How does garlic grow? Pretty effortlessly, if you ask me. Just give it some sun, a little water and watch it go.
Years ago my husband and I took a trip to Raven, Virginia to visit his grandparents. Like most people that lived on top of the mountain, Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw Ball had a very, very, very large garden. They grew potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cabbage, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and lots of garlic! We had just moved into a new house (back in Ohio) and wanted to build our own backyard garden. Maw-Maw Ball gave me a bag full of garlic “seeds” to get started. When I asked her what to do with them, she said in her gentle southern drawl, “Well honey, you just plant them in the dirt.”
Just plant them in the dirt.
I took them home and planted them in the dirt once…and have enjoyed 13 years of garlic from that one initial planting. Like most garden plants garlic prefer to be grown in full sun, but it does surprisingly well in shadier gardens. They are a pretty fool- proof plant.
There are two basic types of Garlic: hardneck (also called stiffneck) and softneck (sometimes called topset). The hardneck varieties produce a rigid, central stalk. The stalk curls at the top and grows a seedpod head called a bulbil or scape. Hardneck varieties tend to produce 5-7 large cloves. Cloves from a hardneck variety tend to be stronger in flavor than the softneck varieties. They are hardy and usually found growing in northern regions.
Softneck varieties are not quite as hardy. They are better for warm climates. As the name, implies, soft neck varieties do not have the rigid stalk and do not grow scapes. The soft stems are good for braiding. Softneck varieties usually have a milder flavor. Each bulb contains about 12 cloves. Softneck varieties generally have a longer shelf life than hardneck.
There are two easy ways to plant garlic.
The most commonly used method is to plant a clove. Each individual clove will grow a new bulb of garlic. (Note: The clove is the small section that makes up the bulb. I had a friend who was following a recipe for garlic cheese dip. Instead of adding 2 cloves of garlic, she added 2 bulbs of garlic. She won’t make that mistake again!)
Plant each clove (flat end down, pointed side up) two inches deep. Space them about 6 inches apart. You can expect to see growth in 4-6 weeks.
If you are planting hardneck garlic, you can plant the bulbils from the scape. This method takes longer to grow a complete bulb. If you pull your garlic up the first growing season, you’ll see what looks like one single clove attached to the stem rather than a multi-cloved bulb. If you wait until the next season, you’ll find a small bulb. Wait a third season…you’ll find a full bulb. There its no need to start them inside on your windowsill like you would tomato or pepper seeds. They are tough as nails. Just plant them in the dirt and they will grow.
Growing garlic from bulbils takes a lot longer, but it has its advantages. The main advantage being that one garlic plant contains a lot more bulbils than cloves. Growing from bulbils is also a good way to prevent soil borne diseases.
The best time to plant garlic is in the fall.
Your clove will begin to grow roots, sleep for the winter, then and then restart growth in the spring. If you are growing a hardneck variety, around mid-June you’ll find that the top stalk will begin curling and a scape forming. Its common practice to cut the scapes off so the plant can focus its growth on the bulb. Some growers claim that it makes for larger bulb. Others say it makes no difference. I prefer to leave most of my bulbils on, let them burst and fall where they please. Then I have a steady supply of garlic growing with no effort on my part. (This is a terrible idea if you have a small growing area. You’ll end up with garlic EVERYWHERE!)
If you plan on saving your bulbils for re-planting, its best to let them stay on the stalk until they are (almost) ready to fall on their own. You can store them in a brown paper bag.
Bulbils resemble small, round cloves. They smell very much like a clove of garlic and they can be sauteed or steamed. They have a much milder flavor than the clove.
Around late June/early July you’ll notice that the bottom half of the leaves are starting to dry out and turn brown. This means its time to harvest! Dig your garlic bulb and hang them out in a shady area. Do not wait until all the leaves have turned brown. Each leaf is relative to the wrapper around the bulb. If you have 5 leaves, then you should have 5 layers of wrapping around the bulb. If you let it dry too much before digging it, your wrapper will split underground.
Is wild garlic like regular garlic?
Wild garlic is a cold season perennial. It grows in small, grass-like clumps. Its edible, but has a very mild flavor. Many dishes that call for wild garlic use the leaves as well as the small bulb. Wild garlic can sometimes smell more like an onion. An easy way to tell them apart is to look at the stem. Wild onions have flat stems. Wild garlic have a hollow stem. Garlic and onions are in the same family as lilies. Much like how lily of the valley can take over your yard, so too can wild garlic. Click here to find out how to get rid of it.
Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday.
It will always be interesting to read through content from other authors and use something from other websites.
Hi, several people have asked if you need to leave the garlic planted for three years and there has been no answer – I just had to pull one up to weed around it and there is only one clove but I want a bulb. How long do I have to leave it in the ground to get a full bulb???
This is an article that I did not write, I don’t grow garlic so we hired somebody to write this for us. Hopefully somebody that knows more will help out here.
Hey, I think I figured it out – when this article is talking about waiting 3 years for a bulb I think it means if you’re growing garlic from bulbils! As far as I can tell when you plant cloves you should still get a bulb the first year. Hope this helps!
Carol ward says
We planted the elephant ear garlic and they are nice and big. 2 of them have a large mass of what looks like seeds. If they are what do we do with it?
I’m not the garlic expert, hopefully others will see this. Somebody wrote this article for us.
I thought the article said 3 seasons, Not 3 years.
What happens when you see green on top of your garlic seed? Also what type of garlic you have when you get from a super market?
My garlic turned out to be tiny. Anu ideas why? It doesnt even have individual cloves.
Somebody? I’m not the garlic expert here.
It’s almost time to plant your garlic!
Kayla Taylor says
Hey there Amber. Couple of questions . . . .
1. What is a “scape”
2. So the part you eat is underground?
3. If you’re digging up the plants to get to the garlic then how are they coming back each year?
Sorry for all the “Freshman” questions but I really know very little and I’m trying to learn more.
I think from the scales that fall from the top.
Scapes are the curled flowering bulbs that grow up at the top; they usually
Form around mid spring to early
The garlic cloves and bulbs are underground: each bulb will consist of 4-6 cloves that you break apart and can replant the next season.
I have to add a comment for Mike and all the staff. A HUGE Thank You! I can be having a horrible day, come online and go to this site, and within minutes of reading recent and/or past articles, my mood is lifted. You’re doing a great service to the growing communities. Even those of us who can’t garden as much as we would like to do, for whatever reason. Thanks again!!
Wow! All these 12 years living in SC I thought I had wild onions growing in my yard, but they are wild garlic….nifty to learn!! Thanks Amber! Very informative. My grandma was a lot like your MawMaw Ball, “just plant it in dirt and it grows”. That’s now what I tell my own kids as I have been growing for many years, and truly that’s about all I do, plant the seed, give it water when it doesn’t rain enough and let it grow. Whatever happens was meant to happen with most things, but yes, some things do take a little more help to grow. I just choose not to grow those things very often (wink wink). The easier the better, and hardneck garlic sounds like my next growing conquest. I am all for planting something once and growing it for years after. It grows best in northern climates, but will hardneck garlic grow in southern climates as well? I live in northern SC, in the mountains, and while we don’t have near the harsh winters we had in IN we do get some snow, and colder temps in winter, then super hot summers, four seasons and all still.
THANK YOU 🙂 for your article on Garlic. Very useful and helpful even for us who live in Southern Hemisphere [Land of Oz] I believe we have the softneck variety only in Australia.
Pat Tuma says
Thanks for the great information. My family eats garlic all the time and we enjoy roasting it on the grill. I will be growing my own from now on.
Thank you Mike on the information about the Garlic……very informative
thanks for the info about garlic I always wanted to plant it but never knew how too. thanks again
Hi Amber. Love your article on the hardneck garlic. I have some in my raised bed I planted last fall. I figured I would try it a second time. The first time I tried soft neck. When I dug it up in late June the next year, I only had one clove!!!! I figured I messed that up too, so did not try again for several years until last fall. I ordered from Territorial Seed and got the hardneck. NOW, my question is, (because I am confused), do I leave the garlic planted for THREE years to get a BULB of garlic? Please clarify this for me, because this is the first time I have heard of this and may be why I gave up so quick the first time. In order to get a nice bulb of garlic, I leave the garlic in the ground for 3 years, right?
Hi everyone, so this is how I do it. Have been growing garlic for years, at first I just used supermarket garlic never order from seed company, now I just replant from what I’ve grown. Plant it in the fall and harvest mid spring, early summer. ( I live in zone 7 ), Never failed..
What happens if you plant them in the spring and just let them grow through to next spring? Since you say the garlic comes back every year, is there any downside to planting them now if you have the space and just want to get them started now?
Martha Blevins says
I am very happy that you have given us the garlic info. I am going to try YOUR way of growing it I tried to grow some years ago ( store bulblets ) did not work. Thank you !!!
I would really like some info on growing rhubarb. I have small, small plants and I cannot get them to take a growing spurt so, if you would pass on your expertise I would appreciate it.
rhubarb will need to be dug up and divided every few years to keep it flourishing. It loves compost. –pile on several inches in the fall. I used mulched leaves last year and the plants are huge right now. Some stocks are as large as my forearm. I can’t give it all away! So much ends up back in the compost. Try mounding compost now. Good Luck.
I have rhubarb plant in my garden , it’s growing this long flower type thing out of it, what do I do cut this off ? or just let it grow ?
My mother has had several rhubarb plants in a row for the past 50 years and never divided them nor has she composted them or fertilized them. She cuts a few stalks for pies each year, but leaves them alone otherwise. However, the soil was once farmland. I would try rock dust which is sold as Azamite or New Jersey Green Sand or Gaia Green Glacial Rock Dust. There are many articles on how this increases the trace minerals in the soil, makes the vegetables grow much larger and longer production.
Of course you need to have good soil mix of compost, worm castings, rabbit manure (or cow manure that’s been decomposing over a winter), peat moss, etc. Watch some of the youtube videos on how to make a good HEALTHY soil mix, NOT full of chemical fertilizers.
Pat Strothman says
Very informative. Thank you
Ricki Johnson says
Great article on garlic, The easiest and clearest I’ve seen. Now I know why I’ve had problems growing garlic. Thanks.
Gary Anderson says
thanks for the garlic info. Live in Lago Vista, TX…can I do the same here with 100 plus days and little h2o?
Lolve your stuff…read it all./.
Scott Scholl says
Yes. I live in Waco and have been growing garlic for over 20 years. Just plant them in late fall. Usually in October. i have been planting both softneck and hardneck.
They both do fine because we will get some good winter rains and they will be ready to harvest in May. I am pulling mine now.
TIM CYR says
THANKS GUYS ,FOR THE INFO ON GROWING GARLIC ,I HOPE TO TRY SOME VERY SOON ,I WASN’T AWARE OF THE NEED TO START GROWING IT IN THE FALL ,I JUST ASSUMED SPRING LIKE MOST OTHER PLANTS ……………..
ANYWAY ,THANKS …………….TIM CYR
So is the garlic the part on the stems or do you have to dig it up out of the ground?
The garlic is a bulb that grows in the ground. Hardneck varieties have little round bulbils at the top that can be eaten. They are mild in flavor, but very aromatic.
Jackie Hillian says
You know Amber, growing garlic seems as easy as reading a book. Thank you for making it simple. I think that I’ll plant some in my back yard; not muss and no fuss. I’ll protect it with a diy home made fence until it’s large enough not to be mistaken for “a weed.” Im going to put some egg shells in a hold and place the garlic that I’m going to purchase from the grocery story and let it go.
Jerry Kostus says
Jackie. you may not want to use the garlic from the grocery store as they will spray these with chemicals that will cause then to not reproduce what you buy in the store.
You want to buy seed garlic from a local farmer who grows garlic in your area. Also the garlic from a store maybe softneck garlic which is a hole diffrent animal then a hardneck.
paul m brown says
thanks for the memories i have followed you for 10 years and found you to be very helpfull the wife and i are trying garlic now and a lot of other things thanks again paul/dittie brown
Compost Bob says
Hi Amber, GREAT article on garlic. If you don’t mind, I’m going to reference you and the article on the radio show. Very helpful info and good pics too. Thanks! Bob