants, tomatoes, kale, beets, broccoli, and kohlrabi.
5. Can You Grow Garlic In Pots?
Yes, you can. But like with any planting method, you need to adhere to some rules. For instance, the pot you use should be at least 30 cm wide. After planting, you should place the pot in a sunny area and get the right soil mixture. You can then separate garlic cloves and push them into 2cm or 5cm deep holes that are 10-20 cm from each other. You should make sure the pointy sides of the cloves face up.
6. How Long Does It Take For A Garlic Bulb To Grow?
When the conditions are perfect for growth, garlic takes about nine months to mature. Garlic grows healthy when it gets 6 hours of full sunlight every day. Therefore, you should plant your garlic in the fall a couple of weeks before the first autumn freeze.
7. What Happens When You Plant Garlic Upside Down?
Well, the plant will still grow even if you plant the cloves upside down. However, it’ll be unduly strained and might die if left in this position. So, we recommend planting the cloves with the pointy side facing up and the flat side (the roots) facing down for best results.
8. Should You Rotate Garlic?
The golden rule of thumb is never to plant garlic in the same spot back to back. You should rotate the garlic to prevent diseases. You can do this over three years or more.
9. What Happens When You Plant The Flowers Too Deep?
When the cloves are buried too deep, they might not flower. And if they do, they’ll flower when it’s too late.
10. Should I Soak Garlic Before Planting?
It is not a must that you soak garlic before you plant. In anything, there are loads of successful garlic growers that skip this step and still end up having healthy bulbs.
11. What Happens If You Plant A Whole Garlic Bulb?
If you plant an entire bulb instead of separating it into individual cloves, the plants won’t have enough room to grow. The results are likely to be small garlic plants that don’t mature into multiple cloves.