How to Grow Garlic. Now’s the time!

Garlic is a fall planted crop that is harvested in July. October is the time to plant your garlic for next year’s harvest.  (but don’t worry you *can* plant garlic in the spring) A step by step tutorial on how to plant, grow, harvest and store one of my favourite crops – garlic.

Skip right to the instructions.

Many, many, many, several, too many to count … years ago, my father brought home some garlic.  He got it from an old Italian man at work.  Actually, I’m making up the old Italian man part, but it seems entirely probable.  And THAT is when my garlic growing obsession began.  I’m obsessed with many things, that’s how I’ve learned to do so much and why I can’t sleep at night because I’m always plotting, planning or cleaning up after my latest venture.  Occasionally I’m getting rid of evidence.

Any idiot can grow garlic.  Seriously.  When’s the last time you watched a television special on the “Remarkable Garlic Growing Person”?  Never.  Because you do not have to be remarkable in any way, shape or form to successfully grow garlic.

Same for bean sprouts. You can grow bean sprouts at home in 4 days. These are not difficult skills.

For growing garlic you just need some garlic and some dirt.  Or “soil” for you haughty types.   You also need fall weather to plant garlic (although even that isn’t a deal breaker – more on that later).   Ready?  Let’s plant some garlic.

The first thing you need to know is which type you should be planting: hardneck or softneck garlic?


What’s the difference between Hardneck and Softneck garlic?

Softneck garlic

  • Softneck garlic is best grown in warmer climates. 
  • Has no stalk that grows up from the centre and therefore doesn’t produce a garlic scape.  
  • Softneck garlic heads are generally smaller than hardneck and have smaller cloves. 
  • The head of a softneck garlic can be made up of multiple rows of garlic cloves.
  • Softneck garlic will store for 6-8 months if kept in optimal conditions.

Hardneck  garlic

  • Hardneck garlic is best grown in cooler climates.
  • It has a long hard stalk that grows up from the centre of the head, producing a scape in June and a flower head later in the season filled with little garlic bulbils which you can use as garlic seed. 
  • Hardneck garlic is larger than softneck and has bigger cloves.
  • Cloves form the head in a single row.
  • Hardneck garlic will store for 4-6 months if kept in optimal conditions.

So generally speaking, if you live in a climate where you get lots of very cold temperatures and snow in the winter, plant hardneck. If you live in a warmer climate with mild winters and hot summers, softneck garlic is for you.

How to Grow Garlic

Separate your garlic head into cloves.  Just pull them apart.  Pick out the biggest cloves for planting.

The flat end of the garlic is the root end.

The pointy end is the tip of the garlic. It needs to point up.

You want to plant the garlic “root” end down and pointy end up. 2-3 inches into the ground.   The bigger the clove you plant, the bigger the resulting head of garlic will be.  

If you sprinkle a little oregano on top of the garlic and squeeze a tomato over everything, in 9 months you’ll have grown a delicious marinara sauce.  

No you won’t.

Plant the garlic cloves so they’re around 4 inches apart and their tips are covered by two inches of dirt.


Cover them up and wait.  Through the fall the clove will start to develop roots and maybe even a shoot depending on how warm your weather is.

By the spring with a little help from sun, water and these little guys to aerate the soil, you’ll have garlic plants starting!  A single clove, produces an entire head of garlic.

Harvesting takes place in July and is accompanied by the traditional garlic harvesting dance. That’s followed by curing the garlic and properly storing it – which do not have official dances associated with them. Curing and storing is treated with reverence. Just kidding. I dance for those things too.

How to Grow Garlic.

How to Grow Garlic.

Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 10 months
Total Time: 10 months 30 minutes

How to grow hardneck garlic. From planting to harvesting.

Materials

  • Heads of garlic

Tools

  • Trowel or shovel

Instructions

  1. Separate your head of garlic into individual cloves.
  2. Choose the largest cloves for planting.
  3. Plant the garlic, flat end down (the root end) in a hole that is 3-4" deep. When covered with soil, the tip of the garlic should be around 2" below the soil line.
  4. Fall planted garlic will develop roots underground in the fall and then go dormant through the winter. In spring it starts to grow again.
  5. In June, hardneck garlic will send up "scapes". Scapes are the tip of the growing stalk. Cut these off once they loop into a complete circle.
  6. DON'T THROW THE SCAPES OUT. You can use them for cooking or making a DELICIOUS garlic scape pesto.
  7. Stop watering your garlic 2 weeks before you harvest. (Around the time the lower leaves on the plant have turned brown.)
  8. Dig garlic up in July when one half of the leaves are brown. This indicates the garlic is ready to be harvested.
  9. Cure your garlic by hanging it in a well ventilated, shaded area like a porch. Leave it to dry for 2 weeks. This curing process will help your garlic to store much longer.
  10. Once cured you can cut the roots off of your garlic and the stem, leaving 1-2" of stem above the bulb.
  11. Store garlic between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. A humidity level of 65% is the best.

Notes

  • The bigger the clove you plant the bigger the head of garlic will be.
  • If properly stored hardneck garlic will store for around 6 months.
  • You can also freeze your garlic cloves. Just separate the cloves and put them in a freezer safe container. Do not remove the skins, they're a protective layer.
  • Want garlic powder? Dry extra garlic in a dehydrator and then grind it into homemade garlic powder.
  • Softneck garlic is planted and grown the exact same way except it's planted in the spring and there are no scapes to remove.
  • If you missed the fall planting for your garlic, don't worry! You can still plant it in the spring and get a good garlic harvest. A gardener at my community garden does this every year. Your garlic heads may just be a little smaller than fall planted garlic.


Can You Use Grocery Store Garlic for Planting?


  • Despite what you may have read on the Internet, you can just buy garlic for planting at the grocery store.  As long as the garlic hasn’t been treated with anything to keep it from sprouting you’ll be fine.  As a little experiment, I bought 2 heads of garlic from my produce aisle.  One bulb of regular giant garlic and a package of smaller, organic garlic.  Both of them sprouted and grew. HOWEVER note that most grocery store garlic is not locally produced and can introduce new disease to your soil. 

  • What’s The Best Variety of Garlic to Grow?


  • For the best quality garlic you should buy locally sourced garlic heads that do well in your growing area. Music, Russian Red, and Chesnok Red are all popular hardneck varieties. Italian softneck is a standard softneck variety.

  • Can I Plant My Garlic in the Spring? Because I Forgot/Ran Out of Time/Couldn’t Be Bothered To Plant It in the Fall.


  • If you forgot to plant your garlic in the fall you can also do it in the spring!  But hardneck varieties do best when they have a period of “cold”.  So stick the planting bulbs in a refrigerator 2 weeks prior to planting them out in the spring. The cold will trigger them to come out of dormancy and sprout when you remove them from the fridge.

  • How Much Should I Water It?


    Water your garlic just like you would any other crop you’re growing. The fall is usually a rainy time and once I plant it I don’t water it at all. I just let nature run its course. What IS important though is to stop watering your garlic 2 weeks before you harvest. Around the time the lower leaves on the plant have turned brown. This helps speed up curing and the drying of the papers around the head.


    When Can I Dig It Up?


  • Garlic dies from the bottom of the stem up. It’s time to dig up your garlic when the bottom half of the leaves have turned brown.   
  • So if your garlic has 6 sets of leaves, when the lowest 3 sets have turned brown, it’s time to dig it up.

    How do you dig up garlic? Just rip it out?


    Um, no. Don’t harvest your garlic by trying to pull and manhandle it out of the ground. Dig it.  Otherwise you may break the head apart.

    How to store garlic.


  • 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and 65% humidity are ideal storage conditions for garlic.
  • Even then your garlic will start to sprout and dry out by late winter or early spring. So if you have a lot of garlic heads you should freeze unpeeled cloves or heads in the freezer. Garlic freezes perfectly. You can also preserve garlic by slicing it thin and putting it in a dehydrator at 125 F until it’s fully dried and crispy. Then put the dried garlic it in a coffee or spice grinder and grind it into a powder. Your very own homemade garlic powder is NOTHING like store bought. It actually smells and tastes like fresh garlic.

    What kind of dehydrator do you use?


    I use an Excalibur dehydrator (it’s pretty much what most dehydrating enthusiasts use) for all my dehydrating projects. You can take a look at the Excalibur dehydrator here (this one is white, but mine is black.)


    Hands down my favourite garlic recipe is actually one that doesn’t use any garlic at all. It uses the garlic scapes I harvest in June, which is yet ANOTHER reason to grow garlic. My garlic scape pesto is delicious on pasta or pizza and stores for a year in the freezer.

    Now you have all the information you need on how to grow garlic so get out there and get your hands dirty.  Or for the more refined among you – soily.  

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    How to Grow Garlic.  Now\'s the time!

    191 Comments

    1. Eats Weed says:

      As the garlic comes out off the ground can the leaves themselves be eaten; at which stage – small or medium or large; raw or cooked if they can? Thank you as I was going to prepare the ground for them tomorrow! Since your wisdom has helped so many then this might be for to pay you back some. One radish seed planted will produce about 400 seed pods in ideal conditions. Each of those pods is edible and tastes just like the radish and extends the time for “raw radish” in salads +.

    2. Heather says:

      I thought about growing garlic this year… Set some cloves aside from smaller heads with that exact intention, then got frustrated and chucked then into the compost bin. Three days later I get this email. If that’s not a sign I don’t know what is! I dig the cloves out from the coffee grounds and banana peels to see they’ve already started rooting. Thank you for encouraging me to give them a second chance! 💚

    3. OMG! I love this put into recipe format! THANK YOU!!!

    4. Lisbeth Slabotsky says:

      Hi. I live in Ontario, Canada. In an apt. I’m on the 12th floor and face south. There is NOTHING in front of me to block sun or wind. Because of that, growing anything on the balcony is impossible. Except maybe garlic??? Can I grow it in a pot? Do I have to bring the pot indoors once the temp. drops below 0c/32F? I love garlic and I love garlic scapes. They’re just showing up in the grocery stores. I look forward to your response.

    5. Erin says:

      It’s been so warm, I’ve been putting off planting my garlic. But yesterday I tackled half of it. Feels good to have it in the ground and rain is on its way.
      I’ve planted as late as December waiting for the right conditions, but that is nerve-racking. I’ve tarped the next row to keep it a bit drier and to kill off the bean crop that was growing there. Here’s hoping for another window of good planting weather.!

    6. Tamara says:

      I planted my garlic about ten days ago (in October as suggested) and it is now about 6 – 8″ out of the ground. It sprouted immediately. Will it be okay or should I plant some more in November?

    7. Benjamin says:

      Perfect timing on this Karen. I needed something to do in my garden this weekend. I’m totally planting garlic !! 🧄

    8. Janice says:

      You say to stop watering the garlic 2 weeks before harvest. What if we are getting a fair amount of rain. I live in southern Ontario. I do water but we are also getting a lot of rain up here. I can still watering but I can’t stop the rain.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Janice. It’s O.K. if it rains. There’s nothing you can do about that. :) Just try to pick it after the soil has dried a bit so the heads come out cleaner and not covered in clumps of wet soil. ~ karen!

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