Are you looking for some tips for growing great garlic?
As the only garlic grower in my area that offers it for sale in my community, I get a lot of questions about growing garlic, specifically: How to grow garlic at home.
In this post, I answer popular questions from other people:
- The best tips for growing great garlic in your home garden
- How long does it take to grow garlic?
- What are the health benefits of garlic? There are many!
Garlic is one of my FAVORITE things that I grow in our home garden and market garden for profit. If you are interested in growing your own garlic, read on! I will have more posts and resources on problems, harvest, storage, and using garlic just for you.
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Types of Garlic: Hardneck vs. Softneck
The first thing you have to realize is that there are two types of garlic. Hardneck and Softneck. Here are the differences:
Hardneck garlic is well-adapted to cold winter temperatures and will provide larger garlic cloves. Many people love the intense taste of this garlic and it is easy to peel and perfect for roasting. They also store much longer than the softneck varieties.
Softneck garlic is smaller than hardneck but is typically grown in more southern regions because the climate is warmer. However, they will grow in temperate climates – You just won’t get as large of cloves. The soft-neck garlic tastes similar to the standard varieties found in supermarkets.
And then…there’s an extra type of non-garlic that is very popular. Elephant garlic…which is not a garlic at all. Elephant garlic is a large leek that grows the same as garlic. Therefore, it’s planted at the same time and managed in the same way as garlic. Elephant is one of my most popular varieties that I get requests to grow because people love its mild flavor. My mother-in-law actually roasts it in the oven with a little olive oil and then spreads it on crackers or bread.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s talk about the time it takes for garlic to grow.
How long does it take garlic to grow?
Garlic remains in the soil longer than most things in your garden when planted in the fall. Typically, plants mature between 140 and 160 days after planting. The best time to plant garlic is in the early to mid Fall (September – October). Or a few weeks prior to the first frost.
Since that first frost could be any time, the first of October is a good rule of thumb for planting for a June harvest. That seems like a really long growing season. And for gardeners like me…It is.
I’ll discuss planting specs as well as care in a minute. To get to the point here, we are talking 140-160 days in the ground. Because of this, you don’t want to plant garlic in the same place you are going to plant spring crops. You could easily plant garlic in a place that you’ll plant fall garden crops. You could also plan to grow garlic in raised beds.
But there are more important things to consider other than how long it takes.
The Right Soil for Garlic
This is the most important production tip you need to have perfect in order to be successful growing garlic – or any crop for that matter! Soil for garlic needs to be fluffy, well draining and full of good nutrients. Here are the steps I recommend taking in order to prep your soil for garlic:
- Soil test your garden spot.
- Plenty of organic matter.
- Spread manure that contains an even amount of nutrients, such as goat, rabbit or horse.
- Also, spread manure about a month prior to planting the garlic.
- Lightly work the manure into the soil prior to planting. Soil should be nice and fluffy then.
If your garlic spot is brand new, you need to realize that it could take 1-2 years to prepare this soil for growing garlic. One recommendation to try to build up soil microbes is to plant a sod building cover crop. Some examples include:
- A mixture of all of these
Having a good cover crop in a new spot will help to actually build up the soil. Along with building the soil, implanting fertilizer into the soil is a great idea. The ones I recommend are:
- Nitrogen (blood meal or commercial fertilizer)
Blood meal is a great nitrogen fertilizer for garlic because it is slow release for a slow growing crop. You’ll know your plants are getting what they need for all of the time they are in growing in the ground.
Now that we have our soil ready, let’s talk about planting.
How to plant garlic seeds
We talked about the different types of garlic above. The best way to decide what type of garlic to plant is to ask other local people or talk to the experts where you buy your seed garlic.
I recommend buying good seed garlic from growers who raise seed garlic. I buy mine from Filaree Garlic Farm, where they have experimented with hundreds of different types of garlic. They have great descriptions and facts about each variety that can help you make decisions based upon your growing area.
You’ll get your garlic seed in the fall after you order it. While you wait, you can prep your soil and get the area ready. And then, one day, you get your box of garlic in the mail! Yay!
So, now it’s a beautiful day outside in October and it’s time to plant that garlic. The first thing you want to do is pop those cloves. Clove popping is the hardest part of the planting process. You’re basically just popping those cloves a part so you’ll be planting individual cloves. Be very careful not to break any.
Then, get your tape measure and hoe. Trenches or rows need to be about 3 inches deep and 2 foot a part. Give the garlic plenty of room.
Next, set your tape measure along the row. Place one clove of garlic at the first mark next to the tape measure with the stem up. Move down 10 inches and plant the next one in the same way. Repeat until all your cloves are planted spaced 10 inches a part.
Finally cover up the cloves. You’ll need all 3 inches of top soil on top of your cloves.
Rule of thumb: Make sure you plant with the stem up. And you can chance planting specs but they should be twice the size of what you want for your desired bulb size.
And if you like big bulbs, Fall planting is ideal.
Spring vs. Fall Planting
I’ve talked to a few garlic growers who swear by planting in the spring to still harvest in summer. This would work better with the soft neck varieties as they prefer the warmer temperatures. Keep in mind, it will still take 140-160 days to maturity.
With spring planting, you aren’t overwintering. So, the time they are in the ground is less, obviously. This is the only difference I can see.
The hard part with spring planting is the fact that in February (the most ideal time for this planting), the ground might still be frozen. Therefore, to me, the safest route is to plant your garlic in the Fall and you won’t have to worry about a frozen ground.
With the Fall planting, the roots have more time to establish themselves. The cloves have more time to grow and then to form and multiply into bigger and well-defined garlic bulbs. Also, in the fall, I feel like I’m less busy than in spring when I’m trying to plant several crops, start transplants, etc.
But if you can’t get it done in the Fall, know that the Spring planting is another option that is totally doable.
Just planting the clove is the beginning of growing garlic. There are some things to do to properly overwinter your garlic.
The first is mulching. There are several benefits to mulching:
- It helps moderate nutrient availability.
- Helps prevent erosion and keeps moisture in the ground during a dry spell.
- Maintains the soil temperature.
- Helps with weed control.
The type of mulch for garlic is important, too. Too much mulch can be too heavy and suffocate the plants. Or it can be too much for the soil to drain and drown the plants.
Keep in mind: Good mulch has to breath. Avoid both light and course material AND heavy and thick materials. Therefore, the best breathable mulch to recommend that stays on and helps overwinter garlic is fresh grass clippings or chopped straw.
Mulch the garlic after it comes up in the Fall and before real winter hits. That would be December for us here in Kansas but it might be earlier for some of you readers. Even if you live in a warm climate, mulching is still a great idea for weed control.
The right climate will help your garlic grow
In order to grow, garlic needs warm temperatures and a good amount of moisture early in life. Overwintering the garlic is only one part of the growing season. The winter time is not the most crucial part of the growing season.
Spring is. The main thing you’ll want to be sure of is checking the moisture level of your garlic. I have killed certain spots of garlic that didn’t drain as well because I didn’t check this regularly. I’ll give you a good way to do this in a little bit.
Also, checking the plant and making sure it looks good is important to stay on top of problems.
What does a good garlic plant look like? Here’s what you’ll be looking for.
The plants resemble onions with long green stems and leaves topped with a flowering crown in the spring. Plants grow up to several feet in height depending on the variety.
In a little bit, I’ll discuss some problems you might face with your growing garlic. Specifically in the spring.
Care in the Spring
In the spring, your garlic is waking up from a long winter. It would be very beneficial to make sure they have proper nutrients. And the most recommended way to do this is to foliar feed (or spray) the leaves with nutrient sprays.
So, when your plants are at least 3 inches tall, you could start doing this. This will help keep your leaves healthy and allow them to put more energy into making that bulb beneath the ground.
Another thing to check out is the mulch. I talked about my moisture mistake with one part of my garlic patch that didn’t drain as well. It’s important to know your soil and your area and to check it regularly for moisture content. Too much will rot and kill your garlic plants.
I usually remove the mulch from winter. You can also apply a liquid fertilizer in the spring when you do this. However, if you applied the slow releasing blood meal in the Fall, you shouldn’t need to do the liquid.
Then, reapply fresh breathable mulch for the rest of the growing season. This is primarily for weed control as well as the reasons I mention above. Some years, we have extremely hot temperatures in spring. Some years, extremely cold. Some years, we have both. You just never know but now you know that mulch helps to keep your garlic as comfortable as possible during these extreme temperatures.
Foliar Plant Spray
This is a good option for a foliar feed for garlic leaves in the spring. It’s very safe to use and contains hydrolyzed fish and kelp formula that is very good for garlic.
More about Fertilizers
No gardener should just throw fertilizer out and call it good. That would be a waste of money and time. And it could also be harmful to your plants.
Here are some more tips for using fertilizer:
- Soil test. Know what nutrients are in your patch so you don’t overdo it.
- Fertilize as a preventative and not during periods of stress. Doing this can shock your plants and kill them.
- Also, avoid fertilizing in the heat. Fall or early spring is the best time.
Weed Control for Garlic
Garlic is tough when it comes to weeds. They can stand some competition, but if you want big bulbs you’re going to have to have some weed control in place.
Soil prep is a big one. The truth is that manure and organic matter can bring those certain weeds into your garlic patch. If you want to try to prevent this, make sure the substance you’re putting onto your garlic patch won’t have certain seeds for weeds.
Another is the mulch you use. I’ve already discussed mulching and the type of mulches to use. Mulch greatly helps with weed control, but it could also incorporate certain weeds in.
Hand weeding is my honestly my favorite way to control weeds. Mainly because it’s soothing to me and helps me stay fit in my body and mind. But I can’t ALWAYS fit in a hand weeding schedule, so I do use mulch. Mulch works very well to control most weeds and is a huge time saver.
Also, keep in mind that the more moisture you have, the more weed problems you could have.
If you have plenty of moisture, you probably don’t need to water your garlic. On the contrary, if you get plenty of moisture, you need to make sure your soil is draining well and your bulbs aren’t sitting in water for days on end.
I’m going to give you the tip I use to check moisture in my garlic patch. The rule of thumb is that you want at least 50% moisture.
How do you know when 50% is reached?
- Dig down a few inches. Grab some soil and form a round ball in your hands.
- If ball is muddy or soggy, then soil is too wet.
- However, if soil crumbles, the soil is too dry. You should water your garlic.
- If you just have a soft damp ball, then the soil is just right and you don’t need to worry about watering.
Do this several places throughout your patch especially where you see yellowing leaves.
If you do have to water, I strongly recommend watering at the ground level. This involves drip irrigation or soaker hoses. I do know a lot of garlic growers who use a sprinkler, so that’s probably fine. I just prefer ground watering.
I use this system for my entire market garden. It works really well and saves me a ton of time while watering efficiently and slowly.
Common Problems you might face with your garlic
There are a few common problems that almost every grower faces with growing garlic. I’m going to briefly discus them here but they each deserve their own blog post. I have so much to say and so many recommendations for solving each of these problems! As time and need allows me, I will be writing more blog posts specifically on these topics and linking back to this post. Just promise you’ll stay with me – I’ll give you the best information I can for your success!
The first is yellowing leaves. The reasons for these are very seasonal:
- Late Winter/Early Spring: Frost damage or minor nutrient deficiency.
- Later Spring (April/May): Disease or water/nutrient deficiency.
- Late season: Plant is maturing possibly earlier than normal.
The second is pests. We have dealt with a lot of these same pests in our other garden crops. Here are the ones that could mostly be bugging your garlic:
- Onion Thrips
- Army Worms
If it’s not insects destroying your crop, it’s a disease. And since garlic is a root crop, you’re going to be dealing with rotting below the soil most likely. Here’s some examples:
- Yellow Dwarf Virus
- Neck Rot
- Pink Root
- Penicillium Mold
- Basal Rot
- White Rot
Again, I have so much information to share with you about these problems and will be creating more content as time allows me to. In the mean time, if you want to know more, you can always google (the name of the problem.edu) and find other quality sources and solutions on these topics. Another great way to solve these problems is to talk to your local expert, grower or Extension Agent.
Harvesting & Storing Garlic
Garlic is typically harvested in mid-June to July when the leaves start to brown. Stop watering garlic two weeks before you plan to harvest so that the soil is loose and plants pull up easily.
In late spring, hard neck garlic plants will produce a round stem with a seed pod on the end. Cut these seed scapes off as soon as you see them, as they put the plant’s resources into making seeds instead of making a big garlic bulb. The seed scapes are edible – use in place of garlic in recipes such as stir-fry, salsa and pesto.
Watch for browning or yellowish leaves as an indication that garlic is ready for harvesting. Test dig when the lower 1/3 of the foliage is yellow. If the cloves have segmented, it is time to harvest. If they haven’t segmented, wait another week or two.
Then, pull up the entire plant, then tie several plants together to form bunches. Some gardeners braid the plant’s leaves together for a more appealing look. Then hang the bunches in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place, and pull bulbs off as needed. Garlic keeps well for up to six months in a cool place.
What are the health benefits of garlic?
Garlic makes a wonderful addition to sauces, stews and soups. Bake a whole bulb in the oven for a spread on toast or crackers. Besides using garlic in cooking, some gardeners plant garlic to keep deer and squirrels out of their gardens and flowerbeds.
So, how healthy is garlic? Well, for starters, it is low calorie and is known to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. It contains lots of vitamins that you wouldn’t normally get with other food.
Foods and recipes rich in garlic is great if you’re sick with a cold or flu because it contains great antioxidants.
These are just a few health benefits that we can all enjoy with garlic. Now, you know how easy it is to grow so you can have your own all year around.
YOU can Plant Your Own Garlic!
We’ve gone over a lot of info here. Let me summarize the main keys to management:
- Proactively manage soil.
- Proper Moisture with controlled waterings as needed and well-drained soil.
- Nutrients through fertilizer as needed.
- Weed control with mulching or hand weeding. along with the amounts of sunlight and air you receive.
These are all the tips I give to anyone and everyone who asks me how I grow my garlic. I love helping others learn to grow their own food. I hope this has been helpful to you and that you’re well on your way to growing your own garlic!
~ Much Love ~
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