How to Grow Garlic, Harvest & Store
Fall will be here before you know it, and that means it’s time to think about planting garlic! I prefer to plant garlic in the fall in Wisconsin. That way, it is ready to harvest in July. At the same time, my tomatoes are ripening and I am canning marinara sauce like crazy! Didn’t know you could grow garlic at home? I explain everything you need to know about how to grow garlic in your kitchen garden.
Growing garlic at home opens up so many new opportunities to enhance the flavors in your meals that you can’t find in the grocery store.
Varieties of Garlic
There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
- cold-hardy, making it suitable for Northern climates
- likely to have purple veining
- more intense flavors
- produce tender scapes, a flower that grows out of the center of the plant and can be eaten itself
Many find garlic scapes to be a delicacy and look forward to harvesting them in the late spring-early summer. Removing the garlic scape is crucial, so the plant focuses on producing the bulb and not the flower. Garlic scapes are delicious in pesto, grilled, in stir-fries & soups, or even chopped up to top your burger.
- typically grown in Southern climates
- tends to store for about 6 months longer than hardneck varieties
- the type you usually see in the grocery store, with an all-white bulb
I’ve grown only hardneck garlic in my area of Southern Wisconsin. Still, one of the beautiful things about garlic is that it is highly adaptable if you’re interested in experimenting. If you’re willing to give it a few years, a variety that typically would not grow well in your climate will eventually adapt to your weather and soil conditions.
Where to Purchase Garlic to Plant
If you’re new to garlic planting in your garden, I recommend ordering your garlic seed from a trusted source or a reputable local farm. High Mowing Seeds has a ton of different varieties, but depending on the time of year, it might be low in stock.
Most garlic that you find in the grocery store is from China and may not be suited to grow in your region. Additionally, conventionally grown garlic is treated with sprout inhibitors that may infect your garden and rot the soil.
Hit up your local farmer or farmers market and purchase your bulbs from a quality source. Buying locally grown garlic will ensure you get a variety that thrives in your area.
Planting & Caring for Garlic
Garlic requires about eight months to grow from planting to harvest; however, it is a unique vegetable crop in that much of the growing time takes place in the winter months, with no active work required from the grower. Garlic is one of the earliest plants to appear in the spring.
When your garlic arrives, open your package immediately and inspect it. Leave the bag open, store your garlic in a dark and cool place until you are ready to plant. Don’t store it in plastic or in the refrigerator.
Plant garlic 2-4 weeks before the ground freezes solid. Keep in mind this is not your first frost we are talking about here. This will enable the cloves to establish some roots while minimizing the amount of top growth before winter. If your ground does not freeze solid, plant 2-4 weeks before the coldest time of year. Break the bulbs apart and use all cloves that are plump and firm. It is not necessary to peel each clove. Plant root end down, 2” deep. Space cloves no closer than 6” apart with 9” between rows. Mix some form of nitrogen (compost, manure) into the soil before planting. Plant in full sun and rich, well-drained soil, though garlic will tolerate many soil types. If you have clay soil, improve the structure with organic matter, not sand. Apply a few inches of compost, leaf mulch, leaves, or grass clippings and water in.
Provide nitrogen during vegetative growth in the early Spring and deep watering as needed. Keep water in the root zone, not around bulbs. Hardneck varieties will send up a flower stalk called a scape. When the scape has formed one curl, it should be removed so growth is directed to the bulb. These are a tasty treat, too!
Watering garlic is like any other plant. It needs about 1″ of water a week, so you can water if there has been little rain. There is no need to water in the winter when temperatures are freezing. Cut off water about 2-3 weeks before harvest.
When the lower two or three leaves turn yellow or brown, bulbs are ready to be harvested. Typically, you want to see about 50% of the leaves brown. Each leaf represents a layer of skin on the bulb. If you let the garlic completely die out, it will not store well. You can always peek at the garlic to see if the bulb is the desired size. Remember that if soil temps reach 90 degrees, the bulbs mature quicker, meaning smaller bulbs when there is rapid growth. Weather does impact the size if you notice a difference from year to year. Inground versus raised beds could also affect that, depending on the season. Gently cultivate around the plant to loosen the soil before removing the garlic.
Do not wash the garlic bulbs, as you want to cure them. Hang garlic in a place with no direct sunlight for 2-4 weeks. Another option is to lay them in crates and ensure airflow so they properly cure.
Before trimming off the stem – make sure it is 90% dry. Store in netted or mesh onion bags. For optimum storage, hang in an area with 45 to 60 percent relative humidity at 45 to 65 F.
Remember to save the biggest bulbs for fall planting and store them in a dry, ventilated place. Enjoy the rest!
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic is a staple in our diets. Here are a few key reasons to make it a regular in your diet and garden:
- Boosts the immune system
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Contains antibiotic & anti-fungal properties
- Contains antioxidants
- Highly nutritious: Manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Selenium
Garden-to-Table Garlic Tips
Have you ever heard of the 10-minute smash rule? Let me walk you through it.
Grab a few cloves (red-skinned variety, if you can) & smash the garlic with the flat side of your knife. Then, let it sit for 10 minutes before cooking it.
Letting the garlic sit after smashing allows the critical ingredient Allicin to activate. Allicin is a compound produced when garlic is crushed or chopped, and by allowing the enzyme time to form, you’ll be reaping maximum benefits from your food. Plus, it amps up the garlic flavor.