Learn how to plant garlic in the fall, the best time of year for planting garlic. It then can start growing vigorously once the weather warms up in spring.
Garlic is a versatile member of the onion family. It can be used in so many dishes and is a featured flavouring in many cuisines around the world.
It also has many health benefits, including having antimicrobial properties. I’ve used it to lessen the symptoms of a winter cold.
The downside of course is the smell, but in moderation it’s not so bad.
For the vegetable gardener it also is supposed to help deter some pests. So I try and plant garlic in all of my raised beds, usually on the corners where it won’t be in the way of other crops I’ll grow in the spring and summer.
Types of garlic
There are two main types of garlic. Both you can plant and grow yourself at home.
This type of garlic is the most popular kind sold in supermarkets and grocery stores, as it stores well and thus is easy to ship.
This type is further divided up into artichoke and silver skin varieties and even these varieties have sub-varieties.
It’s characterized by its soft stem that is easily braided.
The other type of garlic is Hardneck and its likely the one you might find at a farmer’s market.
There are three main varieties: Rocambole, Purple Striped Garlic and Porcelain Garlic
It’s characterized by a hard central stem that the cloves form around. And this central stem generates a scape or ramp that will eventually produce bulblets at the end of it.
However these scapes should be cut off once formed so that the energy can go into producing a large head of garlic. The scapes are edible and have a milder garlic taste.
Here’s what they look like.
Elephant garlic – not really a garlic
You might also have eaten this when out for dinner. It’s popular as it has a milder garlic flavour.
However it’s not really a true garlic!
Elephant garlic is actually a type of leek that forms bulbs.
It can be planted just like regular garlic and is similar to a hardneck garlic.
More info on garlic types and cooking applications
I found the following article that has more info on the types and the cooking applications for each: The Ultimate Garlic Cheat Sheet: Which Type of Garlic Goes Best with What?
When to plant garlic
The most common time of year is the fall.
You want to plant the cloves early enough to allow them to generate some roots to secure them in the ground. However wait until the ground temperature has dropped to 15°C (60°F) consistently, otherwise the plant will sprout and can get damaged by frost and freezing temperatures.
You can also plant garlic in late summer, especially if your winter starts early in your area. However usually you will have other crops in, so you might not have space to dig holes and plant cloves. Usually it’s when you pull out summer crops that you think of planting garlic.
Definitely plant garlic before your first frost date. To easily find your first frost date, just type [location] frost dates into Google Search, replacing [location] with your city and province/state/territory (and possibly country). Like this:
So for me here on the west coast of Canada, I need to plant sometime in October or latest early November. Keep in mind that every year is different, so you do have to play it by ear. Keep an eye on extended weather forecasts.
Then they will lie dormant in the soil all winter until the first days of spring when it warms up. They then burst into growth and send up their thin leaves!
Garlic diseases and pests
Garlic is an allium, in the onion family, so it’s susceptible to the same disease onions get.
White rot is the most popular and rotating your garlic crops every year and not growing it in the same place is key. Once white rot has set in, your garlic will usually be unusable as the heads will get mushy.
For more info check out this article: Bulletin #2062, White Rot of Garlic and Onions
You can also get rust on your garlic leaves. Usually this doesn’t affect the bulbs unless the leaves get so much rust that they can’t feed the plant. This disease also affects other onion crops such as leeks, scallions (green or spring onions) and regular bulbing onions.
Here’s some more info on allium rust: Leek rust
I cut off the worst leaves when I first see the signs of rust. Again rotating your crops helps to stop the spread of rust.
Garlic has very few pests, mainly because of it’s strong smell and strong taste. It’s often used interspersed in vegetable beds as a deterrent for that reason.
Sources for garlic cloves that you can plant
You can buy seed garlic from a nursery, garden centre or online through a seed company. Usually these become available in late summer/early autumn, depending on your climate.
However I have had good results simply buying grocery store organic garlic and splitting up the heads and planting the cloves.
If you decide to go this route, make sure that you buy certified organic garlic. Non-organic garlic may have been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor so that it keeps longer in warmer temperatures.
Preparing the garlic cloves for planting
It’s simply a matter of splitting up the heads of garlic into individual cloves. I usually peel off the outer skin and then split them up with my fingers.
Try not to damage the cloves otherwise they could be susceptible to disease and rot. Leave the skin on the individual cloves and throw out any that are mushy or are damaged in any way.
This was the result from two cloves. There are over two dozen cloves here.
How deep to plant garlic
Garlic is an exception to the usual rule of planting seeds at the same depth as the seed size. It’s a bulb so it benefits from being planted deeply. Usually 2-3″ (5-7.5cm), but in cold winters, you might want to go a bit deeper.
It makes it harder for critters like squirrels to dig them up and protects them to some extent from frost and light freezes.
Also when the garlic cloves finally sprout they have good support in the ground. Garlic plants don’t produce large roots as other tall plants have to stay upright, such as broccoli.
What garden tool to use to make holes for planting garlic
I use my deep-rooted weeder to make my holes to the 2 or 3″ depth. It can power through compacted soil and helps loosen it.
You can buy a similar weeder on Amazon. Here is my affiliate link: Radius Garden 10202 Ergonomic Aluminum Hand Weeder, Green
If you are planting in rows you can also use a hoe to dig a deep furrow.
Planting the garlic cloves
Now that you have the hole ready, it’s time to pop in the cloves.
Before I show you that, a word about fertilizers. Typically garlic doesn’t need extra fertilizer at the time of planting. There really is no point as the clove won’t actively start growing until the spring when the weather warms up.
So you can just drop the cloves into the holes you made. I try and make sure the clove sits upright.
The top of the clove is the pointy part and the bottom is where the roots on the original head of garlic were.
All that is left is to fill in the hole with soil.
Do you need to mulch the soil around your planted garlic?
In very cold winters, it does help to mulch over top of the garlic with either leaves, straw or some other mulch. It also will conserve moisture the following spring and summer as the plants grow.
Do I need to do anything else to grow garlic?
Not really. This is a crop that just happily grows without much input from you. Just make sure it gets at least an 1″ (2.5cm) of water a week as is usually the case for most veggies and fruit.
When and how to harvest garlic
Harvest time will depend on the weather. If you have warm, dry weather, your garlic will likely be ready early in the summer, even as early as May or June.
The way to tell when garlic is ready is when the tops start to brown and die off. Usually the general advice is to wait until about half turn brown.
Don’t wait until all of them die off otherwise you will find the cloves starting to separate and wanting to grow new heads. When that happens they won’t store well.
You can always dig carefully around one plant and check out the top of the head of garlic.
If you can stop watering the garlic for at least a week before digging them out. This may be difficult to do if you have the garlic spread out among your other plants. I don’t worry about this too much.
Carefully using a shovel or garden fork, leverage the heads out of the ground. Unless your soil is very loose, you’ll probably not be able to simply pull them out by the stalks.
Brush off as much loose dirt as possible (don’t wash them!) and then hang them up in an airy, warm place to dry out. I usually hang them in my greenhouse that is dry in summertime.
Once dry store them in a cool, dark place and start using them in your cooking! Periodically check to see if any are rotting and remove them before they can start the others rotting.
So in summary here are the garlic growing tips:
- Plant in corners of existing vegetable beds
- Plant in late summer or fall before first frost
- Plant 2-3″ deep or more if very cold winters
- Plant upright, root side down / tip up
- No need to water or fertilize at planting; add mulch if very cold winters
- Keep well watered – 1″ (2.5cm) per week
- Harvest when half the tops start to brown, dry well before storing
And if you are looking for information of how to use garlic as medicine, here is a special offer from Marjory Wildcraft from The Grow Network, the online home of a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine.
It’s an 18-page report called “The Miracle of Garlic” and it’s filled with home remedies that use garlic to boost your immunity and fight common infections, naturally!
“The Miracle of Garlic” includes easy kitchen remedies for common colds, flus, sore throats, ear infections, and more!
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC