How and When to dig up Garlic!

I’m back!

When we got home from being away I was a little bit flabbergasted (spelled that correctly RIGHT out of the gate, I’m proud to say) at the size of everything in the garden.

Over the course of a week I pretty much went from pleasant, cottage garden to the last scene in Jurassic Park where there was a distinct possibility something might come screaming out of the grass and  rip your wind pipe out.

In my case that might be a gang of squash bugs.

I wandered around taking everything in, when I came to the garlic.   I took one look at it and ran screaming  in circles with my arms over my head, cartoon-style.

ACK!!!!    ACK.    ACK.      ACK.

My garlic was ready to pick. Not only ready, but probably even a touch over ready.  Because  I planted the garlic last fall and we’ve had such a warm winter followed by a hot, hot summer, my garlic matured almost a month earlier than normal.

It was time to get that garlic the hell out of the dirt.  Or “soil” for you snooty types.

I’ve been growing garlic since I was a teenager and yet … until a couple of years ago I didn’t know when to harvest it. I thought I knew when to harvest it. I was positive in fact. I was wrong.  Positively wrong.

I always used to let my garlic dry out entirely before pulling it.

WRONG.   That is the entirely wrong way to harvest garlic.  In case you’re looking for the WRONG way to harvest garlic, that’s your method right there. You’re welcome.

Now, if you’re looking for the right way to harvest garlic, here’s what you need to know.

Garlic starts to die and dry up from the bottom up. For every papery covering on the garlic head, there’s a corresonding leaf on the stem.  6 leaves, 6 paper covers.  You get the picture. When half of the garlic leaves are dried up the garlic  is ready to be pulled.  


Garlic Ready To Pick

If you wait until the garlic is completely dried out then the cloves will all dry up and pull away from the stem and fall apart. If you pull it too early the cloves will be small. Either way the garlic won’t store well.

To actually pull the garlic, you need to dig it out with a shovel. You can’t just pull it. Shovel,  shovel, shovel … and then pull.  Like so …

Garlic, like most vegetables, is fragile.  Treat it like an egg or a banana.  If it gets bruised or cut it’ll rot quickly.

Once you’ve dug up all your bulbs, wipe the majority of dirt off of the roots then hang your garlic to dry. It needs to be in a warm area where it gets air circulating around it, but out of the direct sun.

Your garlic needs to cure like this for 2 weeks.


Hanging Garlic
I’ve hung mine by my front door.

Because I need it to dry all around, I’ll turn the bundle of garlic every few days to make sure it’s properly drying on all sides. It’d be better if I hung it where it gets air circulation all around it but I like it hung by the front door.  After the garlic has cured for 2 weeks, take it down and lay it out.  Now you can reserve your biggest, best cloves for planting in the fall.

Put however many you want aside (1 clove will equal one head of garlic, so if you want to grow 30 heads of garlic next year, you’ll need to save 30 cloves).

Heads Of Garlic


You can now trim the roots to 1/2 – 1 inch and cut off the leaves.  You can take the outermost papery layer off to clean up the heads a bit.  The skin underneath will be clean and white.  Store in a mesh bag, or if you’re feeling fancy, braid your garlic (tutorial on that coming up next week) and hang it in a room that’s between 60 and 65°F for  storage.  Cured and stored like this, garlic will last for up to 8 months. Unless you eat it all.

Or have a real problem with Vampires.





  1. Marcus says:

    Thank you for adding the pictures. I’ve read elsewhere to pick it when 1/2 the leaves or dry, but didn’t quite understand what they meant. This helped a lot.

  2. Becki says:

    Love your post!

  3. Connie Sturt says:

    Hi Karen, I forgot to harvest my garlic for over a year. The reason being I started to keep bees in the same area and then borage seeded itself on top of them. I’ve got a feeling I might be able to split up the bulblets, of which there gazillions and replant. Am I right? I’d love to keep hens too, but my husband would have kittens! An English saying. It’s nearly time for the bee season, so I’ve got to get my frames and foundation in order. Tata for now.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Connie! You can indeed provided the bulbs haven’t rotted and they’re in good shape. You might not get as good a harvest as you would if you just start again from new stock though. ~ karen!

  4. Raquel says:

    Love this game

  5. Elizabeth swindle says:

    I have/had some heirloom garlic plants at my rental house…. My husband told the renters “take all you want” …thinking they would do like I do and just pull some as they needed it..!!!! We went back about 3 weeks later and they had dug ALL of it up and cut all the green tops off and had put it in a plastic bag…!!!! My question is… Will any of it come back next year…????

    • Karen says:

      Hi Elizabeth. Sorry bout your garlic! I’m afraid none if it will come back if they’ve taken it all. What you need to do is get back some of the garlic bulbs they’ve picked. I realize this might not be all that appealing an option, but it’s the only way to get the exact same garlic back. If you don’t care what type of garlic grows there you can just buy some heads and plant each clove again sometime around October. Sorry again about the bad news. ~ karen!

  6. Laura says:

    Hi Karen,

    I just harvested my first ever planting of garlic!!! If I hadn’t read several of your posts on garlic I wouldn’t have known they were ready. But oh my gosh, I’m so excited to hang them up and then eat them.

    I only had room for 7 garlic ‘plants’ this year but maybe I can make more room next year.

    While I was out harvesting my garlic I noticed 4 of my heirloom tomatoes had ripened – I just ate them all. I probably have about 200 – 300 tomatoes out there. They’re all as green as a watermelon… I’m hoping they will all ripen before they rot. I only get about 4 hours of sun daily in my garden.

    Well, I just had to share that with you. This is really my first garden and my biggest harvest so far to date 🙂

    Laura (and fellow Hamiltonian)

  7. bonnie l says:

    Thank you for your delightful info on harvesting garlic. It was great for a newbie. Mine is now all pulled and ill bundle it soon and hang it in the barn. Learned a lot!!!.

    • Karen says:

      Excellent! Glad to have helped Bonnie. My garlic was a tiny bit of a bust this year but … there’s always next year. ~ karen!

  8. Sharon says:

    Thanks, Karen! If my garlic harvest isn’t successful this year, at least I’ll know why & I won’t be discouraged from trying again this fall. 🙂

  9. Sharon says:

    Hi Karen, I just discovered your site today (yes, nearly a year after you posted this article) but lucky me! because I have a garlic question and I’m sure I came to the right place. 🙂

    I’m relatively new to gardening, and on a Pinterest-inspired whim early this spring, I took a couple of garlic cloves and stuck them in some pots of dirt. They grew, and fast! About a month ago I replanted them outside with my other seedlings and they’re still growing.

    So here’s my question – since I started my garlic this spring and not last fall, when will it be ready to harvest? As a side note, I have no clue if its of the hard or soft neck variety.


    • Karen says:

      Hi Sharon – Glad you found my site! As far as the garlic goes, it’s kind of hard for me to tell if it’s hard or soft neck from where I sit, but if it’s growing a “scape”, a long thin round shoot from the centre of it with a flowerhead (or beginnings of a flowerhead) at the end … it’s hardneck. Just follow the signs written about in this post to know when it’s ready to pull up. But I’m afraid you might not get much of a garlic head. Garlic needs a period of cold while it’s growing, the same way tulip bulbs or hyacinths do. Since you planted it in the spring that little garlic is all confused now. It’ll be a fun experiment to see what happens, but plan on getting some good quality hardneck bulbs from a garlic provider this fall so you can see what growing garlic is *really* like. 🙂 ~ karen!

  10. beth says:

    thank you! i found a thousand “how to’s” on planting garlic, this is the very first on how to harvest it!

  11. Barbie says:

    I have been growing garlic for years as well and I never really knew all that detail….I will do it differently this year! Thanks so much for the tutorial!

  12. We are also garlic crazy in my family, or maybe just crazed. We put in 1200 plants at my cottage – yes, 1200. Have a look at the swags of garlic drying under the garage roof And I bet you’ve never received a bouquet of garlic! Here’s what my dad brought me the other day Garlic is serious business in an Italian family!

    • Karen says:

      That’s … that’s alotttaaaa garlic! I clearly have issues of my own considering one of my first thoughts after looking at your garlic bouquet was … Hmm. I really like her dad’s string. ~ karen

  13. Melinda says:

    What about the cloves that I set aside to plant next fall? Do I store them the same way as the ones I”m going to eat?

    • Karen says:

      Melinda – Yup. They should be fine to store. Keep them in the coolest room in your house once they’ve cured. If they’re too hot and dry they’ll shrivel up on you. They only have to last until October when it’s garlic planting time, so that’s just a few months. ~ karen!

  14. Gayla T says:

    I’m so glad you’re back. I missed you. Your garden or what can be seen between your legs, is looking good. Did someone care for it while you were gone? If I didn’t water every day my little bit would bite the dust, literally. One Hundred seven seems to be our magic number, day after day. Everything is just burning up. Now they are saying we will have to conserve our water which means no outside watering. I’m thinking a grey water system and that’s not too hard to put in but it’s probably illegal. I’m imagining you caught enough fish to fill the freezer so you, little Laura, will have fish, veggies and eggs all w/o the grocery store. Are you composting your chicken poop? I sure wish I had some. I am having a hard time finding food for flowers and veggies. I suppose from so many people growing their own this year. I’ve checked WalMart here in Topeka and in the city where my son lives and there is none to be had. If you are meat eaters, be filling your freezer, now. We will have no corn or milo crop at all and that’s from Texas to the Dakotas. Farmers are cutting it down for silage and when it’s gone there is nothing to feed cattle. It’s going on now and many are taking their beef to market which is why it’s getting cheap but when that is gone there will be no more. There is also no hay. Your chicken feed is going to be very expensive as it’s mostly corn and milo so buy what you will need until next fall when hopefully there will be a harvest. The wheat for next year goes in the ground now and they are not planting unless we get some rain and cooler temps. Spend money now on groceries to get through this and you won’t be sorry. Yep, I know it sounds like gloom and doom but our family has been through these drought years before and will survive because we know what to do. Now, you also know.

    • Karen says:

      Now I know! Thank you for missing me. The garden survived by my mother, a couple of helpful neighbours and the automatic sprinkler system the fella put in. Good fella. I’ve considered buying a side of beef but what with having no refrigerator I’d have to buy it live and let it roam. Then possibly operate on it to cut little bits off at a time. It’s so hot the girls are barely laying. I haven’t been composting this year. Too much going on and as you may know, I like to do everything exactly the very best way humanly possible. So I’m still in the researching stage. I also have to find somewhere to put a compost bin. I’ve pretty much run out of room on Green Fakers. There might be a corner in the backyard I can steal. And by backyard, I mean my neighbour’s backyard. The same one I planted garlic in her front yard for a decade without her knowing about it. Wish me luck. ~ karen

  15. Therese says:

    Your veggie garden looks fantastic! So inspirational – I’m planning veggies on a grand scale in my new back yard – currently just brick pavers. I have a lot of work to do before Spring arrives here in Melbourne.

  16. Pat says:

    Front yard gardens such as yours and the other beauty should be given a property tax break; they improve the neighbourhood! Stupid city by-laws. I’d gladly have them next door to me; nobody penalizes a yard when the weeds are three feet high, the lawn/shrubs are dead and dog poop is everywhere!

  17. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    What cute little painted toes you have my for the couple with the front yard garden..That is one of the prettiest gardens I have ever seen..I would die in a vegetarian bliss if I had this garden..Why are people in power positions always determined to screw up good things that other people do(like raising back yard chickens comes to mind)..Maybe they should get off their lazy butts and plant some veggies too..maybe if they feel a little healthier they will have a better attitude..You should just drive on up there Karen and give them a piece of my mind..oops..your mind..Yeah!!

  18. Amanda says:

    Even in “full flower”–this photo was evidently taken on July 18–their place is beautiful!

    So sad and frustrating!

  19. Amanda says:

    Uh-oh. Karen, look at how two of your fellow countrypersons might have to give up their gorgeous front yard garden:

    • Karen says:

      Amanda – I know! It’s embarrassing. Soooooo stupid. And let me say that that’s the nicest front yard garden I have EVER seen. It’s architecturally beautiful! ~ karen

    • Suzie says:

      They need lots of pots of flowers interspersed! Their city fathers need to spend more time thinking about feeding hungry children…

  20. Mary Werner says:

    Nice nail polish!

  21. I’m imagining vampires coming knocking in twos, like Mormons, does this happen in Canada? You are safe now.

  22. Hope you had a great relaxing weekend now get back to work!

  23. Laura Bee says:

    ACKACKACK! I went out just now…the greens are totally dried up! I dug them up & I have two the size of marbles & three the size of a walnut. I wouldn’t categorize them as a success. Maybe more watering next time? Thanks for trying to teach me though. It was fun to plant along with you.

  24. Ray J. says:

    Does the same apply to shallots? I planted shallots on a whim this year and have no idea what to do with them.

  25. Kristen S says:

    This weekend my dog decided my garlic was ready and took it upon himself to harvest it. He also thought he better test it out by sinking his teeth into it. He was just looking out for my well being really, wanted to make sure it was safe for human consumption.

  26. AmieM says:

    Karen, I am a soil scientist, and I approve of the use of “dirt” to describe soil. Dirt is that awesome stuff you need to grow your food in. It’s messy, can be muddy, dusty and best of al it sticks under your nails and tastes wonderful.

    Also, your front door is safe if Eric Northman comes hither.

  27. Jen H says:

    Any thoughts on those that don’t have a space anywhere near 60-65F? The lowest it’ll be in my house until Nov/Dec is 78F. Should I refrigerate or just cross my fingers?

    • Karen says:

      Jen H – 60 – 65 is just the optimal temperature. Just find the coolest spot you can and hope for the best. If you live in a cool climate, hanging the garlic by a basement window is an option. I’m in the same sort of situation. Storing vegetables has become the hardest part of all of this. ~ karen!

  28. Moe says:

    Welcome back :o) Hope you and the fella had an amazing vacation.

  29. Karen says:

    Wow amazing garlic! You have inspired me! Beautiful garden you have there!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Karen. It’s working out really well. Cept my potatoes. I have a feeling my potatoes are a bust. ~ karen

      • Lisa says:

        Nope, potatoes are rarely a bust. Although mine here in Chicago were done about a month ago. I just finished digging them all up, and I’ll bet that I can replant and get another crop. Did them up now if they’re dying off on top.

  30. Mary says:

    Yep. Harvested mine about 3 weeks ago and not a day to soon. Currently looking for beet seeds to fill in the spot, but dang it, can I find any to buy? Not even the Canadian Tire!

  31. JebberA says:

    Welcome back, Karen.

    Nice garlic! It’s clovenly spectacular and I’m sure it tastes amazing. Perfect for a batch of firebroth soup. Yum.

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