Would you like to find out how to grow garlic? It’s such an easy crop to grow!
Growing garlic doesn’t take up much space, it’s not very fussy, and there are lots of different varieties available for you to experiment with. It’s also a good crop to involve children with too, because it’s easy and fun to plant.
How to grow your own garlic
If you’re thinking “This all sounds great – so how do I grow garlic?”, you’re in the right place!
This post covers everything you need to know about garlic growing. I’ve included advice on when, where and how to plant garlic bulbs, plus tips on caring for your garlic plants, harvesting your homegrown garlic, and how to grow garlic in pots.
How does garlic grow?
Garlic (or allium sativum, to use it’s Latin name) is grown from a bulb. Each bulb is made up of a number of garlic cloves. You’ll be very familiar with garlic bulbs; they look the same as the garlic you buy in the supermarket.
How do I grow garlic from a bulb?
To grow garlic, you break the bulb up and plant each clove in the ground. Each clove will grow into a new bulb of garlic – so just one bulb can produce a sizeable garlic harvest.
Garlic growing: when to plant garlic
You can plant *garlic in autumn or spring. If you plant in autumn, your crop will be ready the following summer.
Apparently autumn-planted varieties tend to be more successful and produce larger bulbs. I’ve always planted my garlic in autumn, mainly because it’s one less crop to get started in the madness of early spring planting!
Where should I plant garlic in the garden?
Does garlic need full sun? Ideally, yes. Growing garlic in a sunny location gives you the best chance of harvesting lots of large, tasty bulbs.
Garlic growing in partial shade will still produce bulbs, but these are likely to be smaller. The flavour shouldn’t be affected though.
The best soil for growing garlic
Garlic growing is best suited to a loose soil which has good drainage. It doesn’t enjoy sitting in water, and can rot if it’s exposed to soggy conditions – hence the need for well-drained soil.
If your soil is a heavy clay, it’s a good idea to either add sand before planting, or grow garlic in raised beds or pots.
Can you plant garlic from the grocery store?
Will store bought garlic grow? Possibly.
Ideally you should buy *garlic bulbs for planting from the garden centre or a seed garlic supplier. These are the best garlic bulbs to plant, because they will be certified virus-free and more likely to grow well. Having said that, I have planted supermarket-bought garlic in the past and it has grown. The bulbs were on the small side, but they were perfectly usable. I would say that if you can’t make a special trip to the garden centre give it a try!
How to plant garlic: can you plant garlic that has sprouted?
It’s fine to plant garlic that has sprouted. A sprouted clove has just begun the process of growing. As long as it’s nice and firm with no signs of damage, it should still grow perfectly well once planted.
How to grow garlic from a clove
Ready to have a go at growing your own garlic? Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to plant garlic cloves.
Before you begin your garlic bulb planting, you need to prepare your soil (or garlic bed). Remove any weeds, dig over the area with a *garden fork, and rake the soil surface to even it out.
How to plant garlic cloves
Do you peel garlic before planting?
You don’t need to peel garlic cloves before you plant them. It’s fine if some of the papery outer layer flakes off, but try to leave the skins intact. They provide protection against bacteria, and help prevent a sprout emerging before roots have formed.
Do you need to soak garlic before planting?
Some gardeners swear by soaking their garlic before planting, while others never bother.
Soaking garlic in a solution of water, fertiliser and baking soda will provide some protection against fungal diseases. Garlic bulbs can also be soaked in rubbing alcohol to kill any mites. Both of these pests can seriously damage your garlic crop, so it’s not hard to see why people make the effort.
However, you don’t have to soak garlic before planting. I personally never have. If you’re keen to reduce the risk of a poor harvest, have a go at soaking. If you’re not too concerned or tight on time, you can plant garlic without soaking it first.
How deep to plant garlic
Planting garlic bulbs is very simple. Break up your bulb of garlic into individual cloves, then plant each clove about an inch below the surface of the soil. Make sure the pointy end of each clove is facing up.
How far apart to plant garlic
Depending on your garlic variety, you will need to leave 10-15cm space between cloves (4-6 inches apart). Leaving the right amount of room when planting garlic bulbs will help each clove grow well, and avoid them competing with each other for nutrients. It’s always worth checking the packaging for the variety you’re growing, to make sure you get this bit right.
Once your garlic cloves are all in place, fill the trench back in so that the cloves sit just below the surface of the soil.
As you garlic plants grow, keep on top of any weeds that emerge. Leaving these in the ground will inhibit the growth of your crop.
Great companion plants for growing garlic
Garlic is a great companion plant, because it acts as a natural pest and fungus deterrent. Growing it alongside other crops will provide those crops with some natural protection. Because it’s quite a small plant, it’s easy to tuck it in amongst your other fruit, vegetables, and even flowers, to help keep pests under control.
Great companion plants for garlic include:
Roses, nasturtiums, marigolds and geraniums are all good companion flowers for garlic.
Avoid growing peas, beans and asparagus near garlic, as it can limit their growth.
Watering garlic: does garlic need a lot of water?
Watering garlic is pretty low effort. Water the row well after planting your garlic cloves, but don’t water it again over winter.
Water your growing garlic in spring and early summer if the weather is very dry. Avoid watering once the bulbs are looking nicely formed, as doing so can cause them to rot. White rot is a common problem with garlic.
What does overwatered garlic look like?
Overwatered garlic usually starts to develop wilted, drooping or yellowing leaves. If you spot any of these, stop watering and monitor the moisture levels in the soil.
Fertiliser for garlic growing
Does garlic need fertiliser? In short, yes.
Garlic is a hungry plant, and it’s in the soil for a long period of time, so it’s a good idea to feed it with a suitable fertiliser. If you’re planting garlic in autumn, start feeding your plants in the following spring.
The best fertiliser for garlic plants is one that’s rich in nitrogen – check the label before you buy. Make sure also that you go for a *plant food which is designed specifically for edible plants.
Fertilising garlic can also be done by adding organic matter or manure to the soil before planting garlic. This will give the plants a boost right from the start.
How to grow garlic in a pot
If you don’t have much space in your garden, you can grow garlic in a pot. Garlic will grow perfectly well in a container, so if you’ve only got a patio or balcony you can still grow your own supply. Here’s how to grow garlic in pots.
To grow garlic in a pot, ideally you should use a container that has a minimum depth of 20cm, and at least one drainage hole. This will provide enough space for strong root growth.
How to plant garlic in a pot
The method for planting garlic in pots is the same as for planting it in the ground.
Fill your container with compost (multipurpose compost is fine), and plant each clove about an inch below the surface of the soil.
Leave 10-15cm between each clove, and don’t plant any cloves close to the edge of the pot.
Water your container once the cloves are planted, and keep an eye on moisture levels after this. Containers tend to dry out more quickly than soil, so you might need to water your pot if the weather is dry.
How to grow garlic indoors
It’s possible to grow garlic indoors, but it’s important to understand that you won’t be able to grow a bulb of garlic in the same way as you can by planting it outdoors.
If you grow garlic in a pot indoors, the cloves will produce garlic sprouts. These are the green leaves that grow out of the top of the clove. You can use them as seasoning in your cooking; their flavour is usually lighter than fresh garlic.
Keep the soil in your pot moist, and try to place it in a position that receives good natural light. Harvest your garlic sprouts as you need them, until you’ve used them all up and the bulb is exhausted.
How long does garlic take to grow?
Given that garlic grows underground, you might be wondering how you know when garlic is ready to harvest.
Autumn-planted garlic will be ready for harvesting around July next year.
If you’re planting garlic in spring, it will be ready to harvest slightly later.
How to harvest garlic
Here’s what you need to know about how to harvest garlic.
How do you know when garlic is ready to pick?
Garlic is ready to harvest when the foliage turns yellow. If you’re thinking “Why is my garlic plant dying?”, the answer is because the leaves have done their job and it’s harvest time.
If you’re not sure whether it’s the best time to harvest, just dig up one plant to see what the bulb size is. If you’re careful, you can have a quick look and re-plant if necessary.
When you’re ready to harvest your garlic, lift the bulbs gently with a fork. Lay them out in a single layer to dry off; a well-ventilated greenhouse or shed is the ideal dry place for this.
It will take around two to four weeks for the bulbs to dry out, obviously this is very much dependent on the weather.
Once all the foliage is showing no signs of moisture, you can cut the stalks off and store – or eat! – your garlic bulbs.
How do you store garlic?
If you’re not eating your garlic straight away, you need to store it somewhere that’s cool and has good air circulation. Don’t store garlic in bright, direct sunlight; somewhere with low light levels is ideal.
Never store garlic in plastic bags. These can seal in moisture which will rot your harvest. Use paper or string bags instead.
Another easy way to store garlic is to leave the stalks on, tie a bunch together with string, then hang the whole thing up.
What happens if you leave garlic in the ground too long?
If you leave garlic in the ground too long, the bulbs will eventually split open. This makes the garlic cloves more vulnerable, so they are more likely to develop mould in damp conditions or become dried out in dry conditions.
And that’s it, a quick guide on how to grow garlic at home that will hopefully give you a lovely crop of garlic for your cooking. Will you be growing your own garlic this year?
A quick guide to garlic varieties
There are lots of different varieties of garlic available to grow, here’s a quick overview of the two main types of garlic.
Hardneck varieties of garlic
Hardneck garlic varieties have a tall, woody stem that runs through the middle of the head of cloves. This stem will produce a flower stalk if left; it’s often referred to as a scape. These flower stems, or garlic scapes, are edible.
Hardneck garlic produces smaller heads than softneck garlic, usually with between 4 and 12 cloves per head of garlic. However, it tends to have larger cloves than softneck garlic.
The skin on hardneck garlic is easy to remove. This type of garlic is often see as more powerfully and interestingly flavoured than softneck garlic.
If you’re growing garlic in a cold climate, hardneck types will cope better than softneck types.
Here are some common varieties of hardneck garlic:
- Caulk Wight
- Kingsland Wight
Softneck varieties of garlic
Softneck garlic varieties have a softer, flexible stem – hence the name.
This type of garlic has bigger heads than hardneck varieties, each with around 8 to 20 cloves
The skin on softneck garlic is tighter and harder to remove, making it easier to store for longer than hardneck garlic. It’s likely to be the garlic you buy in the grocery store.
Softneck garlic is better suited to a warmer climate that enjoys less cold winters.
Common softneck varieties of garlic include:
- Early Purple Wight
- Pickardy Wight
- Provence Wight
This giant isn’t really a true garlic: it’s actually more closely related to the leek family. However, it looks and tastes like garlic.
Elephant garlic is so-named due to it’s size: the large bulbs are usually around twice the size of regular garlic. The cloves may be large, but they have a mild flavour.
More grow your own tips
For more inspiration on growing your own you might like to take a look at these gardening posts: