How long does garlic take to grow, and when do you harvest garlic? Whether hardneck or softneck cultivars, learn how to grow garlic from a clove to braiding garlic after harvest. Planting and harvesting garlic is easy, and the crop packs a flavorful punch that can’t be beaten by store-bought options.
Although I grew up helping my family care for a large garden on our farm, and I’ve grown vegetables most of my adult life, I never thought to learn how to grow garlic from a clove. It was easy to buy at the grocery store, and I’d never tasted homegrown garlic, so I didn’t know what I was missing.
That changed a few years ago, when I learned that a lot of garlic sold commercially in the United States is shipped in from other countries and bleached to obtain white bulbs. Additionally, imported garlic is often treated with a sprout-reducing hormone and sprayed with chemical insecticide. After learning all of this, I decided it was time to give growing this member of the onion family a try. I found that not only is homegrown garlic an easy addition to the garden, but it’s also tastier and healthier than any commercial options I could find.
A Garlic for Every Garden
Garlic (Allium sativum) is available in two types: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck cultivars perform best in cooler climates and when saved for fall planting. They require a natural dormant period that includes exposure to cold temperatures, a process known as “vernalization.” Hardneck garlic grows one ring of cloves around a hard stem, which means it can’t be braided. Its flavor is generally milder than softneck types, and it produces garlic scapes, which can be used in cooking.
Softneck cultivars, as their name suggests, have necks that stay soft and flexible after harvest. When you see garlic braids, they’re made of softneck garlic. This garlic doesn’t produce scapes, and it does well in warmer climates that don’t support hardneck options. While softneck garlic also benefits from a period of vernalization, it doesn’t need to be as long or as cold as it does for hardneck types. Softneck garlics produce a layer of cloves, some large and some small.
You’ll likely see a third “garlic,” elephant garlic, listed in seed catalogs, but its name is misleading. In truth, elephant garlic isn’t actually a garlic at all and is instead a close relative of leeks. Its flavor is closer to onion than it is to garlic.
How Long Does Garlic Take to Grow?
Fall sown garlic can take up to 10 months to grow depending on your climate. Garlic can be grown successfully in most of the United States as long as the area doesn’t get permafrost. When deciding what to plant, choose a cultivar that will do well in your climate, and you should have few issues.
Don’t plant garlic too early, because it requires cold temperatures to prompt the cloves to start growing roots. If planted early, the cloves may rot, or a spell of hot weather in fall can result in smaller bulbs. In northern areas, it’s generally a good idea to plant after your first light frost, as long as you have 6 to 8 weeks before the ground starts to freeze. Fall-planted garlic may not emerge until spring. In southern regions, you can plant cloves as late as March. Spring-planted garlic emerges in 14 to 21 days.
Select a sunny site with well-drained, loose organic soil. Plant garlic in beds that haven’t been planted with onions, chives, leeks, or shallots the previous four years. Run a soil test in your garden; a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is ideal. One clove, instead of a whole bulb, is all that’s needed to produce a single garlic bulb. Plant each clove separately, and don’t divide the bulb until you’re ready to plant, because early separation deceases yields. The larger the clove, the larger the size of the mature bulb at harvest. Don’t use garlic you got from a grocery store, because most commercial bulbs are treated to lengthen their shelf life, which will result in poor growth.
If the weather has been dry, water your garden bed well a day before planting. Plant garlic cloves, pointed side up, 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Leave 1 foot between rows. Apply a light layer of straw to conserve moisture, prevent weeds, and insulate the roots. Don’t mulch heavily until after the ground has frozen, which will allow the plants to go dormant naturally. Once the ground is frozen, add additional straw, up to 3 or 4 inches, to insulate the roots and keep the plants from heaving. The plants will go dormant when the ground freezes, and they’ll begin to grow again as the soil warms in spring. You may see stems emerging before winter, but don’t worry, this won’t affect the yield. In spring, remove the old straw from around the plants and pull any weeds you see before applying a thin layer of new straw.
Garlic is a heavy feeder. Fertilize your plants in early spring with a side-dressing of a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, such as blood meal. Fertilize again in early May when the garlic bulbs begin to swell in response to the lengthening daylight hours, and consider adding nitrogen fixers to your crop rotation.
You can expect your plants to grow 18 to 24 inches tall, depending on the cultivar. With hardneck garlic, you’ll notice scapes — slim, serpentine flower stems that grow from the top of the garlic — in late spring or early summer. They’ll flower if left uncut, so be sure to remove them to achieve larger bulbs. People tend either to love the taste of scapes or find them too potent. They have a tough, fibrous texture and are best eaten minced or puréed. Use them as you would green onions.
Garlic has shallow roots and will stop growing in dry conditions. To avoid this and help ensure large bulbs, soak the soil thoroughly when watering to a depth of 1 inch per week during the growing season if there’s been insufficient rainfall. Water early in the day. Stop watering two weeks before harvest to prevent diseases and allow the bulbs to dry.
Pests and Diseases
Garlic is one of the most trouble-free crops you can grow in your garden. Weeds pose the biggest threat, because they’ll compete with garlic for nutrients. Be diligent in removing any weeds you see growing close to your garlic plants.
Botrytis rot may occur in poorly drained soils. While not common, onion thrips and stem and bulb nematodes can also cause issues for garlic. These pests can be controlled with pyrethrin and a 3-to-5-year crop-rotation schedule. I plant French marigolds (Tagetes patula) throughout my garden, because researchers have observed that marigolds draw natural predators to the garden, including praying mantises.
When Do You Harvest Garlic?
It’s important to harvest your garlic at the correct time. Picking it too early will result in small bulbs, and if you harvest too late, the cloves will begin popping out of the bulbs. Depending on cultivar and climate, harvest usually takes place from late June to late July. Begin to harvest your bulbs when the lower leaves turn brown and at least half of the upper leaves remain green. I usually pick one bulb to check for maturity before picking the entire crop. If, when cut in half, the cloves fill the skins, the bulbs are ready to harvest. Loosen the soil and dig up the bulbs. Don’t pull the stalks. Gently brush off most of the dirt, and then spread the bulbs in a dry, well-ventilated area to cure — usually 3 to 4 weeks. Trim off the roots after the bulbs are dry, and cut the stalks off hardneck garlic 1 to 1-1/2 inches from the bulb. Be careful not to bruise the garlic during this process. Store bulbs in net bags.
You can braid softneck garlic and hang the braids in a cool, dry place. Start with three bulbs, and then begin braiding, adding new bulbs one by one to the center stalk. For a detailed how-to on braiding softneck garlic, check out How to Braid Garlic at our sister site, Mother Earth Gardener.
Save some of your largest and most well-formed bulbs for planting the following year.
Garlic is a medicinal and culinary vegetable that’s rich in antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. Use it generously in sauces, stir-fries, salads, and stews. One note of caution: Garlic burns easily, so keep a close eye on it when sautéing. Remember, too, that garlic becomes milder when cooked. I’ve found that, especially when making garlic bread, fresh garlic gives a rich taste without being overwhelming. For just a little work and garden space, garlic will make your meals tastier and more nutritious.
Garlic Cultivars to Try
- ‘Purple Glazer’ is an attractive hardneck with purple stripes. It has an excellent flavor with no aftertaste.
- ‘Georgia Crystal’ is a hardneck option that releases its rich, buttery flavor when slow-roasted
- ‘Spanish Roja’ is a Northwest heirloom hardneck believed to have been brought to Oregon before 1900. It’s often called “Greek garlic.”
- ‘Transylvanian’ is noted for its smooth, buttery flavor. This cultivar is high-yielding and one of the cold-hardiest of softnecks.
- ‘Western Rose’ is late-season softneck garlic that’s a good choice for braiding. It’s one of the longest-storing garlics available.
- ‘Italian Late’ is a pungent garlic that stores well. This softneck cultivar is highly productive.
Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co.
P.O. Box 4178, Greendale, IN 47025
P.O. Box 1800, Louisiana, MO 63353
4027 Owl Creek Drive, Madison, WI 53718
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
P.O. Box 460, Mineral, Virginia 23117
Margene Whitler Hucek grew up on a small family farm in Illinois and now gardens with her husband, Andy, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Margene writes about gardening and other subjects for regional, national, and international magazines. A published poet, her poems often reflect her love of nature.