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.
on this web page and the Curing Garlic web page has been summarized on three printer friendly pages.
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.
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.
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
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.
– 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
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.
- 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.
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
for Tracking Garlic Varieties and Strains or
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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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
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
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
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
- 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.
for Commercial Growers
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.
the garlic waste, or bury it away from future
garlic growing areas.