Garlic is incredibly easy to grow in the home garden, and it acts as natural insect repellent and flavor enhancer for several garden vegetables. I call it one of my set-it-and-forget-it crops, since that’s basically what you do. Knowing how to grow garlic involves a lot of waiting, but it’s totally worth it!
What are Garlic Seeds?
Garlic seeds are the cloves on the outside of the bulb. For growing garlic at home, always buy seed garlic from a reputable seed company. I personally love to get my garlic from Southern Exposure Seed Company. Many of these seed companies won’t have the garlic ready to ship until early fall, so be prepared. As a side note, do not separate the garlic cloves until it’s time to plant.
Hard Neck vs. Soft Neck
Garlic varieties come in hard neck and soft neck. Typically, soft neck varieties have better flavor, but are more difficult to store in warmer climates. You can also cut off the tall green growth on soft neck varieties, know as garlic scapes, and use them in cooking. I grow hard neck garlic since I live in the southeast, and this gives me a longer shelf life for my harvested garlic. Here’s a good video from Burpee all about the differences between hard and soft neck, so you can choose the variety that works best for you location.
When To Plant Garlic
Fall is the choice garlic planting time in most climates. This gives the cloves time to produce a root system before winter and will help produce larger garlic bulbs the following spring.
Spring planted garlic will produce a nice crop, but the bulbs will be small. I’ve always chosen to plant in the fall because the weeds are less pesky in the fall and winter, and you want to be sure weeds aren’t crowding out your garlic crop.
Where To Plant
Garlic is not attacked by garden pests and will help keep nearby plants from being attacked too. Use garlic as a companion plant for vegetables and flowers that are prone to garden pest attacks.
Tomato plants, potatoes, beets, carrots, eggplant, and roses benefit by having garlic planted nearby. The garlic will enhance vegetable flavor, will not change the fragrance of roses, and will keep away garden pests. I grew my garlic last year in our front flower bed, near roses. I also didn’t have an issue with Japanese beetles on my roses. Garlic can be a strong deterrent for many types of pests. Deer and rabbit are also repelled by growing garlic.
How To Plant Garlic
Garlic grows best in well-drained, crumbly soil that is exposed to full sun. Till soil to the depth of 10 inches and mix in 2-4 inches of compost, or plant in your raised beds that require no tilling.
Snap off the outside cloves from the garlic bulb and gently push them down 2 inches deep into the prepared soil. Make sure the pointy end is facing upward. Water thoroughly.
Plant the cloves 3-5 inches apart.
Cover cloves with several inches of lightweight mulch, like straw. The garlic shoots will find their way up through the lightweight mulch.
Weed, Feed and Water
If weeds try to creep in, pull the weeds up by hand, being careful to not disturb the below-ground developing bulbs.
Compost will provide instant food for the garlic and the decomposing mulch on top will provide nutrients to the soil during the entire growing season. No other food will be needed for the growing garlic. When I say garlic is low-maintenance, I really mean it.
Keep the garden soil moist during the growing season and stop watering when the green above-ground shoots turn brown. The brown shoots indicate that the garlic is almost ready to harvest and withholding water helps the garlic bulbs form their paper-like outer coverings.
How To Harvest Garlic
When two-thirds of the plant tops have dried and turned brown, it’s harvest time. Insert a shovel under the garlic bulb to remove it from the garden soil. Be very careful that you don’t damage the bulb with the tip of the spade or trowel. Don’t try to pull it up by the top since this could break the top of the bulb off, making it more difficult to remove.
Use freshly harvested garlic bulbs immediately or allow to cure and dry for future use. To dry, spread bulbs out in a single layer or string them together and place in a warm location out of direct sunlight and dry. I usually have a fan blowing on them as well to ensure good ventilation. You’ll feel the papery skins are dry when they crinkle slightly at your touch. The drying process usually takes 4-6 weeks, but is totally worth it.
The taste of fresh garlic grown in your own garden is so much better than the store bought varieties. There’s a “crunch” to fresh garlic cloves that older stored bulbs won’t have. You’ll notice the difference!
Feel free to comment below if you have any tips for growing garlic in the home garden!