Your Guide to Growing and Harvesting Garlic
April 06 2023
Learn About Growing & Harvesting Garlic with Maria Bertucci
Types of Garlic:
Garlic is one of the most rewarding crops to grow in a home garden. There are a staggering number of varieties available to grow as garlic is a traditional foodstuff all over the world, each region having their favorite types for different culinary and medicinal purposes. They are quite varied in size and flavor, much more exciting than the type you buy at the grocery store with complex flavors and a wide range of spiciness.
There are two classes of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic tends to have many smaller cloves, very tightly wrapped which helps it to store longer once harvested. This is the one you will often see braided together and it can last in your pantry for up to 9 months. Hardneck garlic is a larger plant, the cloves are fewer and larger as well as the bulb itself. It is easier to peel than softneck and although it doesn't store as long as the softneck varieties, it will last a good 4-6 months. Once your stored bulbs start to sprout, you know it's time to split up the remaining bulbs into cloves, plant your largest ones and puree the rest, freezing it into ice cube trays until you get your next harvest.
I prefer to grow the hardneck types myself and just plant them in the spring and the fall to be sure I never run out of homegrown garlic.
Garlic is such an easy plant to propagate, save and pass on to other gardeners as it stores well and the part we plant is the clove. It tolerates a wide variety of soils as long as it isn’t sitting in water over the winter.
It can be planted in spring or fall, I’ve planted as late as Thanksgiving and still gotten huge, beautiful bulbs the next June. If you are really wanting a constant supply of your own garlic, plant in both seasons!
Garlic can be grown in pots or even in your flower beds, it does produce a white or purplish flowerhead similar to an allium.
Plant your garlic cloves 3-6 inches deep, 6-8 inches apart, small flat side down and pointed side up.
There are two things you can harvest and eat from garlic plants—the scape and the mature bulbs. Garlic scapes are the immature flowering stalks the plant sends up in April/ May depending on weather and when you planted. It’s thought that harvesting the scape forces the rest of the plant's energy into making a great bulb.
Garlic scapes shoot up from the center of the plant and are harvested when the top starts to curl over and the flower bud is still very small. To harvest it, you grasp the stalk as close to the rest of the leaves as you can and pull steadily upwards. You’ll hear a pop and feel it come loose, the goal is to get as long a scape as possible; the part closest to the bulb being the most tender and tasty.
Harvesting the bulbs is quite easy as well, you’ll know it’s time when the 3rd or 4th leaf dries up starting from the bottom. Each of these leaves is one of the layers that wraps around and protects your garlic bulb.
You’ll want to use a digging fork or small shovel to get underneath your bulb and make sure it’s nice and loose. Garlic roots can hold on surprisingly tightly especially in heavier soils and if you try to just yank them out often you’ll lose either the roots or the tops. It helps your bulb reach it’s full storage potential if you dry the bulbs with both the tops and roots still attached.
Let the whole plant dry in a cool dry place out of the sun for at least two weeks, after that you can trim the roots off and braid up your softnecks or just trim the top of your hardnecks about 2 inches above the bulb.
Pests & Disease:
Garlic is relatively pest free even when a young plant; the biggest challenges are making sure your soil drains well enough, so your cloves don’t rot over the winter and garlic rust.
Garlic rust is a fungal disease that can affect alliums in our rainy climate. It appears as white and rusty looking spots on the leaves and can be mild or affect most of the green parts of your plant. It doesn't kill plants outright, it just reduces vigor and can stunt your bulbs if very severe. The best ways to prevent it are proper spacing of your plants, use fresh mulching material each spring and fall and cleaning up all the leaves and such after the growing season.
If you do get some rust, don’t panic, your garlic is likely to be completely fine and it’s still safe to eat. If you remove the affected leaves right when you first notice it that can help too. Don’t compost these leaves as that can keep the cycle going in your garden.
Thanks! Maybe next time you write about garlic, you can include ways to store it until next season’s harvest!
Excellent article. I put garlic in the ground for the first time this past fall. I was a little unsure as to when to harvest and this blog answered that question for me.