Growing garlic is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only is garlic great tasting, it’s packed with health benefits.
You might think growing garlic is difficult, but it really isn’t—so long as certain factors are considered. Here are just a few tips for growing garlic successfully.
You can replenish your own garlic crop
When you find a type of garlic you like, you can renew your own garlic supply by holding some back. Be sure to keep some of the best bulbs so that you can replant them for your next season of delicious homegrown garlic.
Always store your garlic bulbs whole
For best results, keep the garlic bulb whole until you are actually ready to put the cloves into the ground. At that point, gently separate the big bulbs into small individual cloves, just as you would do if you were getting ready to eat the garlic.
There are optimum times to plant based on your climate
The best time to plant garlic is in the fall – usually from September through November. If you’re in a typically cold northern area the early fall planting works well. If you’re in a warmer southern climate, you can plant quite late into the fall, as long as the ground is still workable. Garlic prefers rich, loose soil but will also grow in less than perfect conditions.
Make sure the pointy ends point up
You place the end of the garlic clove that was attached to the bulb (the end that you had to pull away from the big bulb) the lowest/deepest in the soil. This means that the narrower “pointy end” of the garlic cloves are then pointing up (towards the sky).
Space them well
Plant the cloves about two inches into the ground and about six to eight inches away from each other. Then cover the garlic with a couple of inches of dirt. At that point you can spread a fairly thick layer of mulch on top. While various types of mulch can be used, we have had good luck using plain straw.
Keep unpredictable weather in mind
Obviously, there is no controlling the weather. So if it is fairly warm after planting the garlic, you may find that there are little green sprouts coming up a few weeks later. Even with this growth, when the weather eventually turns colder, your garlic will typically be fine in spite of the frost and eventual freezing conditions. This is one of the reasons to put a nice layer of mulch on your plants – it helps with the freezing and thawing stress while also helping to keep down the weed problem and helping to keep moisture in.
Use mulch even through spring
When spring rolls around, keep the mulch on your plants. In addition to helping with weed control and providing moisture, the decaying mulch also benefits your garlic as it slowly breaks down into the soil.
Start weeding in the spring
In the spring, garlic needs about one inch of water every week. Spring is also the time when you need to actively weed your garden since those pesky weeds will take away moisture and nutrients from your garlic bulbs.
Harvest the scapes before they interfere with your bulbs
Long, curling flower stems grow from some garlic. These are called scapes and should be cut off when they are eight or so inches long so that they are not robbing your still-in-the-ground garlic bulbs of nutrients. Scapes are quite delicious when cooked!
Harvest when a few leaves have turned brown
The trickiest part of growing garlic may be figuring out when to harvest it. When a few leaves have died back (turned brown), but the plant still has several green leaves, this is a good sign that your garlic is ready. If you wait too long, the garlic bulbs start separating into cloves in the ground, rather than staying whole as one big bulb – which is what you want to find when you start digging them up.
Use caution when digging up garlic
Carefully loosen the dirt around the bulbs in order to dig the garlic out of the ground. If you just try pulling on the leaves, that will most likely result in those leaves just breaking off – with the bulb left in the ground. Since you want to end up with nice long garlic leaves attached to the bulb, dig the bulbs out slowly and deliberately for best results.
Do an initial light cleaning soon after digging
After digging, brush dirt off the bulbs very gently. You’re not trying to get every speck of dirt off at this point, but you don’t want globs of dirt coating your bulbs.
Tie and hang your garlic to dry it
Tie the garlic plants in small bundles and hang in a shady, dry area, such as a shed or covered porch that has good ventilation. If you prefer to cure your garlic by laying it on tables, instead of hanging it, just be sure it is well ventilated so that it does not hold in trapped moisture, which could make it rot or mold. Let the garlic cure (dry out) for four to six weeks.
Trim the roots and leaves once the garlic is dry
After the garlic has dried, you can then trim off the dangling roots and leaves. At this point it is best to store the garlic in special bags made of net so that the garlic can breathe. If you’re trying to store the garlic for as long as possible, it’s also best to once again hang it, so it can have maximum ventilation. A cool area with fairly low humidity is best.
Hopefully now you can see how these tips for growing garlic can give you better odds at growing some truly fantastic bulbs.