Growing Garlic

How to Grow Good Garlic


Garlic Growing Guide PDF Download

Garlic Growing Guide PDF


U.S. Regions That Will Find This Advice Helpful

This advice is really only applicable to growing garlic in the northeastern United States, and northern half of the
Midwest/Mountain West regions. I cannot speak to how things grow in the Southeast, Northwest, and
Southwest. Please contact your local cooperative extension or garden club for more local experience.

A Good Planting Site for Growing Garlic

Garlic requires full sun and prefers a well tilled, good draining preparation for best
growth. Prepare/pick your spot accordingly. Plan a crop rotation that does not return your garlic crop to
the same spot for at least 3 years (4 years even better).

Clarity Needed for Growing Garlic

Your rotation requires allium-free
(onions, garlic etc) cycling for 3 to 4 years before returning to the same spot/plot for growing garlic.

Nutritional Needs of Growing Garlic

A soil ph of 6 to 6.8 has worked well for me. Garlic is also a heavy feeder,
liking high organic matter and balanced but high levels of NPK. Get a soil test (yearly) and amend
accordingly. Apply an NPK fertilizer during the Fall tilling/preparation of the garlic planting area. This
fertilizer should be gauged to fulfill all of the P & K needs of the growing garlic, and about half of the N needs.
Certified Organic folks will find dehydrated chicken poop useful for Fall, and non-organic folks will
find standard 10-10-10 equally effective.



Time Of Planting

Plant when freezing weather has begun, but the ground has not frozen solid.
Most of the Northeast United States plants “seed” garlic between October 15th and November 15th.
The coldest areas might plant October 1st and the warmest areas as late as December 1st.
Consult your local cooperative extension and fellow farmers/gardeners for more specific timing in your region for growing garlic.

Divide the Heads

Before planting, pull apart the head of garlic into distinct cloves. This is done
with fingers. I do this no more than 5 days before planting, and often the day before. Keep all cloves of
all varieties separate; do not mix! You might never be able to figure out which are which if you are
unfamiliar with growing garlic. A paper bag of cloves for each variety, well labeled, is fine until planting.

Planting and Spacing When Growing Garlic

This varies by preference; some prefer 6” X 6” spacing, while some prefer 12”
X 12” spacing. Wider spacing can mean bigger growing garlic heads at harvest, but only if fertility is good and
water plentiful. I use a 10” X 10” spacing. Use a dibber or other tool (a piece of rebar works well) to
create your holes, about 3” to 4” deep, by about 1” to 2” wide. Fingers are best to plant cloves, setting
firmly one clove per hole. The broader bottom of the somewhat teardrop shaped clove should be at the
bottom of the hole, with the pointy tip up. PLANT CLOVES OF EACH VARIETY AS DISCTINCT
ROWS OR BLOCKS AND LABEL WELL!! Lightly rake the bed/area smooth, filling the holes with
dirt in the process. I often use the backside (flat) of a steel rake.

To Mulch or Not To Mulch Your Growing Garlic?

In theory, 6” of loose straw mulch is applied following planting
and is intended to provide Winter protection/insulation to the growing clove. That's right, you read
correctly: the clove is hopefully growing lots of roots during the Winter. For many years I followed the
practices of others and mulched with 6” of loose straw. But my mother and step-father use sawdust (not
chips!!) also with good results. My friend Bruce has now shown me that planting into black plastic
mulch (laid down in the Fall or course) works as well. The plastic mulch is kept on all the next season
and reduces hand weeding. Bruce did not irrigate under the mulch in 2016 and still had nice sized


And finally, I did NOT mulch my grwoing garlic at all during the open Winter of 2015 (Maine) and had
very good results with everything except a small amount of loss of cloves in the Softneck types. The
counter was that the Softneck crop was better than ever in size and vigor. I attribute this to much earlier
emergence in the Spring for all types of the garlic. Usually, the straw mulch has degraded into a cold,
wet, and even frozen mat of straw but Spring. I think this mat of material can delay emergence, and
Softneck varieties struggle to push through this mat. My solution to the loss will be to either plant the
Softneck a little deeper, or mulch the Softneck types only but remove the mulch as soon as possible
before emergence.


I am not alone in this “no mulch” practice. Many growers in the coldest areas of the Northeast
have discovered that mulch is not required, although Winter damage can occur. Good snow cover does
the same job as the mulch, I suspect. I consider the “no mulch” practice one of many experiments
worth trying, but BEGINNERS SHOULD APPLY 6” OF STRAW MULCH. Do not take chances when
just starting out. Get familiar with garlic and its culture, and then maybe try something out of the
ordinary and compare.

Emergence In Spring

Spring arrives, and the green tips of your growing garlic start to show. In Maine, I have found
two top-dressings of a nitrogen (N) fertilizer are needed for healthy, large garlic heads at harvest. For
the Maine Spring, these applications happen sometime between April 15th and May 15th. Based on the
Fall soil test and amount of N incorporated at that time (half in theory), I divide the remaining half into
two applications. For Certified Organic folks, blood or fish meals are the best sources for top-dressings.
For non organic folks, standard pelletized Urea is excellent. I time these feedings to right before a
predicted gentle rain, not a downpour which will wash away much of your intended plant food. I do not
 recommend applying any fertilizer after the growing garlic has reached one foot in height; this can encourage
more leaf than bulb growth later in the season.



Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the “tails” or “sprouts” that grow from the top of the stalk,
usually thru June in Maine. The scapes make a loop-tee-loop and then straighten into an extended stalk
topped with a cluster of what are known as bulbils. Bulbils, about the size of a large pea, are another
way garlic propagates, and are little clones of the garlic just as the cloves are. Egyptian onions, walking
onions, etc have similar structures often called “top sets” They are not true seeds. Imagine in the wild, a
garlic with its scape and bulbils atop that. When the wild garlic stalk topples over (since no one
harvests it), these top set bulbils are now 2' to 4' from the original head/mother plant. What a great way
to insure a new population that can grow without competing with the mother plant, and maybe escape
any diseases plaguing the mother plant as well! This top set structure also contains the potential
flowering parts of the garlic, but most people conclude that domesticated garlic has lost the ability to
flower naturally. I could debate this or explain more but.....this is lengthy as it is.


As we're growing garlic, we want to remove the garlic scape as it emerges and begins to make its first
loop. This is easily done by snapping the scape stem right where it takes its bend, usually in mid to late
June in Maine. There are some folks that say keeping the scapes on makes no difference in size to the
harvested head and helps the garlic store longer. Both assertions are false. Leaving the scapes on will
stunt Hardneck garlic. Period. I have experimented and you do not have to experience the same folly when you're growing garlic.
The storage of garlic is related to good soil nutrition affecting garlic growth/maturity, proper curing,
and good storage conditions. Period.


Many of you are familiar with the edible nature of scapes; the green stem is diced into stir fries
& sauces, pureed into scape pesto, whatever you can imagine. The pale, pointy tip is not really edible,
more fiber than flavor. In general, Hardneck types have scapes, and Softneck types do not. After
growing garlic for many years, I have seen some interesting variations occur where a Softneck grows a scape
and a Hardneck does not! I find Porcelain varieties to have the thickest, most succulent scapes which
emerge earlier than other Hardnecks.

When Should Growing Garlic Be Harvested?

First, I want to say that the best day to harvest garlic is a dry day,
when the garlic and the soil is not damp or mucky. I begin harvest in Maine around
the 20th of July for theSoft neck garlic and around
the 25th of July for Hardneck garlic. Other places south of me can be
harvesting as early as the first week in July. But this timing is based on the leaves of the garlic: the
bottom-most two leaves will be almost entirely shriveled and the third wilted and maybe the fourth leaf
starting when the bulb is ready. But I always pull a sample of each type around 15th of July to see if the
head of garlic has started to have well-formed cloves. Heads do not really begin to size up in earnest
until a few weeks after the scapes form. That last month of growth before harvest is when the garlic
puts its growth into the below ground bulb. It is amazing to see a fifty cent piece or silver dollar sized
garlic in mid June turn into a 3” diameter bulb at harvest a month later! So do not fret if things are
small for a while; its normal.


Some of us have light soil types and we can just grasp our growing garlic stalks and pull them out of the
ground by hand. Some of us have to dig each head out with a shovel. Farmers often use what is called a
bed-lifter or under-cutter. I do not recommend using potato diggers; too much potential damage that
can introduce decay. Regardless of required method, shaking clumps of dirt off the roots is good
practice. I do not recommend washing/rinsing garlic at harvest: this can allow moisture between the
skin layers of the garlic and moldy issues. Simple Rule: harvest dry, cure dry.

Fresh garlic makes for very potent eating!! Its wonderful, but beware!



Curing and Drying

Immediately following harvest, garlic should be brought into a protected structure
with excellent cross-ventilation. This shaded, dry, breezy environment is key to good storing garlic,
free from rot. Barns with all the doors open, greenhouses with shade clothes and all sides/ends open,
three or four-sided sheds/tents, well-ventilated garages with fans, these are all examples of useful
structures. The key points are again: no sun but not pitch black, completely dry, and great airflow.


Many folks hang their garlic to dry in bundles. If this is your technique, do not put more than 6
to 12 heads in a bundle to hang. Check the bundles frequently, especially the stalks and leaves, for any
mold issues. By bringing the stalks and leaves into the drying area, you bring a bunch of moisture
containing “green” plant material with you. If the weather is wet and humid, this can really challenge
the drying of the garlic.


I and many other growers are now cutting the garlic stalks at about 3” above the bulb at harvest,
and leaving the tops in the field to be turned under. Only the bulbs themselves are brought into the
drying area. Often tables with wire mesh tops are used. I have been using this process of cutting off the
stalks in field for 6 years now, and I can recommend it without hesitation, especially for farmers. But, if
you wish to braid Softneck garlic, obviously the tops must be left on!!


There are folks that say drying garlic with the tops on makes the garlic store longer. This is not
true. The storage of garlic is related to good soil nutrition affecting garlic growth/maturity, proper
curing, and good storage conditions. Period. I have done it both ways and there is no difference.

After harvest, the curing period usually takes 2 to 3 weeks. More “papery” skins on the garlic,
dry stems (whether cut or left to hang), and a more soft, less intense, dry garlic odor are the signs
curing has been accomplished. Trimming roots, cutting any stalks off, and peeling a layer or two of
garlic “papers” off the heads can all be done now.

Replanting Your Garlic

Congratulations! You now have your own garlic and can continue on
growing garlic forever if all goes well! Select your largest and healthiest heads from your cured crop. These best and
finest are next year's crop! Set them aside, keeping varieties distinct, and get the ground ready to plant
the next crop. Eat the rest!


With good culture, you should find that your own select “seed” garlic is larger than what you
originally purchased. If the size does not increase over a few years, refer to your soil test to see if
something is too abundant or too deficient. If you plan to give away your garlic to friends and family
for them to plant, please send samples of your garlic crop away for pest/disease testing. This
reassurance helps garlic help us all for years to come.

Commercial and Home Storage

On a commercial level, temperatures just above freezing (35 to 40 degrees F), seem to be
good storage for garlic. On a home level, a cool dry dark pantry of 50 degrees F works pretty well.
Porcelain garlic keeps until about February/March, Rocombole garlic keeps thru about April, and
Softncek garlic can keep as long as May or June!