Autumn is the perfect time to get your garlic off to a great start! By following the simple tips below on how to plant garlic in the fall, you will be able to enjoy an incredible harvest of garlic bulbs when next summer rolls around.
With its intense aroma and flavors, garlic is a perfect addition to many dishes in the kitchen. And growing your own is about as easy as it gets. But you will want to give the garlic plants a head start by getting the cloves into the ground before winter arrives.
Although garlic can be planted in the spring in warmer regions where you have a long growing season, the bulbs won’t grow to be as big. Garlic actually needs a period of up to eight weeks with temperatures below 40º Fahrenheit (5º Celsius) to produce large bulbs. That’s why fall is the perfect time to plant for most locations.
Garlic roots are able to grow and become established before the ground freezes when it is planted in the fall. Then, once spring rolls around, the garlic will begin to produce foliage. It will be ready to harvest in the early summer.
Additional Advantages When You Plant & Grow Your Own Garlic
One of the best advantages of growing your own garlic (aside from having this delicious spice on hand) is that you can continue to re-plant the same line of seed from your first planting. And with every passing year, the garlic will adapt to your growing conditions and get better each year.
In addition to using garlic in your cooking, you can also use garlic to help naturally repel pests. A few cloves work excellently in this Hot Pepper Spray.
Varieties of Garlic – How To Plant & Grow Garlic In The Fall
There are two main types of garlic: Softneck and Hardneck Garlic.
Softneck garlic is the type you most often see in grocery stores. After curing, softneck garlic can be braided when stored. Each bulb has multiple layers of overlapping cloves with thick skins.
The benefit of softneck garlic is that it has a long shelf life of up to eight months. This type of garlic typically has a milder garlic flavor and grows better in warmer climates with longer growing seasons.
Hardneck garlic has one layer of large cloves surrounding a thick stem coming out of the middle. The cloves are usually easier to peel and have a stronger, often spicy garlic flavor depending on the variety.
The shelf life for hardneck garlic is around four to five months. It is best grown in zones 6 or colder regions and needs to be started in the fall. (You can find your own Growing Zone Here.)
An added advantage of hardneck garlic is that it produces a long scape before it is ready to harvest. This garlic scape can be cut when tender and made into a pesto or used in dishes that can benefit from a mild garlic flavor.
How To Plant, Grow, And Maintain Garlic In The Fall
Where To Find Garlic Seed Stock
Do not just pick up a bulb of garlic from your local grocery store’s produce aisle to plant. Most bulbs sold in stores are often shipped from distant locations and may not be the best variety for your growing area. In addition, grocery store garlic may have been treated with pesticides, fungicides, or even growth inhibitors.
You can often find the best garlic bulbs for planting at your local nurseries, greenhouses, farmer’s market, or even some farm stores. Mail-order seed catalogs are also a great choice.
In addition, there are many online seed stores that carry a variety of garlic selections. Just make sure you are getting the right variety for your location. Most online retailers will ship the garlic out once it needs to be planted according to your growing zone.
Soil Requirements for Garlic
Garlic should be grown in fertile, loose soil. If needed, work a generous amount of compost into the soil to help amend it and keep it loose. If soil is too compact, it will restrict the garlic bulb from growing and you’ll end up with small bulbs.
Garlic prefers a pH of 6.4 to 6.8. Choose a location that receives full sun. Thankfully, you can grow garlic almost anywhere as long as the soil is fertile and well draining. Choose a traditional garden set up, raised beds, raised rows, or even grow garlic in a 5-gallon bucket.
When & How To Plant Garlic In The Fall
As stated earlier, hardneck garlic varieties grow best when planted in the Midwest and Northern states in early fall. Softneck garlic can be planted in the fall or spring, but hardneck varieties need to be in the ground 4 to 6 weeks before your first expected frost date.
Each garlic bulb is made up of multiple cloves. Each clove will turn into a full garlic bulb. Choose the largest, healthiest cloves from your bulbs and save the smaller ones for cooking. The larger the clove, the bigger and more robust your bulbs will be when it is time to harvest.
Preparing To Plant Your Garlic In The Fall
A little tip that makes a big difference to the growth of your garlic is to soak the cloves overnight before planting. Soaking helps the garlic sprout sooner and also adds a bit of protection against overly wet soils.
Simply fill a quart jar up with water and add in a teaspoon of baking soda. Stir to dissolve. It is best to use distilled or well water if available.
Break apart the individual cloves from your garlic bulb, being careful to leave as much paper skin intact as possible. This papery skin helps to protect the cloves before germination can occur. Drop the cloves you wish to plant into the water solution. Soak overnight or for at least 12 hours before planting.
If you choose not to soak the cloves, just make sure you do not separate the bulbs for longer than 48 hours before planting so the cloves don’t dry out.
Planting The Cloves
The key to growing large bulbs of garlic is giving each clove adequate spacing. Cloves should be spaced 4 inches apart with at least 4 to 6 inches between rows. You can typically get about 6 cloves per square foot of growing space.
An easy way to plant is to dig a trench that is 3 to 4 inches deep and a few inches wide. Add about an inch of compost or really good quality potting soil into the bottom of the trench. Gently push each clove of garlic down into the compost layer.
Make sure you are planting the right end of the garlic up. You always want to plant garlic with the pointy end going up toward the sky and the flat end pointing down. The stem grows from the pointed end while the roots grow down out of the flat end.
Another secret tip: Add in a teaspoon of worm castings around each clove for added nutrients. Then backfill with soil once each trench is planted. Do not press the soil firmly once filled; simply cover the soil lightly over the top and leave it alone.
Add a 1-inch covering of lightweight mulch such as straw or shredded leaves over the soil. This will help keep weeds at bay yet still allow the garlic to sprout before winter. Water lightly to help the bulbs and mulch settle.
Long-Term Care – How To Grow and Maintain Garlic Over Winter & Into Summer
Late Fall And Winter Care
Until garlic germinates, water every 3 to 4 days. After germination, normal rainfall should be enough to keep garlic growing strong before freezing. However, if more than 10 to 14 days pass between rainfalls, water lightly.
After the garlic has sprouted in the fall, add several more inches of mulch. This helps to insulate the garlic during the cold winter months and helps to protect the roots from the constant freezing and thawing. In addition, the added mulch helps to keep weeds from growing and competing for nutrients.
Garlic will go dormant over the winter and no watering or fertilizing needs to take place.
Spring & Summer Care
Garlic will come out of dormancy once the weather starts to warm up in early spring. Seeing the green sprouts of garlic is actually one of the first signs of spring for many gardeners!
Add a bit more mulch in early spring if needed to keep suppressing weeds. Also, aim for around one inch of water per week, including any rainwater received during the spring and early summer months.
If you planted hardneck varieties of garlic in the fall, then you get the added benefit of being able to harvest garlic scapes. Around the time of the summer solstice, hardneck garlic will start to send up a flower stalk called a scape.
Wait for the scape to curl into a loop, then cut them low at where the scape meets the stem. The tender scapes are great for chopping and adding to stir fry, soups, or any meal that typically uses garlic.
You can even blend the scapes into a delicious garlic pesto. The flavor will be a mild garlic flavor. Don’t wait too long to harvest the scapes or they will become tough and woody.
Even if you don’t plan to use the scapes for cooking, you should still cut them off because they will eventually come to flower. Cutting them allows the plant to focus more energy in growing a larger bulb as opposed to flowering. Simply add the scapes to your compost pile or give them to a friend for use for their cooking.
When you harvest the scapes, it’s usually a good time to dial back the watering and allow the soil to dry out. You may choose to leave a couple of the scapes on to help indicate when the garlic is ready for harvesting (see more about this below).
When & How To Harvest Garlic
Garlic is ready to harvest in late June or early July, but this will vary some depending on where you live.
Each garlic plant has several long leaves that join low on the stem and wrap around the bulb forming the papery skin. When you start to see that about one-third of the leaf tips have started to yellow and turn brown (or after you harvest the hardneck scapes), stop watering the garlic.
This will help the papery skins dry out a bit and to make harvesting easier. Wet soil is more likely to cling to the bulbs and be harder to remove once harvested.
Once about two-thirds of the tips of the leaves have turned yellow or brown and the lower two or three leaves are fully brown, the garlic is now ready to be harvested. If it has recently rained, wait a couple more days to allow the soil to dry out.
Bulbs should have plump cloves with dry, papery skins. If harvested too early, the skins may disintegrate. But if harvested too late, the skins may split and expose the bulbs to diseases.
If you left a few scapes on your hardneck garlic, you will have an additional indicator of readiness. You can tell it is ready to harvest once the scapes have started to straighten and stand straight up.
How To Harvest
Even though it may be tempting, do not use the garlic stems to pull out the bulbs! Instead, use a small shovel to gently loosen the soil around each bulb and dig them out. Brush off each bulb to remove as much soil as possible but do not wash them off or remove any excess foliage or roots. Any additional soil should dry out and can be easily brushed off once cured.
You need to let the harvested garlic bulbs cure for a few weeks before storage. Cure in a dry, dark location that allows for adequate air movement. String together 4 to 6 bulbs or braid softneck varieties to hang upside down. Or, simply place bulbs on a rack that allows for air circulation. A homemade rack made out of chicken wire or hardware cloth works perfectly for this.
After a few weeks, the bulbs will be ready for storage. You can tell they are ready once the roots are all dried out and the skins have turned papery and dry. Brush off any excess soil, trim the stems, and cut off the roots.
Your garlic is now ready to store for later use. Keep the garlic in a cool, dark, and dry location. Don’t forget to save your biggest and best bulbs for your next fall’s planting!
Knowing how to plant and grow your garlic in the fall is a great way to ensure that you always have this delicious cooking supply on hand all year long! Growing your own garlic is easy to do, low maintenance, and will reward you with year after year of a bigger and better crop!
Feel free to download, print out, or save our Garlic At-A-Glance sheet. It is sized for half letter printing but can be scaled if needed.