Find out when to plant garlic in your region. In general, the best times for planting are mid-autumn or early spring.
Garlic grows well in a wide range of climates. It does less well in areas of high heat or humidity, or where there is a lot of rainfall.
Choose a planting spot and prepare the soil. Garlic needs a lot of full sun, but it might tolerate partial shade provided it’s not for very long during the day or growing season. The soil must be well dug over and crumbly. Sandy loam is best.
Before adding nutrients to your soil, you should know what is already there. If you haven’t done a soil test, contact your local county extension office for a soil sampling kit.
Ensure that the soil has good drainage. Clay-based soils are not good for planting garlic.
Use compost and manure to add nutrients to the soil before planting the garlic.
Source fresh garlic. Garlic is grown by planting the cloves — called seeds for our purposes — so to get started all you need to do is buy fresh garlic. Choose garlic from a store, or even better, a farm stand or the local farmers market. It’s very important that the garlic bulbs chosen are fresh and of high quality. If you can, choose organic garlic so that you avoid garlic that has been sprayed with chemicals.
Choose fresh garlic bulbs with large cloves. Avoid garlic that has become soft.
Each clove will sprout into a garlic plant, so keep that in mind when you’re figuring out how many heads to buy.
If you have some garlic at home that has sprouted, that’s great to use.
Nurseries also offer garlic bulbs for planting. Visit a nursery if you want to get a specific variety or to get advice on local conditions for garlic.
Mail-order catalogs and online seed stores offer many types of garlic and will include specific planting instructions for the type of seed you buy.
Break the cloves from a fresh garlic head. Be careful not to damage the cloves at their base, where they attach to the garlic plate. If the base is damaged, the garlic will not grow.
Plant the larger cloves. The smaller cloves take up just as much space in the planting bed, but they produce much smaller bulbs.
Push each clove into the soil. Point the tips upward and plant the cloves about 2 inches (5cm) deep.
The cloves should be spaced about 8 inches (20cm) apart for best growing conditions.
Cover the planted cloves with mulch. Suitable toppings include hay, dry leaves, straw, compost, well rotted manure, or well rotted grass clippings.
Fertilize the cloves or top-dress with compost. The planted garlic needs a complete fertilizer at the time of planting.
Fertilize again in the spring if you are planting your garlic in the fall, or in the fall if you’re planting it in the spring.
Water the plants when necessary. Newly planted garlic needs to be kept moist to help the roots to develop. Don’t overdo the water, however, as garlic does not grow well, or may even rot, if sodden during cold months.
Water deeply once a week if rain has not fallen. Watering garlic is not necessary unless there is a drought, in which case water sparingly, as garlic hates wet soil.
Reduce the watering gradually as the season warms up. The garlic needs a hot, dry summer to allow the bulbs to mature.
Take care of pests. Insects, mice, and other creatures may come to eat the garlic or make a nest among the plants. Beware the following pests:
Aphids seem to enjoy garlic leaves, and the flower buds. They’re easy to get rid of — simply rub your fingers over them and squash them or apply a pesticide.
Many people tend to plant garlic underneath roses to deter aphids; the roses benefit from the aphids being drawn away.
Mice and other small creatures sometimes nest in mulch. If you have a problem with mice in your area, consider using plastic mulch or landscaping fabric.
Eat some scapes. As the garlic plants begin to grow, long green stalks called scapes will emerge. Pull off a few scapes and eat them if you wish. The best part of the scape is the young, tender shoot.
This may damage the garlic bulbs themselves, so don’t do it to every plant.
Use gloves when pulling off scapes; otherwise your hands will smell of garlic for days.
Note the signs of readiness for harvesting. Garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested when you can feel the individual cloves in the bulb, and the leaves turn yellow or brown.
Once the scapes start to dry, it is important to harvest the garlic or the head will “shatter” and divide into the individual cloves.
Begin harvesting at the end of the summer. Harvesting can continue well into autumn in most places.
Some warm climates may enable earlier harvesting of garlic.
Loosen the area around each bulb with a shovel or garden fork. Pull the bulbs out of the ground. If using a fork, be careful not to stab the bulbs underground.
Be careful with the digging process, since garlic tends to bruise easily.
The plants should be kept complete and unwashed, and hung up to “cure” for two weeks. The ideal temperature is 80°F (26.7°C) for curing. Once cured, the outer flaky layers of the bulb can be brushed off, leaving clean skin below. Trim the tops and the roots, and store in a cool, dry place.
Washing garlic will prolong the curing process and potentially cause it to rot. Also, if the garlic is not cured, it will rot quickly in the pantry.
Store garlic in a cool, dry place in your home. Dried bulbs can be kept in a garlic keeper (usually made from pottery), and individual cloves can be pulled off as needed.
Make a garlic plait or braid. The dried leaves can be kept back and plaited or braided into a strand, from which you can hang the garlic bulbs in your pantry or kitchen. This is both decorative and useful.