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  • Writer's pictureJere Folgert

Growing Big Garlic! Our Secrets.

Updated: May 19

Growing Large Hardneck Garlic
Growing Big Garlic! Our Secrets.

Have you ever dreamt of harvesting garlic so magnificent, it would make even the most hardened vampires weep? Well, fret no more, for at GroEat Farm, we're ready to spill the beans (or rather, the cloves) on cultivating colossal bulbs and cloves! For over three decades, we've been on a garlic odyssey, constantly refining our methods to coax the earth into yielding the tastiest, biggest, boldest bulbs imaginable.

Mother Nature, however, is a fickle friend. Every year throws a curveball – a twist in the weather, a shift in soil temperature, a microbial mosh pit under the ground. But fear not, intrepid garlic grower! We've compiled twelve battle-tested tips, from pre-planting prep to harvest, specifically tailored for the majestic hardneck garlic. These beauties, with their majestic stalks erupting into a starry burst of flowers (scape, as garlic aficionados call them), are known for their intense flavor and long shelf life. So, are you ready to unlock the secrets to supersized garlic? Here we go!c GroEat Farm is about to take you on a delicious adventure!

We would like to Share Our Secrets on how to Grow Big Garlic! Even after 30+years of growing garlic, at GroEat Farm, we too are still learning better methods and strategies on how to grow bigger and more flavorful garlic. Every year, the growing conditions are a little different due to weather, temperatures, microbes, and soil conditions. We present to you, Tweleve (12) tips, from pre-planting preparation through harvest, to Help You Grow Big Garlic. We will focus specifically on Hardneck Garlic.

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Large Garlic Cloves

1. Select the Ideal Garlic Plot Location. Begin by selecting a "Garlic Plot" that receives full sun, during the day, (throughout the spring and summer). Garlic thrives in full sun. Choose a location that receives (at least) 6-8 hours of sunlight per day during the spring and summer. Garlic planted in an area that is shaded may fail to sprout anything above ground or they may produce very small bulbs as compared to garlic that receives full sun.

Because the garlic plant's leaves are a fundamental unit for carbon uptake and water use, they automatically interface carbon, water, and energy balances governing physical, biochemical, and physiological processes involved in leaf gas exchange. The garlic leaf is the focus of photosynthesis, which in turn makes possible Big Bulb Size. Garlic varieties respond to the amount of daylight length leading into the summer solstice. Hardneck varieties are particularly suited to middle and northern climates.

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Purple Glazer Garlic

2. Soil Conditions Are Critical.

Soil Conditions Are Critical for Garlic Cultivation

Growing large, good-tasting garlic bulbs requires optimal soil conditions. Key elements include light and fluffy soil, good drainage, a pH of around 7.0, and a rich supply of nutrients and organic matter. Here's an in-depth look at why these factors are essential and how soil microbes play a crucial role in maintaining soil health.

The Role of Soil Microbes

Soil microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, are vital for healthy soil and successful garlic cultivation. These microbes contribute to soil fertility by breaking down organic matter into nutrients that plants can absorb. They also enhance soil structure, improving aeration, water retention, and drainage. Moreover, beneficial microbes form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, helping plants to access nutrients more efficiently.

The Impact of Synthetic Chemicals

Using synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, such as Roundup, can harm the delicate balance of soil microbes. These chemicals can kill beneficial microorganisms, leading to a decline in soil health. Without a thriving microbial community, soil structure deteriorates, nutrient availability decreases, and plants become more susceptible to diseases and pests. This could explain why garlic plants might suffer from diseases if synthetic fertilizers are used extensively.

Optimal Soil Conditions for Garlic

To produce large garlic bulbs, the soil should be:

  • Light and Fluffy: This texture allows garlic bulbs to expand easily. Compact soil restricts growth and leads to smaller, misshapen bulbs.

  • Well-Drained: Garlic is prone to rot in waterlogged soil. Proper drainage prevents standing water and root diseases.

  • Nutrient-Rich: Adding organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, provides essential nutrients and improves soil structure.

  • pH of Around 7.0: A neutral pH optimizes nutrient availability and microbial activity.

Addressing Soil Problems

  • Clay Soil: Heavy clay soil can cause water retention issues, leading to rot and poor bulb development. Amending clay soil with organic matter, or using raised beds, can enhance drainage and soil texture. Raised beds also allow better control over soil composition.

  • Sandy Soil: Sandy soil, while well-draining, may lack nutrients and organic matter. Adding compost and aged manure helps improve its fertility and structure.

Planting and Growing Tips

  • Planting Depth: Individual cloves should be planted to a depth of about 2 ½ times their size, with the growing tip pointing upward. Planting cloves upside down results in misshapen bulbs due to the curved shoots.

  • Cover Crops: Growing cover crops like red or white clover, winter rye, vetch, buckwheat, and sorghum adds nutrients and helps loosen the soil. These "green manures" improve soil structure and fertility, providing an ideal environment for garlic cultivation.

Maintaining healthy soil is essential for growing large, flavorful garlic bulbs. Avoiding synthetic chemicals, enriching the soil with organic matter, and ensuring proper drainage and pH levels support a robust microbial community. This, in turn, enhances soil health, promoting vigorous garlic growth and reducing disease incidence.
Grandma and Granpa Harvesting Garlic

Perform a Soil Test. Send a sample of your soil into a soil-testing lab. In agriculture, a soil test commonly refers to the analysis of soil, to determine nutrient content, composition, and other characteristics such as acidity or pH level. A soil test is important to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems, to improve the nutritional balance of the growing media, and to save money by knowing what your soil lacks (you won't waste your money on fertilizer your soil does not need). Based on the results of your soil test, make the necessary adjustments using fertilizer and soil amendments. Most soils are lacking in nitrogen. Garlic normally needs extra nitrogen (blood meal is a good organic source of nitrogen). Supplement with nitrogen after planting and several times during the growing season. Stop nitrogen supplementation before garlic scapes in late spring or early summer. Too much nitrogen can result in smaller bulbs. Organic matter helps make soil 'fluffier' and adds nutrients to soils. Garlic is a heavy feeder and it likes lots of nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Adding organic matter for your crop to enjoy will give you the biggest and best-tasting garlic. Pay close attention to the pH of your soil. A pH: between 6.0 and 7.5 is the ideal pH for growing garlic. Perform a soil test every few years as garlic can deplete your soil of important nutrients.

For excellent results, contact: Jake Pinkus

Alluvial Soil Lab

(831) 216-1367 |

2100 Glen Canyon Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Hardneck Garlic grows best in soil that has a neutral-to acidic pH, specifically around 6.5 to 7.0. Garlic also needs several nutrients and natural elements to thrive. Nitrogen is critically important during garlic's initial growth phase at which time the plant's structure and leaves are formed. Potassium is also critical for leaf growth and healthy bulb formation. Phosphorus helps promote healthy root development. Sulfur is also a very important component of the soil. It is the sulfur compounds that help orchestrate garlic's taste, smell, and flavors. Some farmers and gardeners amend their soil with sulfur in the spring, after the plants have emerged and developed leaf structures. Sulfur can be mined from underground, naturally-occurring deposits, but this is costly and has largely been discontinued. Sulfur is a major by-product of oil refining and gas processing. Most crude oil grades contain some sulfur, most of which must be removed during the refining process to meet strict sulfur content limits in refined products.

Many garlic growers amend soils with organic compost, organic manure, and organic worm castings. Amending soils with organic compost and manure can increase the nitrogen levels in the resultant mixture. Worm castings add nutrients and help make the soil more "fluffy". There are many options for manure selection; Here are a few: Horse, Cow, Buffalo / Bison, Alpaca, Poultry (chicken, geese, ducks), and Goat. What is critically important is that the manure you select is well-aged and decomposed. "Hot" manure added to garlic can result in devastating consequences.

Horse Manure: Well-aged, composted horse manure can be a good source of nitrogen. Chat with the caregivers of the horses to determine, what, if any, drugs have been given to the horses. Be wary of weeds that come your way via manure. Horses, unlike cows, have one stomach. Some weeds such as sedge will produce an astronomical 90,000 seeds if not removed. while you can't always find perfectly composted manure free of weed seeds, keep your eyes open for obnoxious transient hitchhikers.

Cow Manure: Cow manure is a good option for amending soils. Plan to incorporate the well-aged, composted cow manure into your soil in late summer, after harvesting this year's garlic crop. Turn under the cow manure shortly after spreading so the nutrients don't blow away or dissipate. Cattle have three stomachs capable of digesting a large number of plant seeds. Though seeds with hard coats can pass right on through. By the time you are ready to plant bulbs in October, not only will the smell will have dissipated, some of the nutrients from the manure will have leached into the surrounding soil. Nitrogen settles into the soil and does not appear to shock the cloves when planted.

Buffalo Manure: Just like cows and elk, bison have four stomachs. This premium soil additive has much higher nutrient values than cow manure and greater bacterial populations than just about any organic fertilizer on the market. If you have access to Buffalo manure from a local ranch (Montana, Colorado, Dakotas, etc). A few decades ago, there were only about 30,000 bison left in the U.S. Today, there are closer to 500,000, and the country’s appetite for buffalo continues to grow. Buffalo Organic Potting Soil combines buffalo chips with premium coconut coir, sphagnum peat moss, and expanded shale which provides a balance of nutrition, water filtration, and moisture retention.

Alpaca Manure: Even with its lower organic content, alpaca manure is considered a very good rich soil conditioner. Alpaca fertilizer improves the soil quality and its ability to retain water. Alpacas are ruminant animals with three stomachs for efficient digestion. Because of this, alpaca manure is lower in organic matter than manure from cows or horses, so it's less likely to burn plants. Aged alpaca manure is light, dry, and odor-free. The small pellets are easy to spread. This dark-colored manure is also good for plants, providing a fair amount of nitrogen and potassium and about average levels of phosphorus. If you've got a neighbor with alpacas, you can probably get manure for free or at little cost. Keep in mind that commercially available Alpaca manure can be very expensive. We've used alpaca manure with great success.

Poultry Manure: Poultry manure, such as chicken manure, provides a dense, concentrated source of nitrogen. Chicken manure adds organic matter and increases the water holding capacity and beneficial biota in soil. A good fertilizer; chicken manure provides Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to garlic plants (apparently more than a horse, cow or steer manure). In poultry, principally the organ where food is broken into smaller units has two parts: the proventriculus for storage and the gizzard. The drawback of non-organic chicken manure is that it may contain a cocktail of chemicals and many contain GMOs used in feed. Poultry manure doesn't evaporate like cow manure, so it doesn't need to be turned under as quickly as cow manure. When using poultry manure, bland and mix it into the soil before planting.

Goat Manure: Goat manure is virtually odorless and is beneficial for the soil. This manure contains adequate amounts of the nutrients that plants need for optimal growth. As urine collects in goat droppings, the manure retains more nitrogen, thus increasing its fertilizing potency. Goat manure, like sheep manure, is drier than cow manure or horse manure. It has less odor and is easier to work with and spread. It also composts more quickly. Goat manure is higher in nitrogen than horse and cow manures -- on average, it has 22 pounds of nitrogen in 1 ton. Cow manure has only 10 pounds of nitrogen in 1 ton (source: Ohio State University Extension).

Organic Compost: Organic Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. You can make your own compost (which helps keep these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.). Or, check locally to see if someone in your community is making large batches of organic compost. Around the country, there are teams that collect food scraps from individual households and restaurants and make valuable compost from these collections.

Soil Fertility. Before planting, provide a loose soil bed for planting the cloves. Garlic grows best on fluffy, well-drained soils with added organic matter. Sandy loam or loam soils have a good texture for growing garlic. Well-composted manure incorporated into the soil is a beneficial soil amendment. Drought or excessively wet conditions will reduce bulb yields.

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Fluffy Soil with Loads of Nutrients

Soil Composition for Optimum Garlic Growth (General Guide):

  • pH: Between 6.0 and 7.5.

  • Nitrogen:  is very important and is needed for garlic plant growth. Nitrogen is part of the chlorophyll molecule, which gives plants their green color and is involved in creating food for the plant through photosynthesis.

  • Phosphorus:  Plays a role in photosynthesis, respiration, energy storage and transfer, cell division, and cell enlargement. Phosphorus is needed for garlic's optimal root development. Garlic must have phosphorus for normal growth and maturity.

  • Potassium:  is associated with the movement of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates in plant tissue. Potassium is critical for leaf growth in the garlic plant and healthy bulb formation.

  • Sulfur:  is essential for nitrogen-fixing and necessary in the formation of chlorophyll. Garlic plants use sulfur in the processes of producing proteins, amino acids, enzymes, and vitamins. Sulfur also helps garlic plants' resistance to disease, aids in bulb growth, and sulfur compounds are directly related to garlic's unique healing benefits and flavors. Sulfur (S) is one of the 17 elements essential for all plant growth - including garlic. Sulfur is the fourth most important element after nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P),, and potassium (K) in terms of the amount required by garlic. Sulfate-Sulfur is the only form of sulfur the plant can utilize. Sulfur is a very important component of plant metabolism and is required to improve the overall growth and well-being of plants. The deficiency of sulfur leads to stunted growth of plants and ultimately loss of yield. Sulfur supports several different plant functions, including the formation of enzymes, the creation of new proteins in plants, aiding in photosynthesis and directly affecting growth and energy. Sulfur also helps garlic plants' resistance to disease, aids in bulb growth, and sulfur compounds are directly related to garlic's unique healing benefits and flavors. Sulfur is a structural component of protein bonds, vitamins, and amino acids. Garlic plants absorb sulfur through their root systems in the SO₄²⁻ form. This means that all elemental sulfur, including sulfur in compost and manure, must be converted to SO₄²⁻ in order to be utilized by garlic and other plants. Sulfate-Sulfur is the only form of sulfur the plant can utilize.

  • Organic Matter:  this will help garlic grow large as it improves virtually every soil type. Organic matter facilitates the "break up" of clay soils and allows better water penetration. It helps sandy soils retain moisture by increasing humus concentration, and it facilitates the retention of nutrients, by improving cation exchange capacity. It increases soil aggregate stability which holds soil particles together and helps soils retain their structure. It also increases mineralization which is how much nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, and other nutrients are released by soil bacteria.

  • Important Trace Minerals: add nutrition to your garlic. Garlic also uses trace mineral elements for growth and propagation. Some soils have naturally occurring mineral elements. Micronutrients help garlic in very diverse processes, including primary and secondary metabolism to the cell defense, and energy metabolism. Garlic use these micronutrients (or trace minerals): iron (Fe), boron (B), chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni). Some of these micronutrients stay beneath the soil as salts, and garlic plants consume these elements as ions. After you perform a soil test, you can supplement your soil with what your soil is lacking.

greoat farm.  montana.  hardneck garlic
Woman Standing in Garlic Field Holding Hardneck Garlic Bulbs

3. It takes Time and Cold Temperatures to achieve large bulbs. Acclimatization is defined as the climatic adaptation of an organism, especially a plant, that has been moved to a new environment (Conover and Poole 1984). In other words, if you obtain seed garlic from a location far from and different from your site, it can take garlic two or three years of gradual, long-term responses, to adapt to its new environment. Growing varieties that are not adapted to your climate can result in smaller heads for the first few years. Have patience.

Hardneck garlic needs exposure to cold temperatures for the biggest heads. This process is called vernalization. Garlic cloves require a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks of cold weather after planting (below 40 degrees F) to undergo vernalization. What is ideal? A long cold winter, a cool, and wet early spring, and dry condition beginning in July. These idea conditions facilitate a robust root system and prepare for bulb development. In late fall (before the soil freezes solid), the garlic cloves develop angle-hair-spaghetti-like roots that anchor the clove into the soil. In early spring, a pair of intertwined leaves will emerge from the terminal end of the bulb and will eventually break through the soil, depending on the weather and location. As the soil temperature warms, leaf development will accelerate with flat, dark green leaves on stems. (The University of Georgia, 2017). In early summer the plant adds more leaves and the heads grow larger and divide. Garlic is triggered to produce a bulb comprised of cloves when day-length increases to about 14 hours. With adequate moisture, the planted clove will swell considerably, forming a globular bulb with many fine roots.

Secrets to Growing Garlic Groeat Farm
Growing Large Hardneck Garlic

4. Plant the largest cloves.

The Science of Selecting Seed Garlic: The Impact of Clove Size on Garlic Growth

The size of the garlic clove used for planting is a critical factor influencing the resulting garlic bulb's size and health. Larger cloves store more energy and nutrients, providing a stronger start and leading to more vigorous plant growth. What are the reasons behind this?

Energy Storage and Initial Growth

Larger garlic cloves contain more stored carbohydrates and nutrients, which are crucial for the initial stages of plant growth. This energy reserve supports the development of a robust root system and a strong above-ground shoot, essential for the plant's overall health and productivity.

  • Carbohydrates: The primary energy source for germinating garlic, larger cloves have higher carbohydrate reserves. These reserves fuel the early stages of growth until the plant can perform photosynthesis efficiently.

  • Nutrient Reserves: Larger cloves also contain greater amounts of essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are critical for root development and shoot growth.

The Relationship Between Clove Size and Bulb Size

Research has shown a direct correlation between the size of the planted clove and the size of the harvested garlic bulb (Madadeen, 2011). Larger cloves tend to produce larger bulbs because:

  • Enhanced Initial Growth: Larger cloves support more vigorous early growth, leading to a more substantial plant capable of producing a larger bulb.

  • Better Root System: A more developed root system from a larger clove ensures better nutrient and water uptake, crucial for bulb development.

  • Increased Photosynthetic Capacity: Larger cloves give rise to plants with larger leaves, enhancing the plant's ability to capture sunlight and perform photosynthesis, which is vital for bulb formation.

Planting Techniques and Considerations

To maximize the benefits of using larger cloves, follow these planting guidelines:

  • Clove Selection: Separate the cloves from the bulb and select the largest ones for planting. Medium-sized cloves can also be used, but they may result in slightly smaller bulbs.

  • Planting Depth: Plant each clove about two inches deep into the soil, with the pointy side up. This depth ensures the clove is well-covered and can establish roots effectively.

  • Spacing: Space the cloves 6 to 8 inches apart. This spacing provides each plant with enough room to grow, reducing competition for nutrients and water.

Planting Season and Timing

Garlic is typically planted in the fall, around September and October. This timing allows the cloves to establish roots before the onset of winter:

  • Pre-Frost Planting: Plant cloves at least two weeks before the first expected frost. This gives them time to develop a strong root system, anchoring the plants and enabling them to survive winter conditions.

  • Fall Planting Benefits: Fall-planted garlic benefits from the cool weather, which promotes root growth while preventing premature sprouting of the shoots.

Long-Term Cultivation Strategy

If only small cloves are available, they can still be planted, but expect smaller bulbs initially. Over successive plantings (two to three years), you can selectively replant the largest cloves harvested each year. This practice gradually improves the average bulb size of your garlic crop.

Additional Tips for Optimal Garlic Growth

  • Soil Preparation: Ensure the soil is well-drained, fertile, and rich in organic matter. Amend the soil with compost or aged manure to provide essential nutrients.

  • Mulching: Apply mulch after planting to protect the cloves from winter temperatures, retain soil moisture, and suppress weeds.

  • Water Management: Garlic requires consistent moisture, especially during bulb formation in the spring. Avoid overwatering, which can lead to bulb rot.


Selecting and planting larger garlic cloves is a scientifically proven method to produce larger, healthier garlic bulbs. By understanding the energy dynamics and nutrient reserves of larger cloves, and following optimal planting practices, gardeners can maximize their garlic yields. Remember, the journey to achieving large, flavorful garlic bulbs involves careful clove selection, proper soil management, and precise planting timing. With these strategies, you can enjoy a bountiful garlic harvest year after year.

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Planting the Large Cloves

5. Soak the Coves (This is Optional) Before putting the cloves into the ground, we soak them in two "stinky" solutions - that provide two important benefits. If you’ve never done this before and have grown beautiful garlic, that is great news! I offer this suggestion to you, and ask that you be open-minded to this garden tip, as it can prevent a tragedy in your garlic patch, and, it has the potential to help you grow even more exceptional garlic.

Garlic Soaking 101. As I mentioned, soaking garlic provides two important benefits. First, soaking garlic in a solution of water, organic fish fertilizer and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer, and baking soda, for 24 hours, infuses the garlic with a boost of essential nutrients.  It's like a fertilizer marinade, for the benefit of the garlic. The garlic will store this added energy and nutrients until spring.   The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) acts as an inhibitor.  Baking soda is considered a "significant killer" of bacterial suspensions and has been shown to significantly decrease the numbers of viable bacterial cells.   This mixture is effective at killing bacteria and mold that might be hidden on the garlic cloves.  Second, we follow up with another short bath of vodka, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide, which will sterilize the cloves and destroy any mold, bacteria or other bad things that could survive the long, cold winter, and play mischief and create chaos in your garlic patch, next spring.   This short, second soak, acts as an antiseptic, capable of destroying tiny mites hiding in the cloves, fungal diseases and microbes (or at least prevent or inhibit their growth). It doesn't get the garlic drunk.

First Soaking : 8-24 Hours. This first soak is pretty simple. Our ingredient list is baking soda, water, fish emulsion and/or liquid seaweed fertilizer.  Fish emulsion fertilizer is made from whole fish and carcass products, including heads, eyes, bones, scales, and skin. This product is processed to remove oils, and the liquid that remains after processing is fish emulsion. After straining out solids, sulfuric acid is added to lower the pH, preventing microbes from growing. A common fish emulsion is Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1 . Liquid seaweed fertilizer is an alternative to fish emulsion. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is a concentrated formula containing nitrogen and nutrients. Most seaweed-based fertilizers are made from kelp, a variety of seaweed that can grow to lengths of over 40 meters,. Trace elements found in organic seaweed fertilizers include magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and nitrogen—all of which are beneficial to garlic. Nitrogen, for instance, is essential to the production of nitrate, a key component needed by plants during photosynthesis.

Let's Begin by mixing the ingredients into a large stainless steel bowl or container.

  • 1 gallon of lukewarm water.

  • 1 Tablespoon of organic fish fertilizer and/or 1 additional Tablespoon of liquid seaweed.

  • 1 Tablespoon of baking soda.

We then gently place the cloves into the container, keeping all the garlic labels near each variety for easy identification. We let the cloves soak for 8 to 24 hours. You'll notice at the end of this stinky bath, some of the cloves may have increased in size due to the infusion and added fluid volume in the garlic's interstitial and intravascular space. Some of the garlic may be floating at the surface, others may be on the bottom of the container. Drain the fluid using a colander.

Second Soaking - Quick! ​The second soak goes quickly. We place the garlic cloves into a glass (or stainless steel container) and cover them with either Vodka, Isopropyl Alcohol 50-70%, or Hydrogen Peroxide. Soak for just under 10 minutes and drain. Just prior to planting, we let the cloves drain for a few minutes - this process ensures all the liquid is removed. We also wash our hands with soap before handling the garlic cloves as an added measure. Plant within 1 hour of the second soak

Special Note: isopropyl alcohol is stinky and inhaling moderate amounts of isopropyl alcohol can cause irritation of the nose and mucous membranes, throat irritations, nausea, vomiting, and even difficulty with breathing. Perform this second soak in a well-ventilated area!

6. Provide adequate water, but not too much!

The Science and Fun of Watering Garlic: Finding the Sweet "Drop" Spot

Watering garlic is a delicate balance that combines science and a bit of intuition. Unlike many other garden vegetables, garlic thrives with minimal water but still needs the right amount at the right times. Let’s dive into the scientific reasons behind this and explore how to keep your garlic happy and healthy before harvest time.

The Science of Watering Garlic

Garlic plants require just enough water to grow but too much can lead to problems like mold, diseases, and poor bulb development. Understanding the water needs of garlic involves looking at its growth cycle and physiological responses to watering.

  • Minimal Water Needs: Garlic is adapted to environments with moderate water availability. Excessive watering can cause the bulbs to rot or become susceptible to fungal infections. When garlic is mulched and the region receives adequate spring rainfall, additional watering is often unnecessary.

  • Root Development: Garlic roots need to reach deep into the soil to find water. This encourages a strong, extensive root system that supports healthy bulb growth. Allowing the soil to dry out between waterings mimics natural conditions, promoting deeper root development.

  • Stress Response: Research shows that garlic plants benefit from occasional mild stress, such as brief periods of drought. This stress can trigger physiological responses that enhance the plant’s resilience and improve bulb quality.

Practical Watering Tips

  1. Watering Frequency: In regions with sufficient spring rainfall, like Bozeman, Montana, which receives an average of 17 inches of rain annually, additional watering might only be necessary during dry spells. For areas with less rainfall, water the garlic every few weeks.

  2. Deep Watering Technique: When you water, do so extensively but infrequently. This method ensures that water penetrates deep into the soil, encouraging the roots to grow downwards. Letting the soil dry out between waterings helps prevent waterlogging and promotes healthier roots.

  3. Mulching Benefits: While mulching offers numerous benefits for garlic cultivation, it's essential to acknowledge potential disadvantages as well. One drawback of mulch is its capacity to retain excessive moisture within the soil, which can create a conducive environment for mold growth. Excess moisture trapped under the mulch layer can lead to waterlogging, promoting fungal infections and rot in garlic bulbs. Additionally, in certain weed management practices such as flame weeding, mulch may hinder the effectiveness of weed control. Mulch can act as a barrier, preventing the direct application of heat to weed seeds or seedlings, thereby reducing the efficacy of weed suppression methods. Therefore, while mulch plays a vital role in maintaining soil moisture, temperature, and weed suppression, careful consideration of its potential drawbacks is necessary to optimize garlic growth and minimize potential risks.

Fun and Science: Timing Your Watering

  • Pre-Harvest Dry Spell: Avoid watering garlic close to harvest time. Wet soil can become muddy and difficult to work in, making harvesting a messy task. More importantly, bulbs harvested from wet soil are more prone to mold and diseases. Allowing the soil to dry out before harvest ensures cleaner, healthier bulbs.

  • Stress Testing Your Garlic: Think of your garlic plants as tiny gladiators—they thrive with a bit of stress. Allowing brief periods of drought can toughen them up, leading to more robust and flavorful bulbs. This doesn’t mean neglecting them but rather finding the right balance to promote resilience.

Real-World Application: Bozeman, Montana

At the GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana, the garlic thrives with minimal intervention. Bozeman receives about 17 inches of rain per year, which is less than the U.S. average of 38 inches. Despite this, garlic grows exceptionally well here, thanks to:

  • Strategic Watering: During particularly dry spells, garlic is watered every few weeks, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged.

  • Optimal Soil Management: The soil is well-drained and mulched, maintaining the right moisture levels and protecting the garlic from temperature extremes.

  • Harvest Preparation: As harvest time approaches, watering is reduced to allow the soil to dry out, ensuring the garlic bulbs are in perfect condition for harvesting.


Watering garlic might seem straightforward, but a scientific approach reveals the intricacies of its needs. By understanding garlic's water requirements, promoting deep root growth, and applying occasional stress, you can cultivate robust and flavorful garlic bulbs. Remember, garlic plants appreciate a balance of care and challenge, making the journey of growing them both scientifically fascinating and fun. So, water wisely, mulch effectively, and enjoy the rewards of your bountiful garlic harvest!

7. Plant Survey and Scouting. Engaging in regular plant surveying and scouting on my farm has become an indispensable practice, driven by the understanding that the condition of garlic plants can evolve rapidly. This commitment to observation yields invaluable empirical data, essential for informed decision-making and successful garlic cultivation. Through continuous observation, I gain crucial insights into the dynamic interplay of environmental factors and plant responses, allowing me to adapt my approach accordingly. Experimentation and observation serve as pillars of my farming philosophy, enabling me to identify issues promptly and implement timely interventions to mitigate their impact. By addressing concerns early, I can effectively reduce the severity of potential challenges, fostering optimal growing conditions for the plants. Plant surveying provides a platform for identifying aberrations such as conjoined cloves, akin to siamese twins, which may warrant special attention or remedial measures. Additionally, scouting offers a window into the developmental stages of garlic, including the emergence of scapes, empowering me with knowledge to optimize harvest timing and maximize yield. Ultimately, this dedication to observation underscores the inherent value of lifelong learning in the journey of agricultural stewardship, where every leaf under the microscope and soil sample under identical conditions holds the potential to unveil new insights and refine our practices.

8. Remove Weeds. Garlic plants, particularly hardneck varieties, are voracious consumers of nutrients, making them susceptible to competition from weeds. With a deep root system, garlic struggles to outcompete weeds for resources such as space, water, and essential nutrients. Therefore, maintaining vigilant weed control practices is paramount for the optimal development of garlic crops. Mulching with straw serves as a beneficial strategy to suppress weed growth, thereby reducing competition and ensuring garlic plants receive the resources they need to thrive. Additionally, regular weeding not only combats weed proliferation but also contributes to soil aeration, promoting healthier root development and overall plant growth. On my farm, I prioritize weeding sessions following storms or rain showers when the soil is moist, facilitating easier weed extraction, including the roots. As the saying goes, "Don't let the tall weeds cast a shadow on the beautiful garlic plants," emphasizing the importance of proactive weed management. Among the plethora of garden weeds, lambsquarters, also known as pigweed or Wild Spinach, stands out as a common intruder. Remarkably, lambsquarters are not only edible but also boast a delicious flavor profile. Blanched in boiling water and served with soy sauce and parmesan cheese, lambsquarters offer a deeper and more robust taste than traditional spinach, making them a delightful culinary addition. However, it's crucial to thoroughly wash the leaves to remove any silica residue before consumption, ensuring a safe and enjoyable dining experience. Read more about weeding Here. The Art and Science of Weeding Your Garden: A Comprehensive Guide (

9. Mulch. Mulching is a practice often debated among garlic growers, with its benefits and drawbacks requiring careful consideration. While mulch serves as an effective tool for suppressing weeds by depriving weed seeds of the light necessary for germination, its insulation properties may not adequately protect planted hardneck garlic cloves from freezing temperatures. Picture a wet cotton t-shirt in a snowstorm—while it may offer some insulation, it certainly doesn't provide sufficient warmth. Moreover, mulch can create a damp environment that promotes mold growth, particularly if it comes into contact with the garlic stem. Additionally, mulch may impede the effectiveness of weed flaming techniques. At my farm, wew used to apply 3-4 inches of barley or wheat straw mulch to cover the planted area. We no longer use mulch. As mulch decomposes, it releases important minerals and nutrients into the soil, contributing to soil structure and preventing compaction. What we do now is apply mulch to our garlic field and till it in two months before planting. It's essential to be mindful that mulches can also consume significant amounts of nitrogen during decomposition. Excessive nitrogen consumption from the soil could potentially hinder plant growth, emphasizing the importance of balanced nutrient management practices in garlic cultivation. Thus, while mulch offers undeniable benefits, it's crucial to weigh its advantages against potential drawbacks and adapt mulching practices accordingly to optimize garlic growth and yield.

10. Remove scapes. Scapes are the flower stalks that the garlic plant produces in the spring and early summer. By removing the scape, the plant sends its energy into increasing the bulb size, rather than putting energy toward flowers and bulbils. If our goal is to grow large garlic bulbs, remove the scape.

The Science Behind Removing Garlic Scapes: Maximizing Bulb Growth

Understanding Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the flower stalks that hardneck garlic varieties produce during late spring and early summer. These stalks emerge from the center of the plant, eventually forming a spiral shape and developing small bulbils at their tips. Bulbils are tiny, aerial cloves that can be used for garlic propagation, albeit with a longer time frame to produce full-sized bulbs compared to planting individual cloves.

The Role of Scapes in Garlic Propagation

While garlic scapes and their bulbils provide an additional method of propagation, their development can be counterproductive for growers aiming to maximize bulb size. The plant diverts energy into the production of scapes and bulbils, which can result in smaller underground bulbs. Scientific studies and empirical evidence support this observation. When scapes are left intact, the plant's resources are split between bulb development and scape growth, reducing the overall size and quality of the garlic bulbs.

Energy Allocation and Bulb Growth

The principle behind removing garlic scapes lies in energy allocation. In botanical terms, plants have a limited amount of energy, which they distribute among various growth processes. For garlic, the primary goal during the growing season is to develop a robust and sizeable underground bulb. When scapes are allowed to mature, the plant allocates a significant portion of its photosynthetically derived energy towards the development of flowers and seeds (bulbils). This energy diversion is detrimental to bulb growth, as the resources that would have otherwise contributed to enlarging the bulb are now partially expended on the scape.

Scientific Evidence

Research has confirmed that removing garlic scapes results in larger bulb sizes. A study published in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" found that the removal of scapes significantly increased the final bulb weight and size compared to garlic plants where scapes were left intact. The practice of scape removal is based on the understanding that by eliminating the flowering stalk, the plant redirects its energy and nutrients towards the underground bulb, thereby enhancing its growth and development.

Practical Implications for Garlic Growers

For garlic growers, especially those cultivating hardneck varieties, the practical implications are clear: to achieve larger and healthier bulbs, it is essential to remove the scapes. This is typically done once the scapes start to curl but before they fully mature and form bulbils. The process involves cutting the scape as close to the base as possible without damaging the main plant. Additionally, scape removal offers a culinary bonus. Garlic scapes are edible and prized for their mild garlic flavor. They can be used in various dishes, from pestos to stir-fries, adding value to the garlic crop beyond the bulbs themselves.


The removal of garlic scapes is a scientifically-backed practice aimed at maximizing bulb size and overall garlic yield. By understanding the energy dynamics of garlic plants and the impact of scape growth on bulb development, growers can make informed decisions to optimize their garlic crops. This practice not only enhances bulb size but also provides an additional harvest in the form of flavorful garlic scapes, making it a win-win strategy for garlic cultivation.

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Remove Garlic Scapes

11. Harvest at the right time.

Harvesting Garlic: The Science and Art of Perfect Timing

Growing garlic is both a science and an art, requiring attention to detail from soil preparation to the precise timing of the harvest. Let's explore why timing is crucial and delve into additional factors that will ensure your garlic bulbs are large, healthy, and flavorful.

The Science of Harvest Timing

Once garlic bulbs reach maturity, they stop growing. Harvesting at the right time is essential to ensure the bulbs are at their peak size and quality. If left in the ground too long, the bulbs can deteriorate. Here’s why:

  • Clove Separation: Overextended time in the soil causes the cloves to separate from the bulb. This not only affects the bulb's appearance but also its storage life.

  • Papery Skin Breakdown: The protective papery layers start to degrade, reducing the bulb’s longevity and making it more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Indicators of Maturity

To determine the right harvest time, closely monitor the garlic plant’s leaves. Here’s what to look for:

  • Bottom Leaves Turning Brown: When the bottom three leaves turn brown and begin to droop, it's a sign that the garlic is nearing maturity.

  • Inspecting a Sample Bulb: Dig up one bulb and check its appearance. Ideally, the cloves should be well-formed and covered with intact papery skins. Each green leaf remaining on the plant corresponds to a layer of protective paper on the bulb, which is critical for storage.

Fun Facts About Garlic Harvesting

  • Ancient Techniques: Garlic harvesting techniques date back thousands of years, with ancient farmers also relying on visual signs from the plants to determine the right time to harvest.

  • Folklore and Tradition: In many cultures, garlic harvesting is surrounded by traditions and myths, believed to influence the quality and potency of the bulbs.

  • Environmental Influence: Weather conditions during the growing season can affect the timing of the harvest. For example, a particularly wet season might accelerate leaf browning, indicating an earlier harvest.

Additional Tips for Garlic Growers

  • Curing Post-Harvest: After harvesting, cure garlic bulbs in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight for a few weeks. This process allows the bulbs to dry properly, enhancing their storage life.

  • Storage: Once cured, store garlic in a cool, dry place. Properly stored garlic can last for several months, ensuring a steady supply.


The journey to growing large, healthy garlic bulbs hinges on precise soil management and timely harvesting. By understanding the science behind garlic growth and paying close attention to the signs of maturity, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, long-lasting garlic. Remember, healthy soil leads to healthy plants, and careful timing ensures the best quality bulbs. Happy gardening! Read: When To Harvest Garlic

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Large Garlic Bulbs at Harvest Time

12. Take Time to Learn from your Garlic Plants and from your Garden.

When we say "We Grow Garlic", what we are really saying is that "We Help Garlic Flourish". The Garlic plants grow on their own, and we only help in the process. If we take the time to slow down a little bit and observe, a garden can delight every sense of our being. And, through time, we can learn about the many interactions that occur in a garden. Taking the time to be a keen observer can really help us learn about plants and our garden. Knowing what to watch for can help us have a successful year filled with abundance. Take time during the growing season and just sit quietly and watch your garlic and garden. Consider making sit spot right in the heart of your garden. The key is to create space where you can observe your garlic, and garden and the living world around you. Based on the observations you make, you can start to make decisions about what to do with any issues you have in your garden. Take time to study the bright green colors of the garlic's leaf structure. Listen to the insects and bees humming through the garden and, the soft, moist soil between our fingers. As the years move from season to season, a garden can teach us things about life that change who we are. With a garden, we can plan ahead but the unexpected will happen and it’s not always a bad thing. Take the time to learn about the forbs (also known as weeds) that grow in your garden. Do they have medicinal properties? What are they good for? Many things grow in the garden that were never planted there. Just like our gardens, life is short, fraught with the unexpected, filled with failure and adversity, and never seems to go as we planned. It’s also magnificent in its beauty as we experience love and laughter, adventures, and the small joys that can fill us with sublime happiness. The more time we spend in our garlic patch and in our garden, the more we will be able to observe the small details. As a result, we likely can become better gardeners. Grab a clump of soil and put it under a microscope. What critters and microbes do you see? How moist is your soil? What conditions dry out your soil? As you observe your garden and work on answering these questions, you will come up with new, more specific questions. The answers to those questions will be what guides your future decisions. But the key is to just take time to observe your garden. I highly recommend putting a simple bench in your garden or just outside it.

Garlic Farm Hardneck Garlic Montana Large Bulbs
Harvesting and Holding Hardneck Garlic Bubs


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Mahadeen AY (2011). Influence of Clove Weight on Vegetative Growth and Yield of Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Grown under Drip Irrigation. Jordan Journal of Agricultural Sciences.

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Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 2010. Growing Garlic. 2010 Seed Catalog.

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Russ, K. 2003. Onion, Leak, Shallot and Garlic. HGIC 1314. Clemson Cooperative Extension.


Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range.  The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.

Order your garlic online from the GroEat Garlic Farm.

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1 comentário

David Booth
David Booth
14 de fev. de 2022

I've grown a lot of garlic, and had my share of successes and problems. This article is exceptionally well written and researched. I'm starting over with clean soil and planting stock. I will be following these instructions to the letter, especially soaking the cloves as described. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and methods.

David Booth, No. Ferrisburg VT

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