Garlic comes in many varieties, so you can choose one or more to suit your palate and your meal plans. True garlics fall into two main categories:
It's generally best to buy your planting garlic from local garden companies, so the varieties will suit your climate. Supermarket garlic can work, but it often comes from California or overseas and doesn't do well in garden plantings outside those areas.
Garlic can be planted in fall or early spring. However, like tulips and other spring-blooming bulbs, garlic needs chilly weather to develop properly. Without a chilling period, garlic heads don't divide into cloves and you end up with onion-like bulbs instead. If you plant in spring, plant garlic alongside your earliest vegetable seeds, so garlic gets the chilling it needs.
Many gardeners prefer to plant garlic in fall, when they plant flowering bulbs. This gives garlic added growing time, which means larger, more flavorful summer harvests — and nature makes proper chilling easy. Plant fall garlic about two weeks before or after the typical first frost date in your area. If you're unsure when that usually happens, your local county extension agent can help.
Garlic grows best with full, direct sun and loose, fertile, well-drained soil. Abundant harvests depend on solid plant nutrition. Enhance your garden beds with a generous, 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter, such as compost and earthworm castings, and a complete fertilizer designed for vegetables. Incorporate this layer down into the soil and a balanced fertilizer designed for vegetables, such as Pennington UltraGreen All Purpose Plant Food 10-10-10.
It's a good idea to do a soil test before you plant. Your extension agent can help with this, too. Garlic is very efficient at using nutrients when soil pH is in the near-neutral range of 6.0 to 7.0.1 Soil testing lets you know exactly how to amend your garden soil so garlic can thrive.
Fall-planted garlic peeks through mulch about the time early spring songbirds arrive. Gently pull mulch away from the growing leaves. Once they reach about 6 inches tall, add a layer of compost or earthworm castings alongside them, and feed again with the same fertilizer used at planting. For spring plantings, do this about one month after planting. Keep garlic weeded; it doesn't compete very well against garden weeds.
Water garlic so it gets about 1 inch of water per week from rainfall and your irrigation combined. Cut off hardneck scapes in early summer while they're curly and soft. Scapes are excellent in stir-fried or sautéed dishes, and removing them helps bulbs grow larger. As your garlic matures and its leaves begin to yellow, stop watering completely to harden bulbs.
Few insects bother garlic, but those that do can cause serious problems. Sevin® Insect Killer Ready to Use kills garlic pests such as leafminers and onion thrips by contact. Just allow at least seven days between treatment and your garlic harvest. Fungal diseases can also interfere with garlic plans. The first trouble signs are often small tan, white or purple spots on garlic leaves. Fungicides with the active ingredient chlorothalonil, such as Daconil® fungicides, provide highly effective control for garlic diseases such as botrytis leaf blight, downy mildew or purple blotch.2
Depending on where you live, your garlic harvest may happen any time from July through September. When stems turn yellow and fall over, and the bottom few leaves turn brown, it's harvest time. Carefully dig your garlic bulbs, and keep the stems intact. To maximize storage life, “cure" your harvest in a warm, dry, shaded area with good ventilation. Just tie the stems together and hang garlic to dry or spread out the heads in a single layer.
After two to four weeks, your garlic is ready for optimal storage. Cut the stems off about 1 inch above the bulbs, or braid long-stemmed softneck garlics for fun or gifts. Refrigerators provide the ideal temperature and humidity for long-term garlic storage, so your harvest keeps giving for months. Be sure to set aside some bulbs for your planting stock.
With a treasure of homegrown garlic at your disposal, you can enjoy these flavorful veggies in many ways — from smoky, roasted heads to fresh garlic pestos and garlic-infused oils. GardenTech® brands and the GardenTech blog are here to help you learn, grow and enjoy all the benefits and fun gardening has to offer.
1. E. Everhart, et al., “Garlic," lowa State University Extension, February 2003.
2. UC IPM Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, “How to Manage Pests: Onion and Garlic," University of California, June 2016.