Growing garlic can seem like a daunting task. It's not as hard as growing tomatoes, but growing garlic does require a fair amount of time and patience. How long does it take garlic to grow? On average, you'll be waiting about nine months from seeds to harvest. The good news: once you get these bulbs in the ground, there's little to do but wait. Follow these easy tips to plant, grow, and harvest garlic in your home garden.
When to Plant Garlic
Garlic is a cool-season crop. It's planted in the fall, typically after the first light frost of the year. But it can be planted any time before the ground freezes. Garlic is a bulb. Like other spring bulbs, it needs to go through a "chilling" period. This chilling period stimulates a bio-chemical response that "turns on" flower formation and initiates root growth. Garlic needs a chilling period of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit for about four to eight weeks. In areas with a long growing season, you can plant garlic in the early spring. However, the cloves won't get as large, but you can enjoy green garlic or garlic scapes.
Where to Plant Garlic
Garlic grows best in rich, well-drained soil. It needs six to eight hours of full sun per day. The sun's angle changes from season to season, so keep that in mind when picking a spot for your garlic. The site should, ideally, stay in full sun from winter through spring.
Plant Fresh Seed Garlic
Use only fresh seed garlic from a nursery or seed company. Grocery store garlic is often treated with a fungicide or other chemicals to prevent sprouting. Garlic seeds from a reputable source are certified disease-free and will give you better results. Also, you will have more varieties to choose from when you shop from a nursery or seed catalog.
Pick the Right Varieties
Not all varieties of garlic will grow in every climate. There are two main categories of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck garlic has stiff stalks and is better suited to colder climates. They produce scapes, a flowering stem that's edible. Hardneck produces fewer cloves per head than softneck garlic and does not hold up in storage as long as softneck.
Softneck garlic has more flexible stems and is better suited for southern climates. You can also grow softneck varieties in colder climates. Softneck garlic stores very well in the right conditions. However, softneck does not form scapes, but you can braid the stems together for hanging.
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic seeds are sold as a whole bulb. Each clove will produce an entire new bulb! When you get your bulb, break it apart into individual cloves. Keep the papery husks on each clove. Plant each clove with the wide root side facing down and the pointed end facing up, 2 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 10 to 14 inches apart—then water and cover with mulch. If you live in a cold climate, you will need to provide a thick mulch layer to protect your garlic over the winter.
How to Grow Garlic
In the spring, remove the mulch after the threat of frost has passed. Feed your garlic by side-dressing, adding it to the side of the stems with nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. Feed them again as the bulbs begin to swell as summer nears. If any flower shoots (scapes) emerge, remove them. Flower shoots will decrease bulb size. During this time, keep your garlic patch weed-free and provide them with 1 inch of water per week. Decrease watering about a couple of weeks before harvest time, around mid-June to August (depending on the variety you planted and your climate).
How to Harvest Garlic
Garlic is ready for harvesting when the foliage begins to yellow and fall over. Some varieties mature faster than others. However, if this yellow occurs before mid-June to August, that is probably an indication of pest damage or nutrient deficiency. If you are unsure if your garlic is ready, you can harvest one bulb to check. If all the cloves look well-formed and plump, go ahead and harvest the rest. Use a garden fork to gently lift the plants. Do not pull the tops of the foliage! The foliage will be fragile and will most likely break off if you tug on it. Brush off excess soil, but leave the foliage and roots.
How to Cure and Store Garlic
You can use garlic as soon as you harvest it, but if you want to store it, garlic needs to cure first. Place them in a well-ventilated, shady, dry spot for two weeks. You can hang them upside down on a string in bunches or lay them out on a wire rack. The husks on the bulbs should be dry and papery once cured. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry place with plenty of ventilation. The flavors will continue to develop as it dries. If properly stored, garlic should last for six months to a year (depending on the variety).
How to Save Garlic Seeds
Each garlic clove is a seed that can be planted the following fall. Select the biggest cloves, free of any blemishes. Store your seed garlic in a paper or mesh bag in a cool, dry place.
How to Deal With Pests and Diseases
Fortunately, garlic is not susceptible to many pests or diseases. However, there are some pests and diseases you may encounter when growing garlic.
White rot: This fungus affects the base of leaves and roots. It's fluffy and white and starts at the base of the bulb, spreading to the leaves. There isn't much you can do to stop or control white rot once it affects your crops. The fungus can survive in the soil for 20 years or more. To prevent infection the following year, make sure no infected leaves remain in the soil and grow the garlic in another section of your garden the next season.
Downy mildew: This type of fungus looks like a gray-purple fuzzy growth on the leaf surface. The mildew will turn the leaves pale, then yellow, eventually causing the leaf tips to collapse. The best way to prevent downy mildew is to rotate crops with non-species for three to four years and do not overcrowd plants.
Black onion aphids: These pests attack all alliums. They often hide in the base of leaves and will damage foliage by sucking out the juices. As soon as you see them, spray them with insecticidal soap or neem oil. You will most likely have to repeat this process several times.
Rust: This fungal disease looks like red pustules on leaves. It often appears before harvesting. Treat rust with bicarbonate of soda or potassium bicarbonate spray. If the issue persists, try copper hydroxide.