How to Grow Garlic
There are a number of cool weather crops, like kale or cauliflower, that grow during our normally mild Pacific Northwest winters (more cool season planting ideas), but my heart belongs to garlic. You plant it in early fall (September/October), harvest it in mid-summer (July), and do very little in between. If you are looking to ease into this green thumb stuff, garlic is a great way to do it.
If you are interested in growing your own, here are a few simple steps & tips:
Buy full heads of garlic
I have heard that you want to buy local garlic so you have a guarantee it grows in your climate. Local farmers markets or produce vendors are your best bet. To be honest, my WinCo garlic grew just as well as my local farmers market garlic, but hey, why risk it? I picked up a couple heads of garlic from New Seasons this year.
Pop off the largest individual cloves
Leave them wrapped in their little papery coats. You should have about 6-10 of the big outer cloves to plant from each full head of garlic. Larger cloves will produce larger heads; use the smaller cloves in the kitchen. I usually plant 3-4 heads of garlic for a few bucks.
Plant each garlic clove 6″ apart, covered with approximately 1-2″ of soil
Plant in an area of full sun with well-drained soil. I just loosen up the soil in one end of my raised bed and push the cloves in, papery end up, with my finger. It takes a whopping five minutes to plant a few heads of garlic.
I’ve read that the harder your area freezes, the deeper you want to plant the garlic cloves. If you live in a hard freeze area, you can plant them 3-4″ deep. If you’re planting elephant garlic, those big guys can go down even deeper.
This photo was taken in May, showing 8 months of growth.
Leave them alone
Garlic is a wonderfully low-maintenance crop. The stalks will push through the soil in the next several weeks. Then those little green shoots will go dormant once the cold weather hits. They will stop growing and go into a winter hibernation. Even if the weather gets crazy, they should be just fine.
I live in the Willamette Valley where we generally have pretty mild winters. However, a handful of years ago we had one for the history books. Remember? Arctic Blast ’08? My raised beds were covered in deep snowy blankets. I thought my garlic was toast. However, the snow melted and my resilient little garlic plants were still doing great.
Harvest and store the garlic
Around the middle of July, the stalks will be around three feet tall. The tops will start to die back and may go to seed, telling you the plant is done growing and it’s time to pick. Simply pull each head out of the ground. If your soil has become packed down, loosen the soil around the garlic heads first.
It’s like magic; that little clove you started with will now be a full head of garlic. I lay the stalks on my outdoor table and let them dry out a bit for a couple of days. Don’t rinse them with water as the extra moisture can cause the heads to rot.
Then I cut off the green ends, brush off the dirt and one papery layer, cut off part of the roots, and stick them in a bowl or mesh bag. You could also leave the ends on, gather three stalks together and braid them. Hang the braided garlic in a cool, dry place like your basement or garage and cut off the heads as needed.
Garlic is clearly the base of just about every good recipe, but if you’re looking for ideas, consider roasting your own garlic (YUM) or make this delicious Kale Salad with Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette.
Are you planning to plant garlic this year? What other cool weather crops do you put in the ground now?
For everything you ever wanted to know about garlic, check out The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks by Ted Jordan Meredith. I don’t consider myself a serious cook, as I actually own and use a garlic press (Gasp! I know.), but I will be adding this book to my cookbook collection anyway.
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Harvest mid july?….UM, it’s Sept and I forgot to look up when to harvest. So, do i pull them now? Will they be bad? In raised beds with tomatoes and zucchini (which didnt do well this year)
Dale Knox says
We bought a few bunches of garlic at a plant shop meet about 6 years ago. I put the bulbs in my flower bed and in the Spring, shoots started growing. I love the ball at the end with the little CAP on the end of the stem. We like the unique way they look and keep them in our flower beds because we think they are cool to look at. I had to transplant them about three years ago because we moved but they continued growing in the Spring as always ! If you don’t want to eat them….you can still enjoy the way they look in a flower bed.
I planted in the fall and now i don’t see anything in my above ground table? Not sure what could of happened
Where do you live? It could be that the bulbs are still developing and have not broken through the top of the soil yet. You could carefully dig one up to view where it’s at in terms of its development. Other possibilities: How deep were the cloves planted? Deep planting can cause a delay initially. And very deeply planted bulbs sometimes develop smaller bulbs. Also, did you put mulch over the top of them after planting? You may brush away the mulch and see if anything pops through in the coming weeks. Garlic is pretty tough and not much destroys it easily. It is possible for extremes in weather to take a toll, so I would be interested to hear about your particular zone’s climate this year.
I purchased garlic from a nursery and planted it in October 2015. All seemed well until this week when I noticed that the tops had all fallen over and are not standing up straight. Is it time to harvest or is something wrong? I pulled one out and the head seemed small.
Do you know the variety you planted? Was it a hardneck variety? I suspect your garlic is producing scapes. Scapes will bend and curl and that may be what you are starting to see. As long as your plants are still healthy green, everything is probably fine. The scapes, by the way, are absolutely delicious. Do a search online for recipes using garlic scapes. When the scapes form, and before they start to straighten out again, you can snip them off with sharp scissors. It will not harm the garlic in the ground. In theory actually, with the scape gone, the garlic plant has more energy to put into bulb production, and your bulbs should begin to plump up nicely.
Can I plant garlic cloves in the spring?
You may have found your answer already. But, yes you can plant in the spring, but harvest is usually smaller than autumn-planted garlic. Garlic appreciates the cold spell of winter which actually helps it develop into fully cloved bulbs. If nothing else, your spring-planted garlic will develop some tasty scapes and tasty bulbs – just possibly smaller. I have seen some success in storing unpeeled garlic in the refrigerator for several weeks prior to spring planting. I hope you give it a go!
Having grown garlic for most of my 58 years, I have two comments. The first is, sure you may buy garlic at WinCo or another grocery store, but I don’t recommend it. This is a variety called California White. Yes, it is certainly cheaper and for those that are budget minded, it will grow just fine. But, after I invest 8 months of my time growing, fertilizing, weeding and harvesting, I prefer a better variety (and there are so many). Why eat Hamburger Helper if you can have a steak? Instead of buying $4 worth of CA White, just get a smaller amount of Chet’s Italian or Chesnok or Music. You get the idea. Plant that and the next year you will get a nice harvest. Save 50% for replanting and eat the remainder. I started with one variety and expanded to 60 varieties, just a few dollars a year. Second, if you are short on space, DO NOT skimp on the spacing. Planting any closer together than 6″ will only result in VERY small bulbs at harvest. I learned that the hard way. Nothing better than a head of fresh roasted garlic mixed into some sweet cream butter and spread on a warm piece of fresh French bread. Two good regional sources for garlic are Filaree Farms in WA and Territorial Seed in OR. Also, find a farmer at a market nearby who grows garlic, They are a great source for garlic that will grow in your area.
Thanks for the post. Any thoughts on planting in a whiskey barrel or large pot? I don’t really have a spot for a garden just yet but wonder if I could at least start practicing with a small batch. Thanks!
Nikki. . .I moved from England back to Northern California two years ago. . .our land is at about 4,000 feet and VERY wooded. We have only just cleared enough trees to start building my raised beds for next spring. So all I have had is a couple of wine barrels and a few large plastic pots for my garlic this last season. I wasn’t sure it would work, but it did! I had no problem at all. . .I was worried that being in barrels/tubs above ground when we have three feet of snow would mean certain death for my poor garlic, but it didn’t. I have heard that you should not plant garlic in the same place two years in a row, but I am going to, as I will have no choice until the beds are built. I am going to help the soil along as much as possible, like Carla suggested, and give it a go again. Here’s hoping!
You forgot about the scapes!! In May, a flower stalk emerges from the hardneck varieties of garlic. Harvest the curly top part and put it in omelets, stir fry, salads, or pesto for a slightly garlic taste. Removing the scape also helps make the bulb grow larger.
I just planted my garlic yesterday. I always dig in some bonemeal to the planting soil for good added calcium and phosphorous. When you harvest, make sure to save several large bulbs (intact) for planting the next year so you have a perpetual harvest. Only plant the largest cloves and eat the smaller cloves.
My favorite variety of garlic is Bavarian which is a hardneck variety (It’s so much better than store garlic). It can be obtained from Three D Ranch who sell the garlic in July/August at the Hillsboro Farmers market. They got the variety from a “gypsy” who was selling garlic many years ago and bought out his entire stock once they tasted it. I also gave a start of Bavarian to the folks at WeGrowGarlic.com so people outside this area can get some. Bavarian has a unique trait in that it becomes sweet when cooked in this recipe (I made this up from things growing in our garden):
Start your barbecue in advance. Make a large foil packet with heavy duty foil. Cut off a slice of the top of the garlic bulb to expose the cloves. Chunk up some potatoes or use whole new potatoes (I really like the Austrian Crescent fingerling variety). Add some rosemary (I grow this too) and add in some chunks of onion. I then add sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and pour olive oil on the garlic bulbs. I never measure ingredients – it’s as much of each as I want. Seal up the packet and put on the BBQ. I let it cook about 10 minutes on each side (I’ve never timed it thought – I go by smell). If you let the packet get really hot (“burned”) on one side, the Bavarian will caramelize and become like garlic candy. The cloves can be squeezed out once they are cooked. Yummy!! Enjoy!