How to Grow Garlic: Varieties, Planting, Harvest, Curing, Storage and More.

Do you have a desire to grow your own fresh, beautiful, health-promoting garlic?  And harvest these flavorful bulbs straight from your garden?  Well, you’re in luck.  The good news is that Garlic is easy to grow, and can be successfully cultivated in many regions in North America! Don’t have a garden? No problem. You can also grow garlic in containers.  We will provide you with tips and suggestions to help you conquer your desire to grow Hardneck Garlic!  Homegrown garlic is so much better than anything you’ll find in the stores.

Many people ask: "Are Hardneck and Softneck Garlic different?"   "Which of these should I grow?" "I live in Texas where it typically does not freeze in the winter; What type of garlic should I grow?"  "I live in Ohio where it gets very cold in the winter, what garlic is best for me to grow?"  "When do I plant garlic, and how do I know when it is ready to harvest?"  "Do I really need to dry or cure garlic?"   This article will hopefully answer these questions for you.  We will provide you tips for selecting seed garlic, planting garlic, weeding, fertilizing, and curing garlic for storage.  


The type of garlic you can grow depends on your climate.  Imagine you live in Montana, in a mountainous region with beautiful dry summers, blue skies and fertile soil.  A place that also gets cold - real cold during the winters.  -20 to -30 degrees fahrenheit are not uncommon.   Now imagine you live in sunny Gilroy California.  Gilroy has mild winters where temperatures rarely dip below freezing (subject to short cold spells).  Summers are warm summers.  Each of these locations have very different climates.  In Montana, Hardneck garlic would grow best.  In California, Softneck garlic would thrive and grow best.   In terms of flavor, hardneck garlic varieties has a more complex flavor profile than softneck garlic.  Hardneck garlic is richer, spicier, and generally more “garlicky”.

Hardneck varieties tend to do well in regions with severe, cold winters.  Hardnecks produce the largest, plumpest bulbs when exposed to a period of vernalization, which means a prolonged exposure to cold weather. The long freezing winters that exist in the northern part of United States are actually ideal for hardneck garlic to grow!  On the other hand, softneck varieties tend to do best in regions with significantly milder winters, like on the Central Coast of California. This part of California experiences virtually no freezing weather.  Keep in mind that Softnecks can also survive and grow with some freezing temperatures.  In parts of the country such as Florida or Hawaii, where soils  may stay overly wet, there is a risk the garlic bulbs will rot.


Bulb Development & Storage Potential

Hardneck garlic varieties typically produce a larger bulb, as compared to softnecks.   In Montana, we can produce hardnecks that exceed 3 inches across.  Also the cloves on hardneck are larger.  And, most importantly, the flavor and taste of hardneck is superior to softneck.  Hardnecks may have fewer cloves per bulb as compared to softnecks, but the cloves are easier to peel and have a fresher appearance.  In Montana, we have been able to store hardneck garlic for over eight (8) months assuming the garlic is kept between 20 and 40 degrees fahrenheit.  Hardneck garlic is "pre programmed" to continue the life cycle, and they will begin to sprout in early spring.  Softneck garlic also stores well.   If you want to grow the kind of garlic you find in the grocery store, then you want softnecks.   If you want to grow the best garlic, closest to the original wild garlic that has been around for thousands of years - and you live in a region with cold winters, you definitely want to grow hardneck.  It is the better of the two.  Regardless of what type of garlic you grow, be sure to handle the garlic bulbs gently during and after harvest.  Be careful not to bruise the bulbs; bruised bulbs easily rot. A sliced or nicked bulb can still be used, but it can’t be stored for very long.  

Selecting What Kind of Garlic to Plant:  Hardneck or Softneck?

Where to Get Seed Garlic (not garlic seed)

Seed Garlic means cloves!    Planting a single garlic clove will develop into one bulb of garlic. If you search online, there are many sources of seed garlic.  Three garlic farms that grow and sell seed garlic include filaree farms, GroEat Farm, and territorial seed.


Even though garlic isn’t planted until the fall, be sure to order as much garlic as you need for planting early!  Most garlic farms sell all of their garlic seed quickly as garlic is in high demand.  Some online retailers will allow for pre-orders for seed garlic during the summer, and will ship the seed garlic after it has fully cured, typically in late August or early September.   If you are a procrastinator and wait until planting time, you’ll probably have slim pickings.   Also, prices for available seed garlic may be more expensive the longer you wait.   Check your local farmer’s market for seed garlic. The garlic sold locally should grow well in your region.  Try to avoid buying garlic from your grocery store chain.  However, local co-ops or locally-owned grocery stores may sell local garlic?

Now that you have a good idea of what type of garlic may best suit your needs, have fun shopping and get your seed garlic.  Three garlic farms that grow and sell seed garlic include filaree farms, GroEat Farm, and territorial seed.


Clove Selection and Planting

When planting seed garlic - which is basically a garlic clove - try to select the largest clove for planting.  It is just fine to plant all of the cloves, even if they are very small.  Just keep in mind it may take two or three years of successive planting of the smaller cloves before they produce a bulb with larger cloves.  Time is of the esseesse here.  Try your best to select only those garlic cloves that look healthy.  Avoid planting any clove that has mold, feels soft and squishy or just does not look right.

Soil Preparation

Soil is a VERY important consideration when planning to successfully grow garlic.  Soil preparation is especially important when it comes to fostering large, good-tasting bulbs of garlic. To start perfecting your soil, you need to first determine what kind of soil you have in your garden by conducting a soil test. Doing so can help you determine if you have the best soil mixture for garlic and, if not, what you need to do to make it better.   What is your soil lacking?  A soil test will tell you.  Amend the spoil accordingly.  Typically, you cannot go wrong by amending old, weed-free and aged manure into your soil.    If your soil isn't perfect, garlic is a very forgiving plant and can survive even in marginally decent soil. Add organic fertilizers if needed.  Plan ahead.  Sometimes it takes one or two years to prepare a garlic spot using cover crops.  Cover crops can help improve poor soil, creating a rich mixture ready for planting. 

Foster the Right Texture.  Garlic loves fluffy soil.  In other words, garlic grows well in loose, well-draining soil.  Sandy loam soils are good, clay soils are not-so good. If you have too much clay you may observe that the garlic has a moisture problem. Garlic does not grow well in standing water and tends to rot if it has "wet feet" for too long. To solve this problem, try growing garlic in raised beds, and/or increase the sand and organic matter present in the soil.

Garlic grows well in soil that has a neutral to acidic pH level, specifically around 6.5 to 7.5. Garlic also needs several unique nutrients to thrive in your garden. Nitrogen, Phosphorus (which aids in root development), and Potassium which is critical for leaf growth and healthy bulb formation.  Again, after you perform a soil test, amend the soil with what is lacking.


When and How to Plant Garlic

When we were conceived in our mom's belly, it took nine (9) months of growth before we were ready to enter the world.  Garlic also has a long growing season.  It too takes about nine (9) months to grow from the time a bulb is planted in mother earth -  to the time of harvest.  Cloves are traditionally planted in the fall, usually sometime between late September to late November, depending on your climate.  After planting, the cloves may begin to sprout in the fall, and establish their root systems. They’ll go dormant over the winter, and resume growth in the spring, and be ready to harvest early to midsummer. 

Just prior to planting, break up the garlic heads into individual cloves, leaving as much of the papery covering on each clove intact as possible. Plant cloves 3" to 4" deep, orienting them so the pointy ends face up. Water gently to settle the soil, and then cover the bed with a 4" to 6" layer of straw mulch.

Plant each garlic clove 2 inches deep, and about 4 to 6 inches apart. I usually pre-poke all the planting holes in the designated bed, and then pop in each clove one by one.  Place the garlic clove in the hole with the flat root end down and the pointy end facing up.

Every clove will (potentially)  form a new bulb or “head” of garlic that contains 5 to 12 new cloves. Select the largest cloves to plant. Larger cloves are said to produce the largest bulbs.

Pre-planting soak (optional):    Pre-soaking garlic cloves in various solutions to prepare them for planting may prove to help produce superior garlic.  Pre soaking isn’t a mandatory step by any means though. The purpose is to provide them with a combination of nutrients and anti-fungal ingredients, to give the garlic seed a jump start to sprout, and also to fight infections and disease.   This would be particularly useful if you’re re-planting garlic that was harvested from your own garden, where the likelihood of disease may be higher than fresh seed garlic.   Then they’re ready to go into the soil.   For the recipe on how to pre-soak garlic, click here,

Plant in Full Sun

Garlic will grow best in a location with full sun. If you’re not using raised garden beds, choose a spot in the ground that doesn’t easily collect and pool water, which can lead to rotting. Avoid planting garlic in the same place year after year, or in the same location that other alliums (like onions) were recently grown. Good crop rotation practices are important to help prevent disease, pests, and nutrient deficiencies.

Planting in Containers

If you don’t have a garden or a plot of land you can prepare for garlic, or if your garden space is already full, you can grow garlic in containers.  It is not ideal, and requires a little more effort.   Try using a large planter (with drain holes on the bottom) or something like a wine barrel.  To grow garlic in a container, begin by locating a solid,  wide container with a lot of surface area (rather than deep and narrow), so you can maximize the amount of garlic you can fit inside without crowding them too much. The contains should be robust and should withstand freezing and thawing.   Begin by placing the pot in a location that gets full sun during the summer.  We place the pot in it's location now, as it will get heavy as we fill it.  Next, fill the bottom of the container with gravel; a few inches will do.  This will add weight to the container to prevent it from blowing over and, the gravel will also increase drainage.  Next, fill the pot with a combination of organic matter and the best soil you can find.  Soils sold in bags at box box stores will do fine.  Stick with organic soils.  Mix in time-released fertilizers (not too much).   A few weeks before the first hard forst, plant the cloves 3" - 4" deep and 6" apart.  Top dress with mulch such as leaves or straw (but not hay as hay typically contains seeds).   Soils in pots may need more added moisture as compared to soil in a garden.  Monitor the soil's moisture level often and make amends when needed.  

Mulching Garlic

We use mulch for two reasons.  First, it helps reduce weed growth and secondly, when mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients to our soil.  We overwinter our garlic (Burr, Cold Montana) without mulch and the garlic grows exceptionally well.   We add mulch in early spring before the weeds have emerged.  Some growers will heavily mulch the top soil with several inches of loose mulch, like straw, leaves, or even additional layers of compost.  Straw is considered a good mulch.   Hay is a crop that is grown and harvested as a feed crop for cattle, horses and other farm animals. Straw on the other hand is a byproduct of a grain crop; in our area it's usually wheat or barley straw .  Okay! there is often bad with the good.  Unfortunately, some farmers have focused on profits instead of health.  Some are spraying Roundup (glyphosate) on their grain crops to facilitate the "drying" of their crop.   According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2017 approximately 12.4 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to various varieties of wheat grown in the U.S. Of those varieties, more than 58 percent of the acreage of durum wheat, commonly used to make pasta, was sprayed with glyphosate.


Source:  https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2019/02/glyphosate-contamination-food-goes-far-beyond-oat-products#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20National%20Agricultural,pasta%2C%20was%20sprayed%20with%20glyphosate.

Garlic Care While Growing

Garlic is a heavy feeder!  They need adequate nitrogen to produce a strong robust plant, but not too much nitrogen to produce a garlic plant as large as a corn plant.  A couple times throughout the growing season, add additional amendments such as rich aged compost and a well-balanced slow-release fertilizer. Add fertilizer between the rows of garlic – referred to as “side dressing” – and then water in.  Experiment with seaweed extract or actively aerated compost tea (AACT) made with worm castings as well.  Once again, use science to help you make good decisions.  A soil test will tell you what your soil is lacking.  

Garlic should receive adequate moisture from spring until about the first week of July.   Then, after that, the soil should be allowed to dry out.  Ideally, let mother nature provide the moisture from spring until July.  If you experience a dry year, irrigate the garlic as needed.  It is best to water garlic deeply but infrequently. Allow the soil surface and top inch to dry out between waterings. If it is raining, snowing, or otherwise damp during the winter, do not apply additional water.   If the soil stays too wet, bulbs may begin rotting, particularly during the time the garlic is not actively growing.   


Weeds compete with garlic plants for space, light, water and soil nutrients. Weeds have the ability to take over quickly, and they’re also the perfect hosts for disease and insects. Before you know it, one weed can turn into many little thieves robbing your plants of their health.   The best way to prevent weeds from spreading throughout your garlic crop is to stop them before they take root. Knowing how to prevent weeds means understanding the task is not a one-time job, but rather a continual garden chore. But even those who pull weeds begrudgingly do so knowing that preventing weeds as they appear, or quickly after they’ve sprouted, takes a lot less time than removing an established weed infestation. 

Remove the Garlic Scapes!

Hardneck garlic will grow an edible flowering stem, called a garlic scape. In contrast, softneck garlic does not produce scapes. The scapes grow up and out from the center of the hardneck greenery close to harvest time. Garlic scapes are highly sought-after! They’re similar to delicious, garlic-flavored, long tender green beans – an awesome addition to pesto, or any meal.   When scapes develop, harvest them! Most gardeners wait until they form one nice curl, and then cut them down at the leaf line. However, if you allow the scapes to grow for too long, they’ll draw energy away from the developing bulb. 

Here are two recipes to make Garlic Scape Butter.  Enjoy.     https://www.jumprope.com/g/garlic-scape-compound-butter/JJgw9blQ


When and How to Harvest Garlic

Garlic is typically harvested in early to midsummer. You’ll know when it is getting close to harvest time when the bottom three or so garlic leaves start to turn yellow or brown, shrivel, and dry up. Garlic is ready to harvest when about three or so of the bottom leaves are yellowing and falling over. If you gently prod and explore

under the soil line, you should feel large developed bulbs of garlic.   If garlic bulbs are left in the ground too long, the bulbs may start to separate and not store as well.

Discontinue watering garlic a couple weeks before harvest. This will make the harvest and cleaning easier, and aid in proper drying. To remove the garlic from the soil, gently loosen and dig around the bulbs to unearth them – with the help of a garden fork or trowel.  Don't pull the garlic by grabbing the stem and yanking.  Nope, this is not a good idea.  Really.  Instead, use a garden fork and loosen the soil by driving the fork near the garlic and gently pulling back.  Avoid puncturing, bruising, or otherwise damaging the bulbs as you dig them up.   After the soil is loose, gently remove the entire garlic plant from mother earth.


How to Cure, Dry and Clean Garlic

Garlic can be consumed right from the garden.  Though, the flavor will be best if you let the garlic cure for a few weeks.  Garlic needs to be properly cured for the best long-term storage.  Here are a few tips.  Begin by harvesting the whole garlic plant.  Don't cut off anything and this includes the top leaves and stem and roots!  To dry and cure the fresh garlic, store it in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight for 2 to 3 weeks after harvesting. Do not get the bulbs wet!  Don't wash the garlic. Let it dry out and brush the soil off as needed. Keep both the leaves and roots intact (attached to the bulb) during this process. The garlic bulbs are still drawing important energy and nutrients from them.  Lay the entire garlic plant out on a flat on a wire rack, a screen, or breathable surface - away from direct sunlight. Incorporating a fan or two may decrease the overall curing time.

After the 2 to 3 weeks of curing, then remove the leaves and roots and get them all cleaned up, cutting them off at the top and bottom of the now-dry bulb. 

Storing Garlic

Once your garlic is cured and dried, store the bulbs long-term in a dry, dark, cool place. We keep our hardneck garlic in a unheated garage that retains a temperature of 30 - 40 degrees fahrenheit during the winter.   Keep in mind, some garlic varieties will last longer than others, so check on your stored bulbs routinely and give them a squeeze.  Garlic will begin to sprout in spring as it wants to grow.  If your garlic begins to sprout, try planting it in your garden.

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