Garlic, in my opinion, is by far the easiest thing to grow. So simple in fact, you can learn how to grow garlic in 10 simple steps. It requires very little attention, rarely fails, and is simple to preserve for use the whole year. When gathering help on how to start a backyard garden it is best to have resources that help not only your spring garden but your fall garden as well.
Growing garlic is perfect for me because of its “plant it and forget about it” qualities. If you are new to growing garlic then you’ve come to the right place. If you are new to gardening, then garlic is the perfect way to get your feet wet. If you are new to canning? I got you covered!
I am going to break things down so it’s super easy and yes…fun too!
How to Grow Garlic in 10 Easy Steps
Gardening is one of those home projects that is a lot of work with just as much reward. Learn the basics of growing a handful of vegetables and you can turn your backyard into a full produce section as you see at a farmer’s market in the summer.
Most gardens get planted in the spring and harvested at the end of summer. Garlic is different, you plant it in the fall allow it to rest over winter, new shoots pop up in the spring and you tend it over the summer until it is ready to harvest. Even better is the fact that once you purchased heads you love the taste of, you will have the seeds you need for every garden going forward. Yes, gardening is one of those plants that keep giving year after year.
When it comes to garlic, there are two main varieties of garlic to be aware of: hardneck and softneck. The hardneck varieties prefer cold climates while the softneck varieties do better in mild climates.
There are many different types of garlic to consider, see them here. My best advice is to try a few each year until you find what grows the best and what tastes the best. I prefer Elephant garlic and love to grow it year after year.
Step #1. Plant Garlic in the Fall
In colder climates like Northwestern PA where I live, the most important thing to remember about garlic is that it needs to be planted in the fall. Target planting months may vary depending on where you live but the range will be from August-November.
I know some folks say spring is fine for planting garlic as well, but I’ve tried spring planting and was very unsuccessful. Fall planting is definitely the way to go as it allows the heads to take root before they begin hibernating (in a sense) for the winter. For where we live, our target planting time ranges from late September through early October
I have even planted as late as November once and they still did well, although not quite as big as I would have liked. The key is to watch your frost dates and try to plant your garlic a week or so before your first frost.
For most areas, you will want to plant your garlic 3-5 weeks before the first frost in the fall.
Why does garlic need to be planted in the fall?
When you plant garlic in the fall you want to do it before the ground freezes. This will allow the roots to begin growing. Once things freeze your garlic will go dormant over winter, hibernating until spring arrives and the ground warms up giving it a good head start for the growing season. Once the ground thaws and warms up your garlic will continue growing until it is ready to harvest in mid to later summer.
For those of you that live in a warmer area, February to march is the best time for you to plant. To be sure I suggest asking local farmers in your area for specific times and advice.
SLCG PRO TIP: Never underestimate the knowledge your local farmers have. I love to talk with our farming friends and the information I have gotten from them has been invaluable. They have helped me with knowing the best way to purchase when to harvest garlic, how to grow HUGE onions and even the best way to hatch eggs with our chickens. Farmers are your best resource and one I hope you will use as you grow your own homestead.
Step # 2. Decide how Much Garlic to Plant
In our home, we eat a lot of garlic using it in just about every meal. But we also give it away as gifts for the holidays (which people love!) this means I usually plant quite a bit each fall.
When planting garlic you will want to purchase heads that are specifically meant for growing in a garden. Each head can then be broken down into individual cloves that you will then plant in your garden.
The math is important and works out like this:
- 1 head of plating garlic equals 10-15 individual cloves for planting.
- 1 planted clove will yield a full head at harvest.
So, 1 head = 10-15 NEW heads of garlic.
I did not fully grasp this garlic math and so in my first year, I planted 10 heads worth of cloves. I was literally up to my neck in garlic!!
Step #3. Plant Your Garlic
In our backyard we use raised beds. I find it helps keep the soil at the right moisture giving us a healthier harvest. In a 4 x 8-foot bed I can plant quite a few heads. The good news is that garlic doesn’t need a ton of room to grow. A good rule of thumb is to plant about 4″ apart and about 2″ deep in rows.
Before you begin planting be sure you have nice good quality seed garlic. I prefer to purchase our garlic from our local farmers’ market because this will tell me just what does well in our climate. If you are not sure, ask. Most of your neighbors may just have the best advice on what will grow well in your local weather.
Keep the heads intact until you are ready to plant. A few days before planting, break up the heads and allow them to sit with the papery skins on. Store them in a brown paper bag until you are ready to plant. This will better help the heads prepare for planting while giving you a better idea of how much garlic seed you have.
Using a garden hoe, dig trenches that are about 2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart.
- Depth: Plant cloves knot side down with papers still on at 2″ deep.
- Spacing: Keep heads 4-5″ apart.
- Rows: Keep rows to 12″ apart (less if using raised beds or containers to garden.)
SLCG PRO TIP: Use garden markers to help you remember what variety of garlic you have planted and where. This will allow you to test out some of the amazing varieties out there so you can find just what you and your family love most.
When it is time to plant, place each clove in the ground with the root end facing down, This is called the “upright” position. Once all your garlic is in the row you can then cover it with soil.
Continue planting until all of your cloves are in the ground.
Step #4. Prepare your Garlic Bed for Hibernation
I am sure there is a more technical term for this, but I like hibernation simply because our garlic will be doing that very thing. Sleeping over the cold winter before emerging in the spring.
To prepare for hibernation, once the heads are all planted, cover them with a heavy layer of straw. If you do not have access to straw you can use leaves or mulch as well. Once your coverage is in place you will want to anchor it down with something light yet heavy that will allow your garlic to grow through the mulch in the spring just in case you are not able to remove it when the weather warms up.
For us, we like to use a spare piece of fencing.
The fencing works in two ways. First, it keeps my chickens deterred making it more difficult for them to dig up my freshly planted cloves, and second it keeps the straw from blowing away. I will usually let that fencing sit all winter and only remove it in the spring.
SLCG PRO TIP: Do not use hay to cover your garlic. Hay is not the same as straw for one reason, and this is a reason that is incredibly important. Hay contains seeds in the cutting. This is not only seeds from the grass but from any weeds as well. If you use hay you will be springing your fresh garlic cloves with a layer of seeds you will need to weed out in the spring and summer.
Step #5. Don’t Do a Thing Until Spring
This might be a bit difficult at first but leave your newly planted garlic alone until spring. Unless you are in a drought, you will not need to water them either. Just let them sit.
When spring arrives, you will begin to see green shoots emerging from the ground. That is a wonderful site for sure. At this point, you will want to remove any fencing you used to hold the mulch in place. You may also want to remove some of the mulch especially if you used quite a bit of it. Before doing this, however, be sure your weather is warm enough so to not damage your new plants.
SLCG PRO TIP: Leave some of the mulch from winter in place to help deter any weeds as your garlic grows.
Step #6. Water as Needed
Once you see plants you will want to start tending your garlic until harvest. This means watering as needed and weeding when necessary. If you have not done so yet, remove the fencing or other protection. This will help make harvesting easier. Don’t worry about your chickens at this point, they will leave your garlic alone once it is too big for them to bother with it.
Get into the habit of daily watering all of your plants. This is a good time to look at your entire garden searching for pests or diseases. The earlier you catch an issue the more quickly you can keep it from getting out of hand.
Step #7. Harvest Your Garlic
Depending on what type of garlic you plant will determine your harvest time.
Usually, our garlic is ready for picking around the end of July. The best way to determine if your garlic is ready to harvest is by looking at the shoots. Shoots are the part of the plant that is growing out of the ground. They should be about 2-3 feet at this point and beginning to turn brown and droop. If they are this is your cue that it’s time to begin harvesting.
Before you do, however, it is best to do a test dig first to be sure the heads are ready. I like to dig one up garlic plant so I can confirm I have the right time. If so the rest can then be dug up as well. If I see things not quite ready yet, I will wait a week or so and try again.
How will you know garlic is ready for harvesting?
Look for leaves that are yellow or brown and drooping.
Dig up one garlic plant and inspect the head.
- If the papers are thin and delicate give your plants more time.
- If the head is splitting at the top you have left them in too long.
- If the papers are dry, think, and papery you are at the right time and can harvest the rest of your crop.
Note…garlic does not like to come up easily. That means you will not be able to just pull them out. Remember, your garlic sat and took root all winter long so they are in there….good. This means you will need to dig them up with a shovel. And yes, be prepared for a good workout!
How to dig up garlic.
When digging up your garlic, it is important to place your shovel well out from where you believe the head to be. If you dig too close you run the risk of slicing into the head and may lose some of your cloves. Also put your shovel in well below where you think the head is for the same reason. Until you get the area down right always go out further and deeper than you feel you need to go. Better safe than sorry is my option.
Once the garlic is picked do not remove any soil or dirt. You want to keep the outer papers in tack to help protect the head until you are ready to use it.
Step #8. Let the Garlic Sit So it Can Dry
Before you can take garlic into your kitchen and start cooking with it, you will need to give it time to dry. This will help the dirt that is on the head to dry making it easier to remove it without risking damage to the papers. I like to dry my garlic in two steps.
First, I will lay it out in a single layer in a dry place outside being sure it is not in the direct sunlight. This allows the warm summer air to more quickly dry the excess soil on the heads. After a few days to a week, it is time to shake off the excess dirt.
Using your hands gently rub the heads letting the soil fall off as you do. Try not to remove any papers if you can when doing this.
Second, once all the excess dirt is removed, gather your garlic in clumps of 3’s and 4’s to hang in a place with good air circulation. I like to hang mine in the barn. Since drying garlic can be quite aromatic this keeps the smell out of the house, however, the barn smells like an Italian restaurant but the goats really don’t seem to mind. 🙂
Let your bundles of garlic hang for at least a week or two. The purpose of drying is to seal up the heads so you can trim them for storage. Watch the tops of your garlic and use them as your guide to know when your heads are ready to trim.
Read my post on How To Cure Garlic for more details.
Step #9. Cut, Clean, and Store
Once the garlic is completely dried it’s time to get them ready for storage.
First, cut the stalks off close to the head, and remove the outer layers of the husk leaving a few papers on to keep the heads and cloves protected.
Next, cut the roots off completely.
Finally, store them in cloth bags or any other mesh bags that you have lying around your home. I like to save the mesh bags from onions and citrus fruit that I keep throughout the winter just for this purpose.
This is also the time I will pull a few of my best heads out for next year’s planting. Once you find a variety you and your family love, you can just save the seed garlic for the next season’s planting. This should just be in a few short weeks since garlic is planted in the fall. Another benefit of growing garlic.
To store your seed garlic, place the heads and/or cloves in an open brown bag until you are ready to plant.
Step #10. How to Store Garlic
I will usually keep about 10 heads in my pantry for our short-term use storing them in mesh bags for better air circulation. If you do not use garlic often you may want to only keep 3-5 heads on hand. The mesh allows the garlic to breathe and it will easily last a couple of months in a dark and cool pantry when stored this way.
For the rest of the garlic, I like to can it in a boiling vinegar solution that, once cooled, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Even though this is not a pantry shelf-stable way to preserve garlic, this method will allow me to keep the garlic stored in my refrigerator for up to one year. When ready to use, just remove the number of garlic cloves that are needed and give them a quick rinse to remove the vinegar. And no, the vinegar does not soak into the garlic.
When I first tried this, I was afraid our garlic would have an odd flavor, but I am happy to report there was no vinegar taste at all. I have since fallen in love with this method of preserving garlic and it is now a part of our annual routine.
You can find my post on Preserve your own Garlic here for more detailed instructions.
There is nothing more satisfying than eating fresh produce from your garden year-round. Garlic by far is one of my favorites and now that you know just how easy it is to grow, dry, harvest, and preserve I hope it is one of your favorites as well.
Learn how to grow garlic the easiest way so you can fill your pantry with homegrown goodness all year long.