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Growing Garlic

Garlic growing is easy in the home garden.

Maintaining top quality requires care and attention. Weeding is important as garlic does not like competition. Watering and not watering, harvesting on time and curing properly are all important for producing bulbs with good keeping qualities.

The information on this web page and the Curing Garlic web page has been summarized on three printer friendly pages.

Soil Preparation

Garlic will grow under a wide variety of soil conditions. It is said to prefer free draining loam with lots of organic matter. Building up your soil with green manure cover crops as part of your normal crop rotation is good practice. We like to get most of our amendments into the soil before planting. Compost and composted manure are popular choices. We have used a number of different amendments permitted under the Canadian Organic Regime.

Selecting Your Seed

We selected our own seed first so that each year our average production was improving. We chose bulbs with a nice shape and plump cloves. In general, clove size is more important than bulb size as a determinant of future bulb size.


Tip for Commercial Growers
As a precaution we always plant new seed stock in an isolation patch, away from our main garlic patches, so that if there are any problems they are contained.


New Seed

It takes new seed stock several years to adapt to your growing conditions. For this reason we recommend that growers invest in modest quantities of excellent seed stock and multiply it up in their own fields.

We have had good success growing garlic up from bulbils. For details see our page on growing from bulbils.

When to Plant Garlic

In Canada most varieties of garlic, under most conditions, do best when planted in the fall. The timing of fall planting should be such that the roots have a chance to develop and the tops do not break the surface before winter, about three weeks before the ground freezes. In some regions spring planting is traditional. Although we have planted in the spring with good results our short growing season means that the garlic is not ready for harvest in time to ship for planting. Spring planted garlic matures later than fall planted. We make an exception for the Creole garlics as Henry has found that they do much better for him when they are planted in the spring.


Tip – In Warmer Climates Store Your Hardneck Garlic in a Cool Spot Before Planting
Hardneck garlics need to go through a cold period to trigger sprouting. If your soil temperatures stay warm, store the garlic in a cool, dry place, 7 - 10°C (45 - 50°F), for about three weeks before planting.


Preparing Cloves for Planting

Shortly before planting break the bulbs apart into cloves. This is called ‘cracking’. The cloves are attached to the basal plate, the plate that the roots grow from. When you crack the bulb each clove should break away cleanly, leaving an image of a ‘footprint’ on the basal plate. With true hardneck garlics you can crack them by giving the woody stem a sharp rap on a hard surface. The root nodules begin growing from edge of the foot of the clove. If the basal plate stays attached to the clove you may be able to flick it off. Be careful not to damage the foot of the clove. It is more important to keep the clove intact than to remove the basal plate.

Set aside the very small cloves to eat soon, to make into pickles, to dry, or to plant tightly together for eating in the spring, like green onions. Each larger clove will produce a good sized bulb by the end of the growing season. The smallest cloves require just as much space, care and attention in the garden and produce significantly smaller bulbs.

Tip - Separate the Cloves just before Planting
If you separate the garlic cloves as close to planting time as possible, preferably within 24 hours, the root nodules won’t dry out and the garlic will be able to set roots quickly. This is ideal, not essential.


Planting Garlic

You can plant garlic in single or double rows or in wide beds of four to six plants across with four to eight inches between plants. Tighter spacing in the beds will produce a greater number of smaller bulbs for a higher total yield in terms of pounds of garlic per square foot of garden. We have lots of land and planted garlic in well-tilled beds of five or six rows, with about eight inch spacing between rows and between plants. In retirement we are planting in four row beds as these are easier to reach. Choose a bed size that is comfortable for hand planting. Henry originally devised a roller that two people pulled over the bed to poke holes at regular intervals. Now we use one he built to tow behind the tractor.

It is important to plant hard neck garlic with the top (pointed end) of the clove up, at least two inches below the surface.

When you have planted the garlic you can cover it with a layer of mulch if you wish.


To mulch or not to mulch: we considered mulch primarily to be an insurance against winter kill. However, we have experienced occasional severe losses with and without mulch and now we are no longer mulching. We are finding weeding easier without mulch as we were not able to leave enough mulch on for weed suppression.

Mulching conserves moisture, moderates soil temperatures and inhibits weeds. It also shelters rodents and attracts deer and elk. All these factors need to be considered in deciding whether or not to mulch.

Mulching can even out the soil moisture between rains and irrigation cycles. It is not recommended in wetter climates where excess water can be a problem for garlic.

Moderating soil temperature is helpful where there are extremes of heat and cold. Garlic does not like repeated freezing and thawing. Frost heaves can tear the young roots from the cloves. A thick layer of winter mulch is considered insurance against winter kill. Garlic does not like extreme heat either and mulch will moderate the daily fluctuations in summer soil temperatures.

Chopped leaves, swamp grass, reeds and alfalfa hay are among the preferred mulch materials. Grain straw is not recommended because it can host wheat curl mite which will attack garlic. Grass hay is fine if you don’t mind lots of grass seed in your soil.

In the spring you may need to pull off some of the mulch to allow the plants to push through. In the years when we were mulching for winter protection and the summers were cold and wet we removed all of the mulch in the spring.

Labelling the Garlic Beds

It is very easy to lose track of which garlic is which. By using a combination of maps and markers we can always identify the garlic in the ground. Detailed maps show how much of each garlic is planted and where. UV resistant markers are used to write labels on sticks for each end of a bed or section of a bed. We leave space between cultivars.


Tip for Tracking Garlic Varieties and Strains or Cultivars
If you have a large number of varieties build in safeguards against mix-ups. For example, we put two Tyvek tags with the garlic identification on it in each harvest basket, one in the bottom and one where it can be seen. These tags stay with the garlic on the hanging strings and then in the horticulture boxes.

Scapes and Bulbils

Hardneck varieties produce a central stalk which goes straight up and then usually makes one or two loops. The garlic top is called a scape, garlic flower or top set, and contains a bulge, the umbel, where bulbils form.

The standard wisdom has been that if you want all the plant's energy to go into producing a large bulb, you snip the scape off after it has made one or two loops. However, in 2011 we discovered that not all varieties take kindly to this procedure. In particular, the Turban Variety of weakly bolting hardneck does much better if the scape is left on until it is time to harvest the bulb. Not only were the bulbs bigger, they were in better shape. Our practice now is to leave the scapes on all our true hardneck varieties at least until they have made two loops and to leave the scapes on most of the weakly bolting hardnecks even longer. We are balancing the shock to the garlic of having the scapes removed against the increased bulb size.

If you want to use the bulbils to propagate more garlic, leave the plants in the ground later than your normal harvest and leave the bulbils in place until they are pushing their capsules open. Harvest and cure the bulbs and bulbils separately if you want to avoid getting soil on the bulbils. Visit our page on Growing Garlic from Bulbils for further information.


Tip - Steam or Stir Fry Garlic Tops
The garlic tops, called flowers or garlic scapes, are a gourmet delight! Steam them whole and serve with melted butter like asparagus. Cut them into short lengths to add to a stir fry. They have a delicate garlic flavour which gives a subtly different and delicious flavour to the sauce.

Watering Garlic

Garlic requires fairly even soil moisture during the growing season with no additional moisture during the last few weeks. Mulch is one way of maintaining an even moisture regime. Not enough moisture means that garlic does not develop a full sized bulb. Over-watering results in garlic with poor keeping qualities - poor wrappers, burst skins and mold. Also, it is harder to cure garlic that has been over-watered.

One of the arts of garlic growing is knowing when and how much to water. We leave a couple of early scapes on each bed and when they stand up straight that is usually one of our signals to stop watering. We stop watering two to three weeks after cutting scapes.


Tip - Do Not Over Water
If you want to keep your garlic through the winter, it is safer to stop watering too soon than to try to get the last bit of size to the bulbs since over watering shortens the life of bulbs.


Harvesting Garlic

A few weeks before harvesting stop watering the garlic. Different growers have different rules of thumb regarding the best time to harvest. The dying back of the leaves is only an approximate indicator.

To determine whether the garlic is ready to harvest inspect a few bulbs in the ground by carefully scraping away the dirt. You can feel the bumps of the cloves through the wrappers of a mature bulb.

Lift the garlic from the ground when the bulb has reached a good size and before the wrappers begin to deteriorate or the bulbs begin to split open. If a bulb is not well-wrapped, and the skins on the cloves are not intact, the garlic will not keep well. Learning exactly when to stop watering and when to harvest is a matter of judgment that comes with experience.

We have a late spring in our location in the mountains; we begin harvesting our earliest varieties in mid to late July. The main harvest continues into August, with the late varieties and spring planted beds being harvested in late August.

We use a flat, narrow-bladed shovel to loosen the ground beside the garlic - we pierce fewer bulbs with it than we did with a fork - and lift the plants by hand. Be careful as garlic bruises easily.

The last few years of growing garlic to sell we used an undercutter, which was an immense help. It took us until then to find machinery that would work well in our rocky soil.

Garlic can get sunburned and some varieties of garlic change flavour when left in the sun and so we take each load of baskets of garlic into the curing barn as soon as it is harvested.

For information on preparing garlic for sale or storage go to our Curing Garlic page.


Tip for Harvesting Commercial Beds
Undercutters save a lot of the hard work of harvesting garlic. We have rocky soil and most undercutters would not work. In 2017 we found a mulch lifter designed for rocky soil and we were very pleased with how well it undercut our garlic beds.


Managing Garlic Beds for Pests and Disease

There are a number of practices that minimize the risk of pests or disease. The ones we consider the most important are:

  • Use only clean, sound cloves from disease-free stock.
  • Carefully clean and sanitize all equipment for soil preparation, weeding, harvesting, handling and storing garlic.
  • Allow at least two years, and preferably longer, between successive crops in the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks, chives, elephant garlic).
  • During the growing season remove (rogue) plants that are not doing well and send suspicious plants to the dump. Sanitize your shovel after removing a suspicious plant.
  • Do not put your allium waste in the compost.


Tips for Commercial Growers

Do not share equipment with operations at risk for soil borne pests and diseases. Clean and sanitize equipment when moving from high risk areas to low risk areas.

We recommend using a four or five year rotation if you can, with three or four years in non-allium crops.

Burn the garlic waste, or bury it away from future garlic growing areas.


More on Growing Garlic
For an North-Eastern Ontario perspective on growing garlic see Paul Pospisil's article "Any Home Gardener Can Grow Garlic".



Growing organic garlic in British Columbia
Garlic growing in a field at
Boundary Garlic


Interesting fact
Cultivated garlic is sterile and therefore it does not produce true flowers. Garlic plants of the same cultivar are clones with identical genetic make up.



Growing Garlic - removing the flowers or scapes
Henry removing the scapes



Tip - Handle Seed Garlic Carefully
When you are keeping your own healthy garlic for seed, harvest carefully to avoid wounds or bruising and dry the bulbs promptly.



Growing garlic for seed  in British Columbia
Sonia inspecting the garlic



More on Harvesting Garlic
See Part II of Paul Pospisil's article "Any Home Gardener Can Grow Garlic".




Organic Garlic in BC