Thinking About Growing Garlic?

I started growing garlic in 2019. It was easy and fun and I was thrilled with the results! I put in 10 cloves and got 10 heads of garlic that looked as good as grocery store garlic. Wow!

I'd dabbled in it before then and never really got good results. By dabbling, I mean I would notice a clove sprouting in my garlic keeper and think, "maybe I should plant this and see what happens." Spoiler alert - not much happened. Months later when I dug it up, I had a slightly larger clove of garlic with a piddly stem.


Turns out that I had a bit to learn about growing garlic.

It wasn't that difficult, don't worry! If I can do it, certainly you can do it too!

Types of Garlic

There are two basic categories of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The main differences are (1) the stem that comes out of the head of garlic, and (2) the way the individual cloves grow in the head. You've probably seen the different types in the grocery store.

"Hardneck" garlic has a stiff stem, while the stem on softneck garlic is softer and more pliable. If you've ever seen a braid of garlic, they used softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic's stem is too stiff to braid.

Hardneck garlic forms heads with about 8-12 cloves, and the cloves are roughly the same size and shape. There's a center "stalk" in the hardneck garlic head.

Hardneck garlic also forms garlic scapes in the spring, which is an edible, curled stem. Garlic scapes are considered a delicacy, and it's a nice "bonus" when growing hardneck. 

Hardneck Garlic Scape

Softneck garlic forms heads with lots of cloves and the cloves are a variety of sizes. You will find little cloves in the center and larger, fatter cloves around the outside. There's no center stalk in a softneck garlic head, and softneck garlic doesn't grow a scape. Some people say softneck garlic has a milder flavor. 

The garlic in the grocery store seems to be softneck, mostly, at least near me. 

Choosing Garlic for Your Garden

In general, hardneck garlic grows better in colder climates, and softneck garlic grows better in warmer climates. Once you decide softneck or hardneck, you'll find there are lots of varieties to choose from! Find your local county cooperative extension website and see if they have specific recommendations. 

Here in zone 6, hardneck varieties have done better for me. Our county extension also recommends hardneck varieties for home growers. When I've tried to grow softneck garlic, I have either gotten small heads, or no heads at all - so I'm sticking with hardneck varieties. 

I've had much better success growing garlic using seed stock garlic purchased from a seed company, rather than sprouting cloves from the grocery store. Especially if you're a beginner with garlic, you should get the best quality seed stock you can find (and afford, of course). 

With the increased interest in growing your own vegetables lately, garlic has become a popular crop, and suppliers have run out of garlic bulbs. I recommend you get your order in right away (August) if you want to plant this season. Many garlic bulb providers take your order and wait until planting time to ship it to you. This way you don't have to store it yourself, and you avoid accidentally planting it too early.

Here are two garlic bulb suppliers I've purchased from:

Planting and Harvesting Time

In Zone 6, garlic is planted in the mid to late autumn and harvested the following summer, in June or July. If you're planting in 2021, you'll harvest in 2022. In most parts of the United States, garlic is planted in the October - November timeframe

If you garden in a community garden that requires you to clear out your plot at the end of the growing season, you won't be allowed to grow it there. Hopefully you'll have some space at home. Additionally, garlic can be grown in pots if need be. 

Garlic requires cold weather to form its bulb, and this is why we plant it in the fall. The winter weather gives the garlic the environment it needs to get going, and then it matures in the spring and early summer. 

Planting Garlic Cloves

How to Plant and Grow Garlic

When you receive your garlic bulbs, separate the individual cloves from the bulb if it's not already done. You will plant the individual cloves. Do not remove the papery outer layer on the individual clove (as you would when using a garlic clove in cooking.) Allow about 3" space around each clove and plant each clove 2" to 3" deep in the soil. The "pointy" end of the clove should be positioned up in the soil. Cover, water, and wait. Keep the planting area weeded.

The cloves will start to grow right away and send up shoots in the late fall. The cold weather through the winter will slow and stop the top growth, but it will come back when the weather warms up in the spring.

Garlic doesn't require a lot of attention. It's helpful to put down some bulb fertilizer to ensure your garlic has all the nutrients it needs. Good garden soil with organic material mixed in (like high quality compost) is usually enough. It may need a good watering now and again depending on the weather through the late fall and early spring. 

When the weather warms up again in spring, the garlic tops really begin to grow. The stems will grow taller and the leaves will form along the stem. 

In the later spring, watch for formation of scapes on your hardneck garlic. Whether you eat them or not, the scapes should be clipped off the garlic plants. The scape is actually a flower stem and by removing it, you are forcing the plant to focus its energy on developing the bulb. As mentioned above, softneck varieties do not develop a scape, so no need to trim it off.

How to Harvest and Cure Garlic

When the bottom 3-4 leaves yellow then turn brown, it's time to harvest the garlic. Use a spading fork to dig up the garlic bulbs carefully. Don't attempt to pull out the garlic by the stem. 

Be careful not to cut into or bruise the bulbs as you dig. If you accidentally do, you should use that garlic fresh rather than drying/curing it. The damage may cause the garlic to rot. 

Curing it is a fancy term for drying it such that it can be stored at room temperature. After the garlic is dug from the ground, brush off as much soil as you can. Do not remove the stem and leaves yet. Leave the garlic bulbs out to dry in a shaded location with good air circulation. After about 2-3 weeks, the stems should be dried out and a papery layer should be formed around the head. Trim the top (like you see in grocery stores) and store in a cool, dry, well ventilated area- basement or pantry are good storage locations. Garlic should not be stored in the refrigerator. 

If you have softneck garlic, you don't need to trim the tops. Instead, you can braid the garlic together for an attractive way to keep your garlic. I'm sure there are Youtube videos showing you how!

My first true garlic growing success!

Best of luck with your garlic crop this year - if it doesn't work like you had hoped, keep trying!




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