How to Grow Garlic in Your Fall Vegetable Garden

Woman picking fresh organic raw garlic in the garden, selective focus. Outdoors. Harvesting time. Farm or country life.
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Garlic is well known for its culinary gifts, but this relative of onions and leeks is also a gift to gardeners. Easy to plant and low maintenance, it only requires some simple weeding and patience in return for lots of flavor and wellness boosters. And the taste and diversity of home-grown garlic are richly rewarding.

Below, we detail how to grow garlic and the expert plant care tips that will help you get the most out of your growing season.

Botanical Name  Allium sativum
Common Name Garlic
Plant Type Bulbing annual
Size  18" tall 
Sun Exposure  Full sun 
Soil Type  Well-drained, sandy loam 
Soil pH  Between 6 and 7 
Hardiness Zones  Zones 1-10
Native Area  Central Asia, but naturalized in Southern Europe, China, and Egypt for many centuries 
Toxicity  Toxic to pets

How to Plant Garlic

Reserve your seed garlic from a reputable grower well in advance of fall planting, as they often sell out. You should only use plump, blemish-free cloves. Since growing from these sections of the bulb is essentially known as cloning, large cloves grow heads of similarly large cloves. Plant smaller ones in spring for a harvest of green garlic. 

What Is Cloning?

Cloning, in the context of gardening, refers to the reproduction of a plant by using a small piece of the original plant, rather than through sexual reproduction such as seeds. Gene-splicing and laboratory or laser microscopes are not needed to clone plants.

Choose garlic that is organic and grown locally, since imports may be sprayed with chemicals to inhibit sprouting. Keep in mind that the typical garlic found in supermarkets is adapted to California growing conditions and may not be so easily replicated in your area. In addition, supermarkets generally only carry a basic, softneck variety. Ordering specialty garlic lets you choose from many types to suit your personal taste and your growing conditions.

Location

Choose a location with full sun and well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter. This allows the bulb to grow freely. Garlic is a pest repellent, so the National Gardening Association recommends planting it around the border of your garden or near lettuce, eggplants, cabbage, broccoli, or tomatoes. Do not plant near legumes such as peas or beans, as they can inhibit each other's growth.

Growing From "Seed"

If you allow a garlic plant to reach full maturity and develop a scape (a winding stem, often eaten for its own merits), the plant will produce tiny cloves called bulbils, which function like seeds. These can be planted during the following season; however, they take two to three years to reach maturity and will need tasty mulch for most of that time. It is a cost-effective, but very slow, process.

When to Plant

Garlic requires cold weather to form its bulb. Planting time differs according to climate zones: planting in the coldest zones takes place in September, zones 5-9 in October, and zones 9-10 from late October to December, according to Gray Duck Garlic. This timing allows the cloves to develop roots before the cold weather slows growth or causes the plant to become dormant over the winter. As cold weather sets in, put down mulch around the plants. The University of Massachusetts Extension Agriculture and Landscape Program recommends using straw or pine needles to insulate the bulbs as freezing weather sets in; then, when green tips begin to show in spring, push the mulch back to facilitate growth but still block weeds.

You can plant garlic in early spring for a crop of “green garlic” to harvest before the bulb divides. The taste is light and delicious, with less bite than mature garlic.

Growing From a Clove

Once you have selected your garlic type and prepared your soil, the rest is easy. Just before planting, break the head of garlic into individual cloves and select the largest ones. Do not peel off the papery protection. Plant each clove root-end down and pointy-end up, just deep enough to cover and 4-6 inches apart (in heavier soil, bulbs grow bigger 6 inches apart).

Garlic Plant Care

Garlic takes many months to form its bulb, so keep an eye on weeds, and keep the soil consistently moist. Mulch, such as a thick layer of straw, is your friend here.

Light, Soil, and Nutrients

Garlic requires full sun. Like other root vegetables, it grows well in sandy loam with good drainage and plenty of organic matter. These conditions let the bulb expand. A raised bed is a great place for garlic.

Vermicompost (compost helped along by worms) benefited garlic plants' leaf area, clove number, clove size, and marketable harvest in a study carried out in Haramaya University in Ethiopia. If you use animal manure to amend your soil, make sure it is very well "cured". Garlic benefits from following a cover crop and/or fertilizer that features a good amount of nitrogen and potassium.

Water

Garlic prefers soil that is moist but not soaked. Pre-irrigate the planting area if it has not had a good amount of rainfall. Keep in mind that although the bulb is near the surface, the roots can reach down a couple of feet in search of water. Too much water around the bulb can lead to rot, so gradual drip irrigation will work best to allow water to filter through the soil.

Common Pests and Diseases

Garlic has few pests, but the most likely to affect your crop are thrips. These little, brown insects are more commonly found on sweet onions but can also damage garlic. The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program recommends that garlic and onions not be planted near grains or alfalfa, as thrips will migrate when those plants die. Overhead watering may help get rid of thrips and, if necessary, the IPM folks recommend effective bacterial-fungal sprays.

Like onions, garlic does not stand up to competitive weeds well. Mulch, whether organic or man-made, can keep weeds at bay while also moderating temperature.

Garlic Varieties

Large clean organically grown hardneck garlic bulbs
Hardneck garlic. Laura Berman / Design Pics / Getty Images
  • Hardneck garlic, such as Rocambole, Purple Stripe, or Porcelain types, is known for its stiff flower stalk or "neck", and large cloves. The stalk, before it flowers, curls to form a "scape", which can be used in a sauté or stir-fry and has a texture akin to young asparagus.
  • Softneck varieties like Inchelium Red or Silverwhite have a more pliable stalk that can be used for braiding bulbs together. They generally store better than hardback varietals. They have smaller but more numerous cloves.
  • Elephant garlic is actually a type of leek, and so its taste is much milder.

How to Harvest Garlic

When leaves begin to dry, look for fully formed cloves by brushing away the soil around the top of the bulb. The University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center recommends that irrigation be stopped once those cloves are developed. Do not leave the bulbs in the ground for too long, or they will separate from the stem, allowing diseases to get in and stain or spoil the garlic. When the bulbs are ready, grab the stem close to the bulb, loosen the soil underneath with a trowel, and pull gently. Be careful not to bruise or ding the garlic. 

How to Store and Preserve Garlic

Hang softneck garlic by the stalk to dry. Stalks can be braided while still soft for handy and attractive access in the kitchen. Trim the leaves from the hardneck garlic and cut the stem short before allowing them to cure in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place for about two weeks until the outside layers are dry and papery. Store garlic in a cool place with good ventilation and relatively low humidity

View Article Sources
  1. Fikru, Tamiru Kenea, and Gedamu Fikreyohannes. "Effect of Vermicompost on Growth, Quality and Economic Return of Garlic (Allium Sativum L.) at Haramaya District, Eastern Ethiopia." African Journal of Agricultural Research, vol. 14, no. 35, 2019, pp. 2159-2167., doi:10.5897/ajar2017.12760