If you’re a gardener who likes to cook, learning how to grow garlic (Allium sp.) is one of those bucket list gardening skills that you”ll be glad you took the time to cultivate. Luckily, growing garlic isn’t hard at all. In fact, with the right soil and space, learning how to grow garlic from cloves is downright easy.
Choosing What Type of Garlic to Grow
When deciding what type of garlic you should grow, you’ll have three choices: softneck garlic (Allium sativum), hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon), and elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum). Typically:
Softneck garlic is what you see in grocery stores, and it is probably what you’re used to cooking with (if you use fresh garlic at home). Softneck garlic has two layers of cloves: an outer layer of larger cloves and an inner layer of smaller cloves. This is the best type of garlic for making garlic braids.
Hardneck garlic is what chefs and foodies tend to prefer, because it has a stronger flavor. It is a little more cold hardy than softneck garlic, it stores better (depending on the variety), and it does not have an inner layer of smaller cloves.
Elephant garlic (also called giant garlic, even though it’s actually not a true garlic but a type of leek) is the largest type of garlic, but it does not have the same strong flavor that smaller varieties of garlic have. It produces fewer cloves, but they are very large, and a single bulb can be as big as a fist.
Choosing which type of garlic to grow largely depends on personal preference. If you’re a hardcore garlic nut (like myself), you’ll probably want the strong flavor of hardneck varieties. But, if you’re looking for an economical way to get this wonder crop into your garden and into your family’s diet, softneck garlic may be just right for you.
How to Grow Garlic
Although it is possible to grow garlic from seed, unless you’re a bored botanist or a masochist, there’s pretty much no reason to put yourself through the hassle. For the average home gardener, growing garlic from cloves is the way to go. Not only is it incredibly easy to regrow garlic with cloves you have at home, it takes a lot less time than trying to grow garlic from seed (which can take years).
To grow garlic:
- Get a healthy, dry bulb of a variety of garlic that you want to grow.
- Break the bulb into segments (cloves), and choose the largest cloves. (Larger cloves produce larger bulbs of garlic.)
- Plant cloves with the “pointy” end up, 1″ – 2″ deep, 6″ – 8″ apart. (The pointy end is the non-basal end. The basal end is the end that was attached to the basal plate of the bulb, and it is the end from which roots will grow.)
- Water, and keep soil evenly moist until the tops begin to die.
Other than a few soil and sun guidelines, that’s really about it. In fact, follow the tips below and you should have fresh garlic growing your garden in no time.
Tips for Growing Garlic
If you’re eager to cook with your own crop of homegrown garlic, these tips will help:
- Plant garlic in late summer to fall, or when growing temperatures will be between 55° – 75°F.
- Plant garlic in full sun. (Or, if you’re growing garlic indoors, plant in a window that gets direct sunlight or use a grow light.)
- Plant in fertile, well-draining soil, and keep soil evenly moist until the tops begin to turn brown and die.
- If you rotate your crops, don’t plant garlic where you’ve planted any onion family crops.
- When flower buds (the scapes) appear, nip them off. (This helps produce larger garlic bulbs.)
It’s time to harvest garlic when most of the leaves have turned brown or the tops have dried and are falling over. Typically, this is in late summer, but depending on when you planted and what variety of garlic you’re growing, this could be well into fall.
To dig up garlic, use a digging fork to break up the soil and lift the garlic bulbs out. Then, lay out the bulbs in a single layer in a hot, dry area to dry for a few weeks (called curing). Curing may take up to two or three weeks (depending on your climate), but it’s vital that your garlic bulbs are cured before you store them, otherwise they won’t store nearly as long. When your bulbs are finished curing, the skins will be dry and the necks will be tight.
Properly cured garlic can be stored for anywhere between six and eight months if kept in a cool, dark, dry spot. But, once you start crushing or cooking with it, remember to use your fresh garlic within a day or two. Fresh garlic is prone to producing the bacteria that cause botulism (a type of food poisoning), so you want to be a little careful with it when it comes to planning leftovers.
For more information on growing garlic or any of your other favorite vegetables, see the Gardening Guides page.