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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic at Home

Sally Painter
Young onions and garlic Garlic Bulbs

You can learn how to grow garlic successfully at home. All you need to do is provide a few basic requirements to have a fine crop of delicious, healthy garlic for your family's enjoyment.

How to Grow Garlic at Home

It is a good idea to grow your garlic in raised bed or large containers. Growing garlic in raised beds give you greater control over the growing condition. For example, you can amend the soil to meet the needs of your garlic crop without losing valuable nutrients that often leach away in field crop plantings.

Soil

All types of garlic prefer fertile, well-drained, weed-free soil. Garlic likes to have loose, crumbly soil so you can add sand, peat moss or compost to improve the consistency. Compost also gives the added benefit of increasing fertility by adding organic matter. Some growers have excellent results by mixing manure into their garlic bed before planting.

Fertilizing Requirements for Garlic

A quality fertilizer like 10-10-10 can also be mixed into the soil at a rate of one-half pound of fertilizer per 25 feet of garden bed. This amount is based on a 12 inch wide row. This will give your garlic plenty of nutrients to grow large, healthy bulbs. Ideal soil will have a pH of 6.2 to 6.8.

Growing Temperatures

Cold temperatures are important after planting to aid in the development of the garlic bulb. You should plant garlic from fall to early winter, usually after the first frost. If you are in a warm climate, you should store bulbs for planting in 50 degree temperatures for about nine months.

Selecting and Planting Garlic Cloves

Most garlic is sold and planted in the fall. A fall planting can be harvested in early summer, while a spring planting won't typically be ready to harvest until fall.

Break Apart Garlic Bulbs

You'll need to break apart the outer paperlike wrapping for each garlic bulb to free the individual cloves. Don't damage the outer husks of the cloves. The cloves should be planted within 48 hours of splitting them apart or the cloves will dry out and not grow. Select only the largest garlic cloves to plant since these will produce large garlic bulbs.

How to Plant Garlic Cloves

Each clove should be planted root side down with the pointed end upright. Create a trough two inches deep. Cloves should be placed in the soil four to six inches apart to allow enough room for the bulb to form. Elephant garlic should be spaced six to eight inches apart.

planting garlic cloves

Planting in Rows and Raised Beds

If planting in rows, space ten inches apart. If planting in a raised bed, using a square foot gardening technique, plant four bulbs per square.

Mulching Is Important

Garlic plants like to be deep in the soil. Cover each clove with up to two inches of soil; three to four inches for elephant garlic. Mulch is highly recommended after planting the garlic cloves. Not only will mulch help to retain moisture, but it will also prevent weeds that can overpower young garlic plants. A weed-free garlic bed is essential to growing a successful crop.

How to Harvest Garlic

Different varieties of garlic mature at various rates, but all are harvested the same way. There are specific signs to look for to alert you it's time to harvest your garlic bed.

Step One: Leaves Turn Yellow

You'll know it's time to harvest your garlic when the tops of the garlic leaves begin to yellow and turn brown. You'll need to wait until about a third or one-half of the garlic leaves have turned brown before harvesting.

  • When the leaves fall over, your crop is ready to be harvested.
  • Don't wait too long. You don't want the leaves to dry out.
  • You can also just dig up a single bulb to see if the bed is ready for harvest, as long as the garlic is the same variety, since each variety is different.
  • If you wait too long to harvest, the bulbs will separate.

Step Two: Dig Up Garlic Without Pulling

When harvesting your garlic, be sure that you dig it up. You can use a shovel, although some gardeners prefer to use a pitchfork. Using a pitchfork will allow you to free the bulbs from the soil without damaging them.

  1. Harvest when the soil is dry, never wet.
  2. Don't attempt to pull up garlic by the leaves and stem. These will break off and your bulb will remain buried in the garden.
  3. A shovel is recommended if your soil is heavy, such as clay soils.
  4. Dig about four to six inches from the garlic plant to ensure you don't damage the bulb.
  5. Lift the dirt upwards, bringing the garlic plant with it.
  6. Shake off the dirt and proceed to the next plant.
  7. Repeat until all the garlic bulbs you wish to harvest are dug up.
Digging up garlic

Cure Harvested Garlic Bulbs

Once you've harvested the garlic bulbs, you'll need to cure them. You can follow a few simple and basic steps to ensure you enjoy garlic until next year's harvest.

How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

Many gardeners harvest the garlic scapes and use them much the same way they would garlic for seasoning. You can even pickle garlic scapes or freeze them for use in soups, stews and any dish that calls for garlic.

cutting scapes off garlic

Cut Scape Stalks

Scapes are the long stems of the garlic flowers. The scapes emerge above the garlic leaves between one to two months before the bulbs are ready to be harvested. You can cut them with garden shears or scissors along ground level.

Why You Should Cut Garlic Scapes

Even if you don't want to use the scapes, you need to cut them from the plants. The plant will redirect the energy it was sending to the scapes and flowers to the garlic bulbs. You will grow plumper and larger garlic bulbs if you cut the scapes.

Types of Garlic

There are three main types of garlic that you can choose from for your home garden. These types have sub-types, each with their own varieties.

  • Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum - Known for extremely large cloves and very mild flavor
  • Common or softneck garlic, Allium sativum - Keeps well, good for braiding, mild flavor; varieties include:
    • Artichoke
    • Silverskin
  • Hardneck garlic, Allium satvium - Easy to peel, ideal for cold climates, stronger flavor, doesn't store as well; varieties include:
    • Rocambole
    • Porcelain
    • Purple stripe

Easy and Rewarding to Grow Garlic

Learning how to grow garlic is easy and well worth the effort. You'll agree after the first taste of your own homegrown garlic in your favorite dish.

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic at Home