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"How to Grow"

How to Grow Garlic: Seeds, Varieties, Harvest, Curing, Storage & More!

Do you dream of having your own fresh, spunky, health-promoting garlic, straight from your garden to your kitchen? Well, you’re in luck. Because this ancient bulbous, herbaceous vegetable is easy to grow, and can be successfully cultivated in pretty much every climate! Don’t have a garden? No problem. You can grow garlic in containers! All you need to know is what kind of garlic is suited best for your location, along with few tips to help you along the way.


So, let’s talk garlic! What is the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic? Which should I choose? When do I plant garlic, and how do I know when it is ready to harvest? What’s up with the whole drying, curing, and storing process? This article will answer all of these questions, and more! I will provide you some tips about planting, fertilizing, using, and preserving garlic too. I hope this will help make all of your homegrown garlic dreams come true!



Choosing What Kind of Garlic to Plant: Softneck or Hardneck?


There are dozens of varieties of garlic to choose from: Inchelium Red, Music, German White, Creole, Spanish Roja, California Early White… the list goes on! Some are more spicy or mild, larger or smaller, or earlier-maturing. However, out of all of the many types, garlic will fall into one of two categories – hardneck or softneck.

Choosing the right type of garlic can make or break your success in growing it. For instance, planting a variety not well-suited for your climate can lead to underdeveloped, smaller heads. Just as you do when making other veggie selections, read each unique variety description!

I recently wrote an entire article dedicated to this topic, so feel free to check it out here for a more in-depth look at the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic. That article also highlights the top 12 most popular varieties of garlic, 6 of each type.

In a nutshell, the key differences between hardneck and softneck garlic are as follows:


Climate

Hardneck varieties tend to thrive in regions with more severe winters. They require a greater period of vernalization, which means a prolonged exposure to cold weather. Therefore, those long freezing winters that you may dread are actually ideal for hardneck garlic to grow!

On the other hand, softneck varieties tend to do best in regions with significantly milder winters, like here on the Central Coast of California. We have very rare frosts, and no freezing weather to speak of. That said, softnecks can still survive and grow with some freezing temperatures! This is particularly true if they’re provided a good deep layer of mulch like straw or leaves for added protection.

Both types of garlic should be deeply mulched over winter in places with freezing conditions. Instead of snow, we get rain in winter. Since we don’t want the soil to stay overly wet and risk rotting the garlic bulbs, we skip the deep mulch to help the garden beds dry out a bit between rain.


Bulb Development & Storage Potential

Softneck garlic varieties usually produce a larger bulb, with more individually-wrapped cloves inside. On the other hand, hardnecks typically have fewer individual cloves – but each clove can be larger, with thinner skin and easier to peel. Because softneck garlic cloves are so tightly individually wrapped, they have a longer storage life after harvest. Softneck garlic has the potential to stay firm and fresh for up to 9 months when stored properly!

On the more tender side, hardneck garlic has a shorter shelf life. Even after being properly cured, hardneck garlic bulbs may start to go soft and spoil after about 3 to 4 months, though they may hold up longer. Therefore, you’ll want to use it fresh, re-plant some as seed, or preserve it within that time frame. We’ll talk more about all of that below!


A close up image of a hand holding two different varieties of garlic, they both have their outer papery wrapping pulled off at the top but it is still connected to the bottom part of the bulb, splayed out in a slight star shape. The top bulb is dark burgundy red showing six exposed cloves. The bottom bulb of garlic is larger, it is white with redish tips and there are at least twelve exposed cloves. The background of the image is dark grey barnwood.
A softneck Inchelium Red (our favorite!) on the bottom, and a hardneck Moroccan Creole on top.


Scapes

Hardneck garlic will grow an edible flowering stem, called a garlic scape. In contrast, softneck garlic does not produce scapes. The scapes grow up and out from the center of the hardneck greenery close to harvest time. Garlic scapes are highly sought-after! They’re similar to delicious, garlic-flavored, long tender green beans – an awesome addition to pesto, or any meal! 

When scapes develop, harvest them! Most gardeners wait until they form one nice curl, and then cut them down at the leaf line. However, if you allow the scapes to grow for too long, they’ll draw energy away from the developing bulb. 


A hand holding a bunch of garlic scapes, they are long, green, and resemble a cross between a long green bean and a green onion. They are about a foot long and are whimsical and slightly curly in their appearance. There are a couple raised wooden garden beds in the background that have various plants in them, along with a couple ceramic pots with agave, succulents, and perennials mixed in throughout the image.


Flavor

In terms of flavor, hardneck garlic varieties are said to have a more complex flavor profile than softneck garlic, described as being richer, spicier, and generally more “garlicky”. This, combined with its shorter shelf life, make hardneck garlic especially perfect and pungent for dehydrating into garlic powder. Both types have stellar flavor though! Like I said, we grow a lot of softneck garlic here, and it is plenty pungent and garlicky for our liking. You really can’t go wrong either way, because as with most things: homegrown garlic is SO much better than anything you’ll find in the stores.


Now that you have a good idea of what type of garlic may best suit your needs, have fun shopping!


Where to Get Garlic Seed 


When it comes to garlic, “seed” means cloves! One planted clove will develop into one bulb of garlic. If you search around online, there are tons of sources for garlic seed! Check out Seeds Now, High Mowing Seeds, Peaceful Valley, Adaptive Seeds, or Baker Creek, just to name a few. We have purchased garlic seed from all of them throughout the years. In addition to ordering online, seed garlic is sometimes available for sale at our local Farm Supply or Ace Hardware nursery, but the varieties are limited.

Even though garlic isn’t planted until the fall, try your best to plan in advance and order your garlic seed early!  Most online retailers will open up pre-orders for garlic during the summer, and will ship it out in late summer to early fall. We just ordered ours – it is currently late July. Here is the kicker: many places sell out fast and early! If you wait until planting time, you’ll have very slim pickings. 

Check your farmer’s market too! The garlic they sell locally should grow well in your region. In a pinch, you can plant organic garlic cloves from the grocery store, but success is slightly less guaranteed. Also, you’ll have less control over the selection available (stores usually sell softneck). If you do go this route, I emphasize: get organic! Inorganic produce is often irradiated or treated with sprouting inhibitors. Ew.


A hand holding a white bowl full of red-colored garlic cloves. There are green fluffy plants in the background.



HOW TO GROW GARLIC


When to Plant Garlic

Garlic has a crazy long growing season! It is traditionally planted in the fall, usually sometime between late September to late November, depending on your climate. Mid-October is a safe bet for most locations. We generally plant our garlic in the last week of September or first week of October. 

After planting, the cloves should begin to sprout in the fall, and also start to establish their root systems. They’ll go dormant over the winter, resume growth in the spring, and be ready to harvest early to midsummer. If you miss the window for fall planting, cloves can also be planted in late winter to early spring, as soon as your soil thaws enough to work. However, fall planted garlic will produce bigger, superior bulbs.


Preparing Garlic Seed to Plant

Once you have your seed, carefully break apart the whole bulbs into individual cloves. Leave the papery cover on each clove though! It is recommended to do this a day or two before planting. Every clove will form a new bulb or “head” of garlic that contains 5 to 12 new cloves. If you have your choice, select the largest cloves to plant! Larger cloves are said to produce the largest bulbs.


Pre-planting soak (optional): 

Years ago, we read a tip about pre-soaking garlic cloves in various solutions to prepare them for planting, and have stuck to it ever since! It isn’t a mandatory step by any means though. The purpose is to provide them with a combination of nutrients and anti-fungal ingredients, to give the garlic seed a jump start to sprout, and also to fight infections and disease! 

To create a garlic clove soak, combine 1 Tbsp of baking soda and 2 Tbsp of liquid seaweed per gallon of water, scaling up or down as needed. Given the modest amount of garlic we plant – about two pounds of cloves – we only make a quarter of the recipe. We soak each variety in its own designated mason jar to keep track of which is which. One year we didn’t have liquid seaweed on hand, so we substituted the seaweed with kelp meal instead.

For one quart of water, combine 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda and either ½ a tablespoon of seaweed extract OR 1 teaspoon of kelp meal. Mix well, distribute into your soaking vessels of choice, and add the garlic cloves. Soak the garlic seed in this solution for several hours or even overnight, but no more than 18 hours. When the time is up, remove them from the liquid. 

An additional optional step is to give them one quick dunk (a minute or two) in rubbing alcohol. It sounds odd, but it will help further kill any bacteria or fungal spores that may be present. This would be particularly useful if you’re re-planting garlic that was harvested from your own garden, where the likelihood of disease may be higher than fresh seed garlic. 

Then they’re ready to go into the soil!


Two quart mason jars filled with a kelp solution and many cloves of garlic soaking in each one. One jar contains garlic that is redish brown and the other is mainly creamy white. The jars are sitting on the edge of a raised garden bed where there are many greens such as tatsoi growing in it. The background shows a couple other raised garden beds and they contain many different varieties of greens. There is a hedge of perennials behind that which creates a green wall with spots of small pink flowers.
Soaking garlic cloves in kelp meal, baking soda, and water before planting.


Where to Plant Garlic

Garlic will grow best in a location with full sun. If you’re not using raised garden beds, choose a spot in the ground that doesn’t easily collect and pool water, which can lead to rotting. Avoid planting garlic in the same place year after year, or in the same location that other alliums (like onions) were recently grown. Good crop rotation practices are important to help prevent disease, pests, and nutrient deficiencies.


Growing Garlic in Containers

Even if you don’t have much of a garden to speak of, or if your garden space is already full of other lovely things, you can totally grow garlic in containers! We planted about a dozen leftover cloves in a grow bag and also a wine barrel one year, and they did just as well as the ones in the raised beds! To grow garlic in a container, follow all the same tips and steps outlined in this article.

I suggest using a wide container with a lot of surface area (rather than deep and narrow), so you can maximize the amount of garlic you can fit inside without crowding them too much. We used this 15 gallon smart pot. Fabric pots like this are ideal since they have excellent drainage. No risk of rotting here! They can also withstand freezing and thawing. However, fabric pots may dry out a little more quickly. Therefore, more mulch and frequent water may be required compared to those in beds or in-ground. 


Soil Preparation to Grow Garlic

Garlic thrives in rich, loose, well-draining soil. If your soil is compact and dense, loosen it to about a foot deep.* Work in several inches of organic compost to your chosen planting location, along with a dusting of a mild fertilizer. We usually add a combination of alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and neem seed meals to our garden beds, along with compost of course. You’ll want to go fairly light on the fertilizer at this stage, and plan to add more in the spring. 

*Note: If your soil is dense and compact, consider working in a little aeration additive like small 3/8” volcanic rock, pumice, or perlite to help keep it loose and promote drainage. We mix small volcanic rock into all of our raised garden beds, and not just for garlic! Then you won’t have to worry about breaking and loosening it up next time, which is ideal if you like to follow no-till or no-dig practices. To read more about how we create our garden soil, see this article. 


How to Plant Garlic Cloves

Plant each garlic clove 2 inches deep, and about 4 to 6 inches apart. I usually pre-poke all the planting holes in the designated bed, and then pop in each clove one by one.  Place the garlic clove in the hole with the flat root end down and the pointy end facing up.

For larger varieties, like “Elephant garlic” (which is actually a member of the leek family), provide more spacing between the cloves – up to 12 inches apart, and 4 to 6 inches deep. If you order seed from a company to grow garlic, they will usually include planting instructions with spacing guidelines for you to follow.


A three way image collage, the first image shows a garden bed that contains only barren soil with many small holes made in rows throughout the bed. There are various cacti and perennials in the background and a bench next to a slender tree trunk.The second image shows a hand holding one garlic clove with its root end facing down and its growth/sprout end pointing up. The background is one corner of the barren bed that has its planting holes already made. The final image shows a hand planting the clove in the empty planting hole with its root end down and pointy end up.
Pointy side up!

Mulching Garlic

To properly overwinter garlic in cold northern climates, heavily mulch the top soil with several inches of loose mulch, like straw, leaves, or even additional layers of compost. Because we are growing garlic in a location with mild and sometimes rainy winters, we skip the deep mulch to help prevent rotten bulbs. Our compost serves as a nice modest mulch layer, which is what we primarily use in all of our raised beds.


Care throughout the season

Garlic is a heavy feeder! A couple times throughout the growing season (while they’re actively growing – which may not be during winter for you!) we add another layer of rich aged compost on top, plus a sprinkle of well balanced slow-release fertilizer. Add fertilizer between the rows of garlic – referred to as “side dressing” – and then water in. We also try to water with either dilute seaweed extract or actively aerated compost tea (AACT) made with worm castings from our worm bin every other month or so, in lieu of its routine watering.

Speaking of watering, it is best to water garlic deeply but infrequently. Allow the soil surface and top inch to dry out between waterings. If it is raining, snowing, or otherwise damp during the winter, do not apply additional water. Again, we’re trying to prevent the bulbs from rotting, particularly during the time the garlic is not actively growing. Once the spring comes and your temperatures rise, maintain an evenly slightly moist soil – which also keeps the soil cool, the way garlic prefers it. 


A raised garden bed full of maturing garlic, the plants have long green strands of leaves and the main garlic bulb is hidden under the soil surface. There is an agave in a ceramic pot in the corner where there is another garden bed which contains tall spikes of fava bean greens that is teeing into the garlic raised bed. There are various trees and shrubs planted outside of the garden bed area in the background.


Potential Garlic Disease


While garlic can be very low maintenance and easy-to-grow, it is also prone to several diseases.

“These include, but are not limited to: Basal Rot, White Rot, Downy Mildew, Botrytis Rot and Penicillium Decay. Most of the major garlic diseases are soil-born, so proper site assessment and yearly rotations are crucial in maintaining a healthy garden of garlic.” 

Cornell University


We have never experienced any of those issues while growing garlic, so I don’t have much to say about them… If you want to learn more, check out this more detailed article from Cornell University. 

The only disease we have ever struggled with is Garlic rust. Garlic rust is a fungal disease that only affects the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots). It is virtually impossible to treat organically once it appears, and is common in humid, damp conditions like we often have in the winter. Minor cases are mostly a cosmetic nuisance, but severe infections can lead to decreased bulb size and lessened life in storage. Despite our best crop rotation efforts, we usually end up having some rust appear. Depending on how bad it is that particular year, we have decided to harvest our garlic early to prevent the spreading of rust spores. In that case, we end up with green garlic. 

Green garlic can’t be dried and stored long-term like mature garlic can, but we’re still happy when we have it – because green garlic is awesome too! If you end up a similar situation, check out this article to learn more about how to use and preserve green garlic. 


A two way image collage, the first image is a close up of garlic greens infected with garlic rust which covers the green leaves in red/orange spots. The second image is a hand holding a bunch of green garlic my their stalks with their bulbs pointing upwards. The garlic bulbs are mainly white with some redish purple streaks mixed in. The background is the same variety of green garlic assembled in two straight lines facing each other with their bulbs in the middle and their green stalks facing outwards.
Garlic rust on the left. Green garlic on the right, harvested early because the rust was gnarly that year.


When & How to Harvest Garlic

Garlic is typically harvested in early to midsummer. You’ll know when it is getting close to harvest time when a lot of the garlic leaves start to turn yellow or brown, shrivel, and dry up. Garlic is ready to harvest when about one third to half of the tops are yellowing and falling over. If you gently prod and explore under the soil line, you should feel large developed bulbs of garlic! If they’re left in the ground too long, the bulbs may start to separate and not store as well.

When the leaves begin to yellow and you think it is close to harvest time, stop watering. It is recommended to discontinue watering garlic a couple weeks before harvest. This will make the harvest and cleaning easier, and aid in proper drying. To remove the garlic from the soil, gently loosen and dig around the bulbs to unearth them – with the help of a trowel if needed. Try not to pull too hard on the greens if they’re not coming up easily! Also, avoid puncturing, bruising, or otherwise damaging the bulbs as you dig them up. 


Looking down at freshly harvested garlic lined up on the ground in two rows with their bulbs and roots facing each other. The leaves of the garlic are still fairly green with some brown and yellow mixed in which signifies it was ready to harvest.
Our 2018 garlic harvest. Hardneck on the left, softneck on the right. We originally started with 1 pound of each type of seed/cloves.


How to Cure & Dry Garlic

Garlic must be properly cured in order to hold up well in long-term storage, which is your goal, right? Right. So don’t remove those greens! To dry and cure the fresh garlic, store it in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight for 2 to 3 weeks after harvesting. Do not wash the garlic. Let it dry out and brush the soil off as needed. Keep both the leaves and roots intact (attached to the bulb) during this process. The garlic bulbs are still drawing important energy and nutrients from them!

If you are feeling fancy, you can braid and hang your garlic. Otherwise, you can just lay them out flat on a wire rack, a screen, slotted shelving, or other breathable surface in a desirable curing location. Our braids usually hang in our dark spare bathroom shower, with an open window and fan. Hey, we’re working with the space we have!

After the 2 to 3 weeks of curing, you can remove the leaves and roots and get them all cleaned up, cutting them off at the top and bottom of the now-dry bulb. On the other hand, you could keep the dry leaves attached to braid and hang if you wish. 


A man who is wearing a maroon shirt, brown shorts, and sunglasses is holding two varieties of newly braided garlic. He is holding them outwards and up towards the camera. Each garlic braid contains about twenty four visible bulbs with many greenish brown leaves emanating from the tops of the bulbs which helps create the braid. There is a greenish blue wall of a house that is the background.
There are four braids of garlic on an outdoor patio table. There are two different varieties, one is white with burgundy red accents while the other is mostly white with an occasional purple streak. The bulbs start at the bottom of the braid and as you go towards the top it turns to garlic leaves.
Inchelium red softneck on the right, Moroccan Creole on the left. We keep each type separate, since they have different storage abilities. We always try to use up the hardneck quicker, or preserve it. Meanwhile, the softneck can wait and be enjoyed fresh for longer.


How to Store Garlic

Once your garlic is cured and dried, store the bulbs long-term in a dry, dark, cool place. We don’t have a fancy root cellar, so we keep ours in a partially closed cardboard box in our spare “hobby room” which stays fairly temperate and dark. As we already discussed, some varieties will last longer than others, so check on your stored bulbs routinely and give them a squeeze. Make quick use of any that are going soft or starting to sprout! 


A close up image of a cardboard box which contains about 30 bulbs of garlic sitting single layered on the bottom of the box. Most of the bulbs are whitish purple and they vary in size from medium to large.
Mostly softneck Inchelium Red left to store. This was taken after we did a routine examination of the bulbs and decided it was time to pull out a bunch of the hardneck bulbs and turn them into powder, since some were starting to soften.


Preserving & Using Garlic

Get ready for the treat of your life! Homegrown garlic is pretty much the best thing ever. We love adding it to nearly every dinner, or in recipes like our homemade Fire Cider, or in fermented foods like sauerkraut or dilly carrot pickles! Another delectable use is to roast it, then either add it into the dough or spread it on top of homemade sourdough bread. Oh my yum.

There are a several delicious ways to preserve garlic. You can pickle, ferment, or freeze it. Or, our personal favorite: dehydrate and turn it into homegrown garlic powder! Check out this tutorial on how to do just that. For more details about the other garlic preservation methods, see the end of this green garlic article, where I discussed the many ways to do so!


A hand is holding a finished jar of garlic powder up into the sun. The pint jar is about three quarter full, with "garlic powder" written in red pen on the side. In the background is blurred plants and flowers, in a garden setting.


It’s time to go grow your own!


So, what do you think? Are you going to grow hardneck garlic, softneck, or maybe a little of both? I hope you found this article to be interesting and informative! May you be blessed with delicious homegrown garlic, and definitely free of vampires. Please feel free to ask questions, and share this post!



DeannaCat's Signature, Keep on Growing

15 Comments

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Laura, seaweed extract is concentrated seaweed or kelp and fish fertilizer is concentrated cooked fish. They are very different and accomplish different things. I would not soak the garlic cloves in the fish fertilizer pre planting but once your garlic is growing, feel free to water them using the fish fertilizer on occasion. Good luck!

  • Mary

    Hi Deanna – I live in Los Osos 10a… What varieties of hardneck garlic are you growing? It’s hard to choose! I am going to order inchelium red, california early white and some shallots. Do you have other suggestions?

  • Melinda

    Is there any way to save a few of your homegrown bulbs for replanting next season? This summer will be my first time harvesting our own garlic. So excited!

  • Rachel

    Once planted, approximately how long should it take to see garlic sprouts coming up? I’ve planted a fall garlic crop (first time) about 2 1/2 weeks ago and I have yet to see any signs of garlic.

  • Emily Journagan

    When I am ordering garlic and it says “3-4 bulbs per pound” and you mention separating the bulbs into cloves before planting, does this mean that 1 lb of garlic for planting will start about 10 plants or just the 3-4?

    • DeannaCat

      Each bulb should have anywhere from 8 to 12 cloves on average at minimum, so that is enough for around 40-50 future heads of garlic!

  • June

    I can’t wait to plant some garlic this year! Thank you, DeannaCat for your non-intimidating tutorials! I have a lot of friends who are self proclaimed “plant killers” and have found so much success with your tutorials and recipes!

    • DeannaCat

      I LOVE that! Sure, some people are more naturally a “green thumb” – but anyone can learn to tend to plants! They just need a little guidance… and more importantly, the courage to try, learn from experience, and keep going! 🙂

      • Nicole Novak

        Perfect timing for this article! I just finished curing my garlic and was wondering if I could get an early start and replant some of my crop here in Northern CA. Traditionally I have planted in October/November. Hurray!! Also, as I was reading your fab article, I heard a rustling sound coming from my 🦋 butterfly 🦋 enclosure. First time ever, I had TWO Swallowtails emerge!! A beautiful pair that I hope will breed and produce more cats for me to raise.

  • Emily

    Do you find that you have time to rotate another crop into that spot after harvesting garlic in the summer? I’m thinking about trying it this year, but not sure if I want to give up precious garden real estate 😉

    • DeannaCat

      Do you mean another round of garlic… Or another veggie crop in general? Yes we always replant things when anything comes out of our beds – but we do garden year round here. If you mean, do you have time for a full round of tomatoes or peppers? Maybe not, starting that late. But you could totally grow fall crops behind them, like carrots, greens, beets, or the quickest of them all – radishes!

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