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Marietta Daisies Garden Club

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic

by Celeste Longacres

Yes, you simply plant garlic from a clove in the fall! This pungent bulb adds flavor to countless recipes—and is so healthy! Before you plant, it’s important to know which variety matches your climate—and

your cooking.

Planting Garlic—From a Clove

In the fall, you simply plant a clove from this year’s head of garlic, cover with mulch, and harvest in summer, during the middle of the vegetable garden season. After you harvest and clean out the bed, you can plant another crop in the same bed!

You can also enjoy garlic leaves or “scapes,” which appear in early spring. They’re delicious stir-fried or in salads.

In addition to having an intense flavor and many culinary uses, the “stinking rose” also serves as an insect repellent in the garden and has been used as a home remedy for centuries.

Can You Plant Store-Bought Garlic?

We do not recommend this. Most grocery store garlic heads have been treated. Plus, most commercial garlic comes from large-scale farming areas with mild climates (such as California), so the garlic may not be suited for growing in your own climate and may carry pests or diseases with it as well.

If you want big bulbs, use “seed” garlic from a local nursery, farmer’s market, or online seed supplier. Or, keep some of your best heads of garlic from your harvest to replant! But before you plant garlic, make sure you know the difference between the two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck garlic – and which type will grow best in your climate. See Recommended Varieties below.


Garlic does best in full sun, so select a planting site that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. A couple weeks or so before planting, prepare the soil by mixing in a healthy helping of compost or aged manure. If your garden soil is poorly draining or high in clay, garlic grower Robin Jarry of Hope, Maine, suggests growing in heavily mulched raised beds instead. “I plant in raised beds for good drainage and then mulch with about 6 inches of old hay after the ground freezes. I never water my garlic—I like low-maintenance vegetables!” Raised beds should be 2 to 3 feet wide and at least 10 to 12 inches deep.

When to Plant Garlic

Garlic is most often planted in the fall (between late September and November). In areas that get a hard frost, plant garlic cloves 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost date, before the ground freezes.

Garlic does best if it can experience a “dormancy” period of colder weather—at least 40˚F (4°C)—that lasts 4 to 8 weeks. By planting garlic bulbs in the fall, they have time to develop healthy roots before temperatures drop and/or the ground freezes, but not enough time for the garlic to form top growth. Then, by early spring, the bulbs “wake up” from their dormancy and start rapidly producing foliage, followed by bulbs, before the harshest heat of summer stops their growth.

You can plant garlic cloves in mild climates as late as February or March, but the resulting bulbs won’t be as large. However, you can still enjoy the garlic scapes during the summer. (Scapes are the plant’s tender green shoots with a mild garlic flavor. Enjoy on eggs, in salads, as a pizza topping, or in stir-fries!) If you plant in the spring, wait until after the soil can be worked, and it crumbles apart easily.

How to Plant Garlic

  • Immediately before planting, work a couple tablespoons of 5-10-10 complete fertilizer, bonemeal, or fish meal into the soil several inches below where the base of the garlic cloves will rest.

  • Select large, healthy cloves, free of disease. The larger the clove, the bigger and healthier the bulb you will get the following summer.

  • Break apart cloves from the bulb a few days before planting, but keep the papery husk on each individual clove.

  • Plant cloves 4 to 8 inches apart and 2 inches deep in their upright position (with the wider root side facing down and pointed end facing up).

  • Plant in rows spaced 6 to 12 inches apart. A single 10-foot row should yield about 5 pounds of the fragrant bulbs, depending on the variety.


  • Gardeners in areas where the ground freezes should mulch garlic beds heavily with straw or leaves to ensure proper overwintering. Read our mulching guide for more info!

  • Mulch should be removed in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. (Young shoots can’t survive in temps below 20°F / -6°C on their own. Keep them under cover.)

  • In the spring, as warmer temperatures arrive, shoots will emerge through the ground.

  • Cut off any flower shoots that emerge in spring. These may decrease bulb size.

  • Garlic is a heavy feeder. In early spring, side-dress with or broadcast blood meal, pelleted chicken manure, or a synthetic source of nitrogen such as a pelleted fertilizer.

  • Fertilize again just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight (usually early May in most regions). Repeat if the foliage begins to turn yellow.

  • Keep the planting site well-weeded. Garlic doesn’t do well with competition—it needs all available nutrients!

  • Water every 3 to 5 days during bulbing (mid-May through June). If May and June are very dry, irrigate to a depth of 2 feet every eight to 10 days. As mid-June approaches, taper off watering.


Before you choose a variety of garlic, you need to consider your climate, which determines whether you plant a hardneck or softneck variety. Then you need to consider your cooking because different varieties have different taste profiles, from mild to sweet to bold to spicy!

  • Hardnecks are the best choice for Northern gardeners. They are extremely cold hardy for harsh winters. These grow one ring of fat cloves around a hard stem, with fewer but larger cloves per bulb than softnecks. Bonus! Hardnecks produce flower stems, aka “scapes,” which must be cut to encourage the bulbs to reach their full potential. The scapes themselves are an early summer treat, delicious if chopped into salads or added to stir-fries. Popular hardneck varieties: ‘Music’ (on the mild side yet rich and mellow); ‘Chesnok Red’ (mild and sweet, creamy texture when roasted); ‘Early Italian’ (sweeter flavor that won’t overpower dishes); ‘German Red’ (robust, classic garlic flavor which cooks love); ‘Spanish Roja’ (strong and hot, heirloom with classic garlic flavor)

  • Softnecks are more common with Southern gardeners, growing well in warm climates with warm winters. They have more intense flavors and tend to grow bigger bulbs with smaller cloves per bulb because energy is not being diverted to top-set bulblets like hardnecks. They do not have scapes, but they store better than hardnecks. Like their name suggests, they have necks that stay soft after harvest, and therefore are the types that you’ll see braided together. Popular softneck varieties: ‘California White Early’ (classic moderate garlic flavor, most popular grocery store type, harvest in spring); ‘California White Late’ (harvest in summer); ‘Inchelium Red’ (wonderful but mild garlic flavor, superior storage life); ‘Silver White’ (classic garlic, great storage, excellent for beginner); ‘Lorz Italian’ (hot and zesty heirloom, popular with cooks).

  • Elephant garlic isn’t a true garlic, but it is grown similarly to hardneck varieties, requiring a long cool growing season in zones 3 through 9. Most types take about 90 days to harvest once growth starts. Despite its size, it has quite a mild flavor, more similar to onion and shallots than traditional garlic. Bulbs and cloves are large (up to one pound each!), with just a few cloves to a bulb.


  • Harvest from fall plantings will range from late June to August. If you planted in the spring, calculate your approximate harvest date based on the “days to maturity” of the garlic variety you planted.

  • In general, the clue is to look for yellowing foliage, but this isn’t the case for all garlic varieties. Harvest when the tops begin to yellow and fall over, but before they are completely dry.

  • Before digging up your whole crop, it’s a good idea to sample one bulb. Lift a bulb to see if the crop is ready. We often dig up a bulb before the tops are completely yellow (in late June or early July), as some garlic types will be ready earlier. The garlic head will be divided into plump cloves, and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs will be thick, dry, and papery.

    • If pulled too early, the bulb wrapping will be thin and easily disintegrate.

    • If left in the ground too long, the bulbs sometimes split apart. The skin may also split, which exposes the bulbs to disease and will affect their longevity in storage.

    • To harvest, carefully dig (don’t pull or yank stems by hand) up the bulbs using a garden fork. Avoid damaging the roots and especially the root-plate (where they attach to the bulb). Lift the plants and carefully brush off surplus soil, but do not remove any foliage or roots before putting them to dry thoroughly.

How to Store Garlic

  • Let garlic cure in an airy, shady, dry spot for about 2 weeks. Hang them upside down on a string in bunches of 4 to 6 or leave them to try on a homemade rack made from chicken wire stretched over posts. Make sure all sides get good air circulation.

  • After a few weeks, the garlic should be totally dry and ready to store.

  • The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. The root crown should be hard, and the cloves can be cracked apart easily.

  • Once the garlic bulbs are dry, you can store them. Brush off (do not wash) dirt, remove only the dirtiest wrappers, trim roots to ¼ of an inch, and cut tops to 1 to 2 inches.

  • Bulbs should be stored in a cool (55°F / 13°C), dark, dry place, and can be kept in the same way for several months. Don’t store in your basement if it’s humid. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator, either, as it will be too cold and too humid.

  • The flavor will increase as the bulbs are dried. Properly stored, garlic should last until the next crop is harvested the following summer.

  • If you plan on planting garlic again next season, save some of your largest, best-formed bulbs to plant again in the fall.


  • Learn how to make your own garlic powder to easily spice up a recipe.

  • Roasted garlic bulbs are also a favorite of ours!

  • Around the summer solstice (late June), hardneck garlic sends up a seed stalk, or scape. Allow it to curl, then cut off the curl to allow the plant to put its energy into bulb formation. Use the scapes in cooking the same way you would garlic bulbs. We like to stir-fry scapes the way we cook green beans—similar, with a spicy kick! Note that they get more fibrous and less edible as they mature.


Pesto Quail

Ingredients 2 Fresh Quail (per person) Classico Traditional Basil Pesto Freshly peeled Garlic Cloves Wild Rice Fresh Basil Aluminum Foil

Instructions Using 2 fresh quail per person, put 2 tsp Classico Traditional Basil Pesto and 1 clove freshly peeled garlic inside cavity of each quail. Rub oil from pesto on exterior of quail. Double up sheets of Aluminum foil in the length of all quail to be baked. Place the stuffed quail side by side and double cover them with aluminum foil, then roll sides and ends to create a sealed pouch. Cut 1/4 inch slits in top of pouch for steam to escape. Place on baking sheet in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 1 hr 15 min. remove and serve with Steamed Wild Rice and a sprig of fresh Basil for garnish… Serve while hot and Enjoy

Creamy Garlic Dressing

“This Creamy Garlic Dressing recipe actually came from The Italian Village Restaurant in Chicago, where we obtained it from the chef about 15 years ago. The amounts given are reduced from the original.” —Sugar Hill Inn, Franconia, New Hampshire

Ingredients 2 cups sour cream 2/3 cup mayonnaise 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste) 1/8 teaspoon cider vinegar 2-1/2 tablespoons sugar Salt and pepper, to taste Chives (optional)

Instructions Mix all ingredients together in an appropriate size bowl, stirring well. The dressing’s flavor improves with age — don’t use it for at least 3 days. Keeps for a month refrigerated in a covered plastic container.

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