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  • Writer's pictureJere Folgert

How to Grow Garlic in Pots. 13 Simple Steps

Updated: Jan 15

Growing Garlic in Pots

Imagine this: you saunter into your kitchen, snip a few emerald shoots from your windowsill garden, and whip up a gourmet meal bursting with the pungent magic of homegrown garlic. Sounds fancy, right? But guess what? Growing your own garlic is easier than juggling bunnies – and ten times more rewarding.

Here's the drill: snag a pot (think cozy condo for your cloves), fill it with fluffy potting mix (think comfy mattress), and then break apart a head of garlic – not out of rage, but to gently separate the cloves (think pulling apart garlic bread, minus the melty cheese). Nestle the cloves pointy-side-up into the soil, tucking them in like sleepy chicks beneath a feathery blanket. Now, the fun part: water your little garlic condo regularly, watch those green shoots peek out like curious kids, and bask in the sunshine they crave (because garlic, like us, is a sun-worshipper).

Within a few months, your tiny pot will be sprouting a jungle of garlicky goodness. Snip off the scapes (those curly cues that emerge in spring) to boost bulb growth, and soon, you'll be harvesting fist-sized nuggets of pure, pungent glory. Roast them whole, weave them into braids, or simply crush a clove into your next stir-fry – the possibilities are as endless as your newfound garlic love.

So, ditch the store-bought stuff and embrace the pot-dwelling garlic revolution! It's a low-maintenance, high-reward adventure that'll have you questioning why you ever settled for supermarket cloves again. Plus, homegrown garlic just tastes better – it whispers of sunshine, soil, and your own backyard alchemy. So, grab a pot, some cloves, and get ready to grow your own garlicky green haven!

Question: Can I Grow Garlic in Pots?

Answer: Yes, you can grow garlic in pots.

To produce a beautiful garlic crop, you will need to select and acquire the right type of garlic, the right pots, and the proper growing medium. You'll need to plant garlic at the right time, place pots in the right place with full sunlight, and make sure the soil in the pots does not dry out. Avoid too much watering as garlic is prone to fungal root diseases, so it is important that the soil you plant the cloves in drains well. Don't be tempted to put regular garden soil in the containers. Instead, use a fluffy, organically-rich blend of well-decomposed soils. Garlic grows best in fluffy, well-drained soil high in organic matter. It does not grow well in compacted soils that are high in clay. Garlic requires direct light at least 6 hours/day; prefers 8 - 10 hours/day.

Garlic should be spaced about six inches apart and planted about 3 inches deep with the pointy side of the clove facing up.

Garlic is Fun to Grow: Growing your own garlic is a very fulfilling task. And, growing garlic is pretty easy. The varieties of garlic you can grow at home, in pots, are more flavorful than what you can find at the grocery store. In this article, I’m going to share thirteen (13) simple steps you can follow to grow hardneck garlic in pots - outside. The good news is that you can grow garlic in pots and a wide variety of containers.

STEP 1: Determine if Your Site has Adequate Sunlight

Don't plant garlic in shade. If you live on the north side of an apartment complex that is shaded most of the day, or if you have trees shading your property, you are out of luck. Garlic needs 8+ or more hours per day of direct sunlight.

STEP 2: Select and Purchase Garlic As Soon as Possible. Start Early!

Garlic is best planted in the fall. If you missed the fall planting, another option is to plant in early spring before April. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 3, 4, 5, or 6, plan to plant the seed garlic (individual garlic cloves) just before Halloween.

Contact a garlic farm in August, and determine which cultivars you want to grow at your location. Most garlic farmers harvest their crops in late July and early August. The seed garlic needs to cure for about three weeks before it is ready to be shipped to your location. You'll want to beat the rush and acquire your seed garlic as soon as possible. To get garlic cloves for planting, we highly recommend GroEat Farm in Montana. FYI they have many hardneck varieties available in September.

As tempting as it is, don’t use the white, bleached, tiny softneck - store-bought garlic to plant your own! Some commercially produced softneck garlic is treated with chemicals to inhibit sprouting. Instead, acquire hardneck garlic. In addition, garlic from the grocery store can also carry microscopic pests including viruses and parasites.

A good choice for seed garlic is Porcelain garlic. Porcelain garlic is a type of large, attractive hardneck garlic with plump cloves, usually four to seven to a bulb. Cloves are easy to peel, delicious to eat, and store longer than most types of garlic. Porcelain garlic includes Music, Rosewood, German Extra Hardy, Georgian Crystal, Georgian Fire, Leningrad, Polish, Romanian Red, and Montana Zemo.

Growing garlic successfully in pots begins with choosing the right variety or varieties for where you live. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 3,4,5 or 6, grow Hardneck Garlic. If you live in the southern tier of the United States, likey you live in USDA Hardiness Zone of 6 or above. Hardneck garlic typically does not grow well in Zones above 6, partly due to warmer soil and ambient air temperatures. Instead, contact other garlic growers in your area, or your local University Extension to see what grows best in your region. Likely, you will want to investigate growing softneck garlic. Softnecks tend to have a greater number of cloves, as they lack the hard stem in the center. They generally produce around 8 to 15 small cloves per bulb, with some bulbs yielding more than 20.

CALCULATOR: Use this simple calculation when acquiring seed garlic. Porcelain garlic typically has 5-7 individual cloves. In other words, one large Porcelain garlic bulb will likely give you 5-7 individual seeds to plant, resulting in 5-7 plants. Ideally, cloves should be planted four-six inches apart.

Seed Garlic (plump hardneck garlic cloves) Ready for Planting. GROeat Garlic Farm. Montana.

STEP 3: Select the Right Pot or Container

One of the quickest ways to wreck your garlic-growing experiment is to use the wrong pot. Too small? Color of the Pot is Black? Not Deep Enough? No Drainage Holes in the Botton? Not good.

Ideally, select a container that is large enough to store an adequate amount of organically-rich soil full of nutrients, deep enough to allow the garlic roots to grow deep, and designed to allow for water drainage. The roots of a mature hardneck garlic plant can be over eight (8) inches long. The color of the pot is important too. Because your garlic will be growing in full sunlight, don't use pots that are dark in color (black, blue, dark grey, etc...). Why? Black or dark-colored materials absorb heat the fastest. Darker colors absorb more light and heat, resulting in hotter soil temperatures. Hardneck Garlic does not do well if the soil temperatures that rise above 85 °Fahrenheit. Plastic pots and containers will likely retain more moisture than those made from terracotta. Lighter colors reflect more light

If you are repurposing a (food-grade) 5-gallon bucket, drill multiple 1/4-inch+ holes in the bottom to ensure that the soil does not become waterlogged. The growing medium should be slightly moist during the growing season, but should still be free draining. Water is essential for all plant growth. While this may seem obvious, the amount of water a plant receives is important. But, excess rain can cause problems. Outdoor potted plants are especially sensitive in heavy rain, even those in containers with good drainage. Different soil types and even the type of container will affect the outcomes when leaving potted plants in heavy rain. Overwatered garlic can result in the garlic rotting, or growing certain bacteria, mold, and fungi. Simply cover the soil with plastic to protect potted plants from heavy rain.

How many garlic cloves can I plant in a 5-gallon bucket? A 5-gallon, food-grade plastic bucket has room for two or three garlic plants.

A variety of containers that can be used as a vessel to grow hardneck garlic

STEP 4: Select the Right Soil

Here are a few simple suggestions for selecting soil for your containers and pots. Potting soil used in containers should be light and fluffy. Seek potting soil made up of organic matter, some peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, and actual soil. The selection of potting soil should be capable of holding essential nutrients and moisture. If compost or manure is added to the mix, it should be fully decomposed. Raw compost can attract pests and damage garden plants. During the decomposition process, raw compost or manure can also use up nutrients in your soil, making these same nutrients unavailable to your garlic plants. The growing medium should be fertile, and high in nutrients. Garlic needs fertile soil to grow well. If you find the soil is retaining too much moisture, you can add builder’s sand to increase drainage. The right soil medium is important for garlic growing in containers and pots. Soil dug up from your yard or older garden bed may be too dense to use in a pot. Instead, for containers, you'll want to use potting mix or potting soil. One of the biggest challenges of growing garlic in pots is the fact that the potting soil can’t regenerate or gain any extra nutrients from the earth. If you grow garlic in pots every year, plan to refresh the soil, anually. You can improve the water retention properties of soil by adding vermiculite, sphagnum (peat) moss, and/or coconut coir. When you make the soil retain more moisture, you'll also need to improve the drainage to prevent any watering issues.

A Variety of Potting Soils.

STEP 5: Plant Garlic Cloves (Seed Garlic)

In the Northern United States, October is a good time to plant garlic cloves. It should be done at least four weeks before the first frost of the season and must be done before the ground freezes. Every year is a little different. One common mistake is to plant garlic too early. What happens if you plant garlic too early? Garlic establishes a delicate root system before sending up a green shoot. Planted too early, the green shoot can rise several inches drawing precious energy from the clove, effectively dehydrating the clove and potentially killing it. The green shoots can also freeze during the winter.

Likely, you will receive garlic bulbs from GroEat Garlic Farm. A few days before planting, carefully separate the individual cloves from the garlic head. Select the largest cloves for planting. Save any little cloves for your culinary dishes. Each planted clove will likely form a new garlic plant above ground and a new bulb or “head” just under the soil surface. If you received the seed garlic a month or so before planting, store the seed garlic in a dry, well-ventilated location, away from direct sun. Do not put the garlic in a plastic bag.

Should you soak garlic before planting? It is not mandatory that you soak garlic before planting. There are plenty of successful garlic growers that do not do this step and plant the cloves in the soil and have a wonderful garlic crop. Some growers will soak cloves in rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for 3-5 minutes just prior to planting. The alcohol penetrates the clove covers and kills any mites inside. Another option is to soak cloves in 2% soap (not detergent) and 2% mineral oil prior to planting. Soak for 24 hours. This is effective against dry bulb mite (Aceria tulipae) and eriophyid mite that survives on cultivated Allium species, including onions.

Do not cram the cloves together. To form large heads, the clove's roots need plenty of space to grab nutrients.

Space the cloves about six (6) inches apart and gently push them into the soil 2" - 3" deep with the pointy end up. The spacing is important if you want the garlic to produce large, plump heads. If you are really pushed for space, try planting the garlic four (4) inches apart, about 3 inches deep. When winter settles in, the garlic enters a dormancy period that will supercharge its growth in the spring. Cold temperatures are key to forcing these garlic bulbs to go dormant.

Space Seed Garlic Six Inches Apart, Two - Three Inches Deep.

STEP 6: Cover With Mulch

After the garlic cloves have been planted, a good option is to cover the soil with mulch. Mulch helps control weeds, conserves moisture, and helps maintain consistent soil temperatures. Some gardeners claim that well-mulched soil can produce more garlic than an unmulched pot due to its ability to reduce foliage and disease. Cover the top of the soil with a layer of straw or dead leaves. Don't use hay, as hay typically contains seeds. A good quality mulch should help to retain moisture and suppress weed growth. It can also add nutrients slowly over time.

STEP 7: Prepare the Pot or Container for Winter.

If you experience a very frigid winter (USDA Hardiness Zones 3 and 4), you’ll want to insulate the pot by wrapping it in insulation or piling up leaves or straw around it. Some growers will bring the planted pots in an unheated garage, shop, shed or outbuilding. Where you choose to place your pots or containers is important. Another option is to find a sheltered location next to your house to overwinter your pot. Your garlic will not grow in the winter months so sunshine is not important. The cloves will need some moisture to stay alive. Some dry soils can wick moisture from the cloves. Check the soil every few weeks in the winter to assure it is moist and water if not.

STEP 8: Cover With Mulch

After the garlic cloves have been planted, agardeners good option is to cover the soil with mulch. Mulch helps control weeds, conserve moisture, and helps maintain consistent soil temperatures. Some gardners claim that well-mulched soil can produce more vegetables than an unmulched garden due to its ability to reduce foliage and disease. Cover the top of the soil with a layer of straw or dead leaves. Don't use hay, as hay typically contains seeds. A good quality mulch should help to retain moisture and suppress weed growth. It can also add nutrients slowly over time.

STEP 9: In Spring, Move the Pot to the Desired Location.

When spring arrives, move the pot of garlic back out into the sunshine and continue to regularly water it. Add fertilizer as needed.

Can you transplant garlic in the spring? In simple terms, garlic does not transplant well after it has established roots. In spring, the garlic clove will have established roots but very little to no green leaf structure.

STEP 10: In the Spring and Summer, Check Soil Moisture Often.

Continue to water as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Water every 3-5 days. Cut back watering a couple of weeks before you harvest your crop. If you are troubled by when the garlic plants need to drink water, a soil moisture meter can be your reliable partner, as it provides immediate information about the moisture of the soil in your garden pots. Most moisture meters consist of a single probe that tests the moisture level in the soil, helping you decide whether the garlic plants need water or not.

How long does potted garlic take to grow? Growing garlic in pots is a long-term garden project. It takes about 8 to 9 months for a planted garlic clove to develop into a ready-to-harvest head of garlic.

STEP 11: Remove the Garlic Scape:

Hardneck garlic plants produce a garlic scape at the top of the plant. You'll recognize the scape by its tubular shape and pig-tail curl. In order to grow a large garlic bulb, the scape is removed from the plant. If the scape is not removed, as soon as it appears, the scape develops an umbel (or flower) which eventually produces tiny cloves called bulbils. These little bulbils can be eaten just like a clove of garlic, or planted. Harvested garlic scapes can be refrigerated for quite a while or frozen for longer-term use. Snip the scape as soon as it appears in early summer.

Removing the Garlic Scape at GroEat Farm.

STEP 12: Harvest at the Right Time. Don't Wait Too Long.

Knowing when to harvest garlic is very important. Because garlic bulbs are buried in the soil, it's not easy to tell when the bulb has matured. If you wait too long to harvest hardneck garlic, the cloves will start to separate from the bulb and the head won’t store as well. If you harvest too early, the bulbs will be small. Timing is important. Hardneck garlic is typically ready for harvesting when the lower three (3) leaves start to brown and wilt. The only way to be sure is to dig up a bulb to check the progress. If the cloves fill out the skins, it's time to harvest the garlic. Don't pull or yank the garlic out of the pots. Instead, use a troweltrowel and delicately use the trowl to assist with the extraction.

STEP 13: Cure and Dry Garlic for Long-Term Storage

Cure the garlic plants and bulbs by placing them in a well-ventilated location, away from direct sunlight. Use a drying rack, or window screen set on cinder blocks, or hang multiple plants on a horizontal rope. Ventilation and air circulation is necessary for each bulb to dry evenly. Depending on humidity and air temperature, most garlic will be cured and ready for storage after three weeks. Plenty of air circulating can get the garlic heads to cure properly. You’ll know the garlic is cured when the outer paper is crispy and the center of the cut stem has hardened. Store your cured garlic in a cool, dry, dark location. Placing them in a wire bowl in the pantry works well. Or, if your house tends to be on the hotter side, opt for the cellar or basement. Don't put garlic in plastic bags or it will mold and rot.

Hardneck Garlic Curing in August


You don’t need a lot of space or a garden bed to grow quality hardneck garlic. Grow garlic in pots or containers. However, growing garlic in pots can be a bit tricky because they have such a long growing season and particular watering needs. To Grow garlic in pots you need a container that is at least 8+ inches deep and has good water drainage. Acquire quality seed garlic. Plant the garlic bulbs in the fall, between September and November. Begin by separating the cloves from the garlic bulb, and plant garlic 2-3 inches deep and 6 inches apart into the soil, pointy side up. The soil is to be kept slightly moist, but it shouldn’t be soggy. Garlic grows best in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil with pH between 6.0 and 7.0. The soil should be comprised of rich, well-decomposed, fluffy organic material. Place the pot in a location that gets at least 8 hours of direct sunlight during spring and summer. Garlic plants are heavy feeders, so make sure they get a dash of nitrogen and other necessary nutrients. But not too much! Don't let the soil in the pots dry out during the growing season. Unless you control weeds early, they can easily overtake young garlic plants. Insects are not a major problem with garlic, although onion maggot is a potential pest. Harvest your container-grown garlic bulbs when the bottom 3 leaves start to turn yellow or brown and wilt downwards. Depending on variety and climate zone, harvest garlic mid-to late July.

Growing Garlic in Garden Pots

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GroEat Farm. Bozeman, Montana

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