All About Growing Garlic – Planting, Growing, Harvesting & Storage

All About Growing Garlic – Planting, Growing, Harvesting & Storage

Growing your own garlic is an easy and highly rewarding proposition. The complexity and depth of flavor of home grown garlic simply cannot be matched by store bought. Here we provide all the information you will need to determine the type of garlic best suited for you and your family's taste and climate. We will address when to plant your garlic, and how best to do so, as well as how to know when it is time to harvest your garlic, how best to dig and then store the heads you have grown, and even a fantastic recipe for hardneck garlic scape pesto!

We have worked with experts in the field, and have gathered this information to provide several perspectives on how best to achieve your delicious goals. Kevin Lee Jacobs of A Garden for the House is one of the foremost Home and Garden blog writers, and he gardens in upstate New York. Donna, from The Radish Patch gardens in California, and specifically focuses on bringing the family back into the garden, and introducing youngsters to the joy and magic of gardening. Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International has produced two wonderful How-To videos, for planting garlic cloves, and then for harvesting and storing garlic heads. Roger is based and gardens in Maine, and the KGI team works with people throughout America and around the world to encourage and enable more people to grow more of their own food. They helped to bring a kitchen garden back to the White House. We are proud to work with such gardening experts to enhance your own garlic-growing experience, and have added our own step-by-step planting guide and insights along the way. Let’s get started!

My Garlic Sowing and Growing Guide

Kevin Lee Jacobs A Garden for the House

Garlic and ShallotsYOU’RE PROBABLY BUSY planting tulips, hyacinths and daffodils right now, but don’t forget that garlic, too, is an autumn-planted bulb. I’d nearly forgotten to plant my own crop of Allium sativum until thoughts of vampires jostled my memory. Read on, and I’ll show you how to sow, grow, harvest and store the bulbs:

There are two kinds of garlic — soft neck and hard neck. Soft neck varieties, including ‘Early Italian Purple,’ have thick, papery skins. This is the garlic you want for long-term storage (long-term meaning winter and early spring).

Hard neck types, like 'Spanish Roja,' have thin skins, and thus do not keep well. But — and this is a mighty important but — they produce the curly flowering heads, or "scapes," pictured above. These scapes, which should be cut off when they emerge (they interfer with bulb-development) make the most divine pesto in the world (see recipe below) Personally, this is all the reason I need to grow hard neck garlic.

Planting – No matter which variety you grow, be sure to plant in autumn, well before the ground freezes. Choose an area which receives full sun. First, loosen the soil to a depth of 8 inches, and amend it with copious quantities of leaf mold. Next, separate individual cloves from a big head of garlic, and plant them 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, in rows which are 6 inches apart. Plant with the pointed tips up. Finally, cover the cloves and gently firm the soil.

Feeding & Watering – When green shoots begin to grow in spring, sprinkle between the rows an organic, balanced fertilizer. Provide one inch of water per week. So cared for, you can count on each little clove to produce one stem and one bulb, which in turn may include 20 individual cloves. Talk about a return on your garlic-investment!

Harvesting – Just when to dig the bulbs is largely a matter of intuition. Some gardeners harvest exactly 3 weeks after the scapes appear. Others insist on delaying harvest until one-half to two-thirds of the leaves turn brown. Still others claim that harvest time is when the garlic tops fall over, and 3 leaves have withered. I’m in this last camp. Of course, I always check first, by digging one or two bulbs. If the garlic seems to have formed individual cloves, and these are tightly covered with papery tissue, then I go ahead and harvest. In any event, never tug on stems; reach under with your hands or trowel and lift up the bulbs.

Curing – Now let the bulbs dry, or “cure” for three to eight weeks in some warm, airy place which is out of the sun. I cure mine in the garden shed, setting the bulbs - their stems still intact - on an old window screen. The screen is balanced between two pots. This arrangement affords air circulation from both above and below. Once cured, brush off any clinging soil. Do not actually wash the bulbs until you are ready to use them.

Winter Storage – Garlic needs cold temperatures to store well. If you can manage it, 35°F is ideal. Mine have kept well at 40°-45° degrees. You can cut off tops now, if you don’t plan to braid them - a job which requires more dexterity than I possess. The fright-wig of roots can be clipped before storage, too. I try to use up my hard neck varieties by Christmas. My soft neck types are stored exactly like onions - in the cold, dark cabinet in my mud room, knotted up in panty hose, to provide maximum air circulation.

Kevin Lee Jacobs is an award winning photographer and author and the sole creator of A Garden for the House a one-stop source of all things wonderful for the home, cooking and (our favorite) gardening! We encourage you to visit and subscribe to his informative and personable blog. 

Garlic can be grown in any part of the United States, except for the very coldest part of Alaska, (in Fairbanks and the interior). For the rest of us, this is a tasty treat to be planted in the fall, and treasured in soups, stews, pesto, pasta, roasts and more throughout the year. Hardneck garlic is better suited to the very coldest parts of the country, zones 3 and 4; and the softneck varieties are the choice for very mild winter climates, zones 9 through 11. Everyone in the rest of the country can choose from either as suits their taste, or better yet – grow some of both!

Hardneck garlic varieties produce curly scapes that make a gourmet addition all their own. Some use them as a side dish, or for pesto, dips, salads, stir-fry and sauces. Hardnecks typically have the most complex flavors, fewer, larger cloves and while well suited to the very harshest of winters, they do not generally store well for more that 3-4 months.

Softneck garlic varieties typically produce larger heads with more small cloves than do the hardnecks, and are well suited to the mildest of winter zones. Their “soft” necks of foliage can be left on the heads after harvest and curing and then braided into the decorative yet functional means for storage. Softneck garlic can be stored well for 6-10 months.

Elephant garlic ? You bet! Elephant garlic is not a true garlic, but a garlic-flavored leek that looks like an enormous head of garlic – each head weighs about a half pound! The flavor is rich but mild, and this is an especially good choice in recipes that call for raw garlic.

Planting and harvesting garlic is a simple and fun activity that can be shared by the whole family. Donna of The Radish Patch demonstrates this in her article as she and her grand daughter plant and harvest garlic together:

Garlic Harvest!

Donna Jones The Radish Patch

I’ve been waiting since last October to see what would become of the 20 little garlic cloves I planted in our raised beds. Since at least half the leaves were finally dried and the stalks had flopped over, today was the day to find out! Everything I read said using a trowel to loosen the garlic bulbs before pulling them out is a good idea. So, trowel in hand, I had my little garden helper dig up the first bulb.

We loosened each bulb and then gently lifted them out of the soil. Wow! Each tiny clove...

… turned into a large cluster of cloves! All of the 20 cloves grew into nice bulbs, some larger than others.

Next we cleaned the dirt off each bulb but left the roots and leaves intact. Now we need to find a spot to let them dry for 2-4 weeks. Since this is our first time with garlic we’re following some instructions we found online. “Put them in a shady spot, not too hot and no sun since that can change the flavor”..of course the next plant book we checked said set them in the sun to dry! Anyway, once they dry we’ll remove the roots and braid the stalks together! The excitement generated by our “garlic pulling” made the long wait worth it!

We’re going to save some of the smallest cloves to plant our next crop! Can’t wait to get out there next fall and plant some more with my favorite little helper!

For a warm and wonderful view of gardening projects and ways to share them with family young and old, please visit and follow Donna’s blog The Radish Patch.

Kitchen Gardeners International is non-profit community of over 30,000 people from 100 countries who are growing their own food and helping others to do the same. They work with seniors and children and returning vets, with people around the world and right here at home. They spear-headed the successful campaign to bring a kitchen garden back to the White House, and they offer wonderful programs to teach individuals and communities how to grow their own food. We are delighted to introduce you to this inspiring organization, and to publish two of their informative gardening video tutorials.

First, enjoy this step-by-step gardening How-To video for how to plant garlic:

Planting Garlic

Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International

Fast forward to next summer, and you are ready to learn How to Harvest, Cure and Store the garlic you have grown:

Harvesting, Curing and Storing Garlic

Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International

If you want to learn more about growing your own food items, or how to help others share this passion, or want to support the amazing work done by Kitchen Gardeners International ,or just want to see what they are up to next, please visit their website – it is a wealth of information and inspiration. Hope we’ll see you there!

When you are ready to shop for the garlic varieties to plant in your garden, just click here.

Bearded iris grow from rhizomes, not traditional tulip-like bulbs. Iris rhizomes are fleshy tubers that are planted on their sides close to the soil surface. Roots grow from the bottom side of the rhizome anchoring the plant and accessing nutrients and moisture from the soil. These roots need to establish before winter's cold descends on the garden. In freezing climates, late summer through early fall planting is an ideal planting time. In warmer areas, bearded irises may be planted through late October and early November. Late planted rhizomes may not bloom full strength their first spring, but catch up and produce normal flowering displays thereafter.

Step-by-step Garlic Planting Guide:

Fresh, Fantastic Garlic

If you haven't tried truly fresh garlic, do! You'll never go back to the grocery store kind.

Outdoor Beds

  1. Find a location where the soil drains well. If there are still water puddles 5-6 hours after a hard rain, scout out another site. Or amend the soil with the addition of organic material to raise the level 2 - 3 inches to improve the drainage. Peat moss, compost, ground bark or decomposed manure all work well and are widely available. Garlic develops the largest and most flavorful heads in rich, loose soil.
  2. Site your garlic where it will get full day sun.
  3. Break up the garlic heads into individual cloves and plant each 2-3" deep and 6-8" apart, with the pointy end facing upwards. Planting immediately after breaking up the heads prevents the bottom of the cloves from drying out; this drying slows root development. If there are any tiny cloves, these are unlikely to develop into full size heads in a single season so feel free to use them in the kitchen now.
  4. After planting, water well, gently soaking the soil. Garlic roots will develop in the fall as the temperatures cool. Top growth will also form in areas where the weather is warm year round. Mulching the bed with chopped leaves, grass trimming and alfalfa grass helps moderate soil temperature swings and conserves moisture. (Mulching is not recommended in wet areas for the same reason.)
  5. In cold weather areas, plants will sprout in the spring. In warm weather areas, the modest winter growth will take off in earnest with spring's higher temperatures. Keep your garlic weed free - cultivate carefully so as not to damage shallow roots - and moderately moist during the growing season. Stop providing any supplemental water 2-3 weeks before harvest (see point 7 below.)
  6. Hardneck garlic (see variety descriptions) will produce a central stalk that curls into a looped form and develops into a flower/seed head. Cutting these stalks off redirects the plants' energies into bulb production. Snip off the pointy flower/seed head stalks when they produce their first curl. The cuttings are delicious. Steam them and serve with butter like asparagus, or chop and add to stir fries.
  7. Garlic plants begin to dry up and turn brown in mid to late summer. This is your cue that harvest time is approaching. Harvest your garlic when there are still 6-7 green leaves on the plants. Dig one plant up and check to see if skins have developed around the cloves. If so, it's harvest time. If not, wait another week and check another plant. Bulbs left in the ground too long will begin to split. If this happens, don't despair. The garlic will still taste great.
  8. Garlic plants begin to dry up and turn brown in mid to late summer. This is your cue that harvest time is approaching. Harvest your garlic when there are still 6-7 green leaves on the plants. Dig one plant up and check to see if skins have developed around the cloves. If so, it's harvest time. If not, wait another week and check another plant. Bulbs left in the ground too long will begin to split. If this happens, don't despair. The garlic will still taste great.

We hope you have enjoyed learning all about growing garlic – when to plant, what varieties of garlic are best suited to your climate, how to plant, cure and store your harvest. Be sure to bookmark this page for handy reference, and to share this information with a friend, just click here. Please Join our Newsletter to enjoy more gardener to gardener information throughout the season.

Bon appétit!

Previous Post Next Post

  • Kathleen McCarthy
Comments 1
  • sherrie

    can you plant garlic in the spring?

Leave a comment
Your Name:*
Email Address:*
Message: *

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

* Required Fields