How To Plant Garlic This Fall

Growing garlic is rewarding tastes great!

Garlic is used for both culinary and medicine (we make a garlic, apple cider vinegar and honey mixture every time we get sick) and is generally easy to grow unless you live in a hot climate.

This post will talk about

  • When you should plant garlic
  • Planting garlic in the spring versus fall
  • Why you shouldn’t plant store bought garlic
  • Planting garlic bulbs versus garlic seed
  • Can you plant sprouted garlic?
  • Hardneck versus softneck garlic
  • How to grow garlic
  • Eating spring garlic & green garlic
  • Harvesting garlic scapes (& how it creates bigger bulbs)
  • Full bulb harvest & curing for winter storage
  • Garlic pests and disease

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How long does garlic take to grow?

Given that garlic grows underground, you might be wondering how you know when garlic is ready to harvest. Autumn-planted garlic will be ready for harvesting around July next year. If you’re planting garlic in spring, it will be ready to harvest slightly later.

Potential Garlic Disease

While garlic can be very low maintenance and easy-to-grow, it is also prone to several diseases.

“These include, but are not limited to: Basal Rot, White Rot, Downy Mildew, Botrytis Rot and Penicillium Decay. Most of the major garlic diseases are soil-born, so proper site assessment and yearly rotations are crucial in maintaining a healthy garden of garlic.” 

Cornell University

We have never experienced any of those issues while growing garlic, so I don’t have much to say about them… If you want to learn more, check out this more detailed article from Cornell University. 

The only disease we have ever struggled with is Garlic rust. Garlic rustis a fungal disease that only affects the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots). It is virtually impossible to treat organically once it appears, and is common in humid, damp conditions like we often have in the winter. Minor cases are mostly a cosmetic nuisance, but severe infections can lead to decreased bulb size and lessened life in storage. Despite our best crop rotation efforts, we usually end up having some rust appear. Depending on how bad it is that particular year, we have decided to harvest our garlic early to prevent the spreading of rust spores. In that case, we end up with green garlic. 

Green garlic can’t be dried and stored long-term like mature garlic can, but we’re still happy when we have it – because green garlic is awesome too! If you end up a similar situation, check out this article to learn more about how to use and preserve green garlic. 

Garlic rust on the left. Green garlic on the right
Garlic rust on the left. Green garlic on the right, harvested early because the rust was gnarly that year.

Can you plant sprouted garlic in the spring?

Yes, you can plant garlic in the spring. You can grow it for a crop of green garlic or you can grow it to produce bulbs. Green garlic, also called spring garlic, is the garlic equivalent of scallions. The plants form slender stalks with bright green leaves and small bulbs.

How does garlic grow?

Garlic is grown from a bulb. Each bulb is made up of a number of garlic cloves. You’ll be very familiar with garlic bulbs; they look the same as the garlic you buy in the supermarket.

To grow garlic, you break the bulb up and plant each clove in the ground. Each clove will grow into a new bulb of garlic – so just one bulb can produce a sizeable garlic harvest.

How to Plant Garlic

Plant garlic cloves in the fall. Prepare your planting bed. Break the bulb up into cloves. Don’t remove the paper on the individual cloves.

  • Your planting area should get at least 5+ hours of sun. Those in very warm areas may benefit from late afternoon shade.
  • Soil pH should be neutral to slightly acidic (6-7).
  • Work the planting area thoroughly, digging in some compost or well rotted manure (not fresh manure!). Sprinkle on a light layer of bone meal or other natural fertilizer.
  • Plant cloves, tip up, six inches apart, 2-3 inches deep.
  • The soil should be moist but not muddy

If your soil is very light and fluffy, you may be able to stuff the cloves right into the dirt with your bare hands. My preferred method is to dig trenches across the width of the bed. I then place individual cloves about six inches apart down the length of the row. Each clove will grow an entire new bulb. (You don’t plant a whole bulb in one spot, just single cloves.)  Cover the cloves with soil and gently tamp down the earth.

Mulching Garlic

Before the ground freezes, cover your garlic patch with a nice thick layer of straw or leaves. This will act as insulation, protecting your bulbs from the freeze/thaw cycle and preventing the frost from heaving the bulbs out of the ground.

In spring, you can pull back the mulch to warm the soil and speed growth, and top dress with more compost if you have some available. Little green shoots should start popping up around the same time that other spring bulbs make an appearance.

Once the soil has warmed, I generally put some mulch back in place to keep weeds down and hold in moisture. Garlic doesn’t need much watering unless it is very dry. Less water = more concentrated flavor.

Harvest scapes before the flower opens otherwise they’ll taste too chewy

I use a knife and cut just at the base of the spiral. Depending on the variety they will be ready at different times. They keep quite well and I often just store ours on the dinning room table for about a week, but the garlic juices are wonderful fresh as you’ll notice when you cut them. I check our garlic every couple of days for scapes that are ready and harvest accordingly. They are fun to carry on your arm due to the curl (& I often forget a harvest basket!).

They freeze quite well as a pesto but I still prefer to eat them fresh & often grilled or sautéed with other veggies.

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Fill the container with a well-drained potting mix, leaving about 1 inch to the top of the container. You can mix finished compost with the potting mix for a nutrient boost — do not use chemical fertilizers because this affects the garlic flavor.

Soil Preparation to Grow Garlic

Garlic thrives in rich, loose, well-draining soil. If your soil is compact and dense, loosen it to about a foot deep.* Work in several inches of organic compost to your chosen planting location, along with a dusting of a mild fertilizer. We usually add a combination of alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and neem seed meals to our garden beds, along with compost of course. You’ll want to go fairly light on the fertilizer at this stage, and plan to add more in the spring. 

*Note: If your soil is dense and compact, consider working in a little aeration additive like small 3/8” volcanic rock, pumice, or perlite to help keep it loose and promote drainage. We mix small volcanic rock into all of our raised garden beds, and not just for garlic! Then you won’t have to worry about breaking and loosening it up next time, which is ideal if you like to follow no-till or no-dig practices. To read more about how we create our garden soil, see this article. 

Can You Plant Garlic From The Grocery Store?

Yes, you can plant garlic from the grocery store.  However, there are a couple of warnings to keep in mind when doing this.

First of all, garlic from the grocery store may take longer to sprout.  This is because it is treated to prevent sprouting to improve shelf life.  To avoid this, buy garlic from a farmer’s market.

A more serious problem is the threat of disease.  Garlic from the grocery store may carry disease, which can then be transferred into your garden to infect your other garlic plants.

Select the bulbs and cloves

  1. On planting day, inspect your bulbs. Choose the largest bulbs with clean, wrinkle-free wrappers.
  2. Carefully break apart the bulbs, leaving as much of the wrappers intact around the cloves as possible (it’s okay to discard loose pieces).
  3. Inspect the cloves and choose the largest among them. If a bulb includes small, slivery cloves, save those for cooking. Cloves should be firm and clean. If there are any signs of rot, discard the clove.
  4. If you’re growing multiple varieties, as I do, make sure you keep the cloves separated and labeled: It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to tell varieties apart by their wrapped cloves. As I break the bulbs apart, I place each variety’s cloves in a small storage container, labeled with masking tape.

How to Plant Garlic in Spring

You can find garlic bulbs for spring planting at your local garden centers or order online. My farm store usually has garlic seeds in spring along with the onion sets and seed potatoes.

If you discover your storage garlic is beginning to sprout, go ahead and plant it and enjoy the mild garlicky flavor of young, green garlic.

1. Prepare your garden bed: Select a gardening area that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Wait until the soil has thawed and drained. To test, form a handful of soil into a ball, and then tap it with your fingers. If it crumbles apart easily, it’s time to plant. If it holds firm, wait a while longer for the soil to dry out more. Remove weeds, add some finished compost, and fertilize with an organic fertilizer.

2. Plot out your planting holes: Since the bulbs are expected to be small, you can plant them closer together. Plot out spring garlic planting holes about 2-4 inches apart, and about 2-inches deep.

3. Separate the cloves right before planting: Sepa

3. Separate the cloves right before planting: Separate the cloves from the bulb. Use the largest and healthiest looking cloves for planting. Save the smaller and damaged cloves for cooking.

4. Plant the garlic cloves: Place the cloves in your prepare holes with the flat, root side facing down and the pointed end facing up. Cover, firm the soil, and water well.

5. Add mulch to your garlic bed: Cover the garlic

5. Add mulch to your garlic bed: Cover the garlic bed with a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves. This will help keep weeds down.

Green garlic can be harvested at any stage once it develops shoots. All parts are edible. Enjoy the shoots in salads, as a pizza topping, or sprinkled on your morning eggs.

Green or immature garlic bulbs will not hold up in storage. Harvest what you need for meals and freeze extras for later. The longer you leave the garlic in the ground, the more advanced the bulb will be. Garlic is finished growing when the outer leaves of the plant begin to die.

No garden? No problem. You can grow green garlic in containers. Just fill your pot with soil and push the cloves in about 2-4 inches apart and 1 inch deep.

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How To Harvest Garlic

You’ll know garlic is ready to harvest once most of the foliage has turned brown. When half or more of the leaves have died, then it’s time to dig up the bulbs.

This usually happens sometime in July or August, depending on when you planted them.

To harvest garlic, dig the bulbs several inches away from the base of the plant so you don’t accidentally cut or bruise them.

Curing & Storing Garlic

After digging up your garlic, it’s very important to allow bulbs to cure (dry out) before storing them.

When properly cured, the skins will shrink up around the bulb, sealing them, and making your harvest last for many months. Follow these steps to properly cure them…

  • Lay the plants out to dry for 2-3 weeks in a shady area. I like to put mine in the garage so they won’t get wet.
  • When the roots feel brittle and dry, rub them off along with any loose dirt. Be sure to leave the papery skins intact.
  • Do not get the bulbs wet or break them apart before storing them.
  • Tie the stems in bunches, braid them, or cut them off a few inches above the bulb.
  • Store garlic bulbs on screens or slatted shelves in a cool, dry, airy location.
  • Don’t forget to set some aside for replanting.
Garlic bulbs freshly harvested from the garden

Garlic bulbs freshly harvested from the garden

Choose and Prepare the Best Cloves

The best cloves for garlic sprouting and growing are those that are large, have most of their wrappers on, and have the brown blunt end intact. If your cloves have already sprouted, be extra careful with them, as they are likely to have some of their wrappers already off from the sprouts coming through.

To separate the cloves, gently push on the top of the garlic bulb until the cloves begin to separate. Then you should be able to gently pull them from the garlic stem, taking care to leave as much wrappers in place as you can.

Examine each clove for signs of possible disease or mold. Look for brown or soft spots, holes, cuts, or cracks. These should be discarded. Small cloves should be used for cooking rather than planting if you want to also use the reproduced bulbs. If you’re only growing garlic for the sprouts, the clove size doesn’t matter.

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Water the garlic to keep the soil moist while plants are young, then restrict water to keep the soil fairly dry when the garlic gets closer to maturity. Cutting back the water forces the tips of the foliage display to dry out, which stimulates garlic bulb development.

How to Plant a Sprouted Onion (and What to Expect)

  1. Select healthy-looking sprouted onions in 8"-12" pots, one per pot. Be sure to cut off any moldy, rotted, or pitted parts before planting, taking care to maintain the roots and the core of the bulb.
  2. Fill each pot with potting mix, leaving a couple of inches of space at the top.
  3. Make a hole in the center of the dirt that is about the width and depth of the onion.
  4. Carefully place each onion in a pot, covering them with soil so that the base of the shoots meet the surface of the soil.
  5. Press down gently but firmly on the soil to remove air pockets.
  6. Water thoroughly until water drains from the drainage holes.
  7. Place the pots in a shaded spot for a couple of weeks. Allow them to get a little bit of filtered light, but don't put them in the sun just yet. Their roots need time to grow and adjust.
  8. After a couple of weeks, you can slowly give them more sun—partial shade at first, then full sun.
  9. Harvest sprouts as needed. You can use onion sprouts just about everywhere you would use onion, and they also make a wonderful garnish.
  10. If your sprouts put up flowers, you can wait until the flowers go to seed, then save the seeds for planting next season (unlike the parent onion, these seeds will produce more onions if planted).

To learn more, read How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Onions in the Garden.

If you plant a sprouted garlic, you get fresh garlic AND lovely garlic blossoms, too.

Victor M. Vicente Selvas

References

  1. Caroline Foley, Jill Nice and Marcus A. Webb, New Herb Bible, p. 51, (2001), ISBN 1-875-169-92-X – research source
  2. Bay Books Gardening Library, Herbs for Your Garden, p. 50, (1992), ISBN 1-86378-028-9 – research source

Growing conditions for garlic

Like all plants, garlic has specific needs to perform at its best.  It grows in conditions similar that of onions, since it is a member of the same family – alliums.

Sunlight needs for garlic

Garlic growing does best when the plant will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

If you live in colder climates in the Northern part of the USA, it’s a good idea to put down about 6″ of mulch or straw on your planted garlic for winter protection.

Mulch will help to make sure that the garlic roots won’t be pushed out of the ground through periods of alternating freezing and thawing. Mulch is also useful in warmer climates for helping to control the growth of winter weeds.

Watering Garlic

The plants should be watered regularly until the winter weather starts to keep the ground evenly moist. When the plants start growing again in early spring, give them about 1 inch of water a week until the leaves start to go yellow. At this point, stop watering to allow the bulbs to

At this point, stop watering to allow the bulbs to become firm.

Fertilizing needs for Garlic

The growing season for garlic is quite long and can take up to 210 days for the bulbs to mature, depending on the variety.  Proper fertilization of the plant is important.

Garlic is a very heavy feeder. It’s important to fertilize it right from the first stages.  I do this by making sure that the soil is well amended with organic matter such as compost, or manure.

After this initial feeding, if you planted in the fall, you can wait until spring to continue feeding the plants. The best fertilizer for garlic plants is high in nitrogen.  Work fertilizer down the sides of the plants and about 4 inches away.

Do this monthly until you get ready to harvest.

Bone meal – also known as phosphate rock, is helpful in growing garlic by supplying both calcium and phosphorus to the plant.  Both are useful for any root crop. As the size of the garlic crop increases, so does its need for phosphorus.

Garlic Plants and Scapes

The leaves of garlic plants start out with very straight shoots.  Some varieties look almost like spring onions when they first start growing since the shoots of hard neck garlic are quite narrow.

As the plants grows, the tops will start to curl.&

As the plants grows, the tops will start to curl.  These curled tops are called “garlic scapes” and are fragrant and edible, just like the cloves are.

Use them to flavor salads and to give a mild garli It is a good idea to cut off the garlic scapes,  since they will divert the plant’s energy if you leave them and this takes away from the plumpness of the bulbs. Garlic scapes start to form a month or so after the first leaves appear.

Use them to flavor salads and to give a mild garlic flavor to cooked dishes.

Growing Time

To reach full maturity, garlic needs a period with cool temperatures. Under the right conditions, garlic will usually take about eight to nine months to mature.

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