How to Grow Garlic (Because It’s Ridiculously Easy)
Like spring flowering bulbs, fall is the time to plant garlic. It’s super simple to grow, but you have to plant it now in order to harvest it from your garden in the late spring and early summer next year. The great news is that, basically, all you need to do is dig a hole, and nature will do the rest. It’s also pest and rodent-resistant, so your neighborhood chipmunks and squirrels typically won’t dig it up and gnaw on it like they might other bulbs. Get your garlic in the ground about a month before the soil freezes in your area. In cold climates, that’s mid-autumn. In warm climates, that’s early winter. It doesn’t get much easier than that, so roll up your sleeves and start planting!
Here’s How to Grow Garlic, in 6 Steps:
1. Choose the type
There are two types: Softneck, which has a flexible stem and keeps well for a long time; the long stems are good for braiding. The other type is hardneck, which has a stiff central stem and doesn’t last as long, but it’s typically considered easier to peel with better taste. Bonus: If you plant a hardneck variety, you can harvest the “scapes,” which are the long curling stems that appear in late spring or early summer, before the garlic bulbs are ready, so you’re essentially getting two crops out of one bulb. Also, purchase “seed garlic” from a seed supplier; what you see at the grocery store may be treated so that it will not sprout. Read the descriptions before buying, because some kinds are more suited to specific climates (hot or cold).
2. Find a sunny spot in your garden
Garlic needs full sun, which is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day. Also, because this crop takes a long time to mature (remember, you won’t harvest until next summer), plant it somewhere it’s not going to be in the way, such as along the edge or back of your garden. You can plant it in containers at least 12 inches deep, but it’s not the best scenario because heads grown in pots tend to be small.
3. Plant individual cloves
Carefully separate individual cloves from the head of garlic. Each clove will become one new plant. Dig a hole about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Place one clove per hole pointed-end up, backfill with soil, then pat it down. That’s it! In the spring when the shoots emerge, it’s fine to feed with a balanced fertilizer or top with compost.
4. Harvest your garlic scapes
If you’ve planted a hardneck type, watch for the curling scapes, which appear on the stem in early summer. Cut them off right above the top leaf, and enjoy them stir-fried, sautéed in frittatas or tossed over pasta dishes. Plus, removing the scapes helps the plant put more energy into making a bigger bulb of garlic. Don’t wait too long or they’ll become straight and too tough to eat.
5. Harvest your garlic bulbs
With either type of garlic, you’ll know it’s almost ready when the tops of the garlic begin to turn brown and fall over. When about half the stem is brownish or dry, you can harvest. Use a hand trowel or fork to lift up underneath the bulb, then shake off dirt and hang garlic upside down in a pantry or closet to “cure” for a few weeks, which increases storage life. Leave the stems on until they’re dry, then cut back the stems so that they’re only about 1 inch long and trim off the roots a bit.
6. Store your bulbs
Store the cloves in a mesh bag in a cool, dry place—not the refrigerator. If you accidentally nick any bulbs when digging them up, use those first, because they won’t last as long as those that are intact. And if you’re really thrifty, save a few of the best bulbs for planting again next year.