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October 24, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Growing garlic

  • Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the easiest and most satisfying crops you can grow. 
  • For best results start with a head of garlic bought from a reputable grower, or from a garden centre or gardening catalogue.
  • You can use garlic bought in a supermarket at a pinch, but the crop is very likely to be inferior. 
  • Traditionally garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest day of the year, but only use that as an indicator as even December is fine for planting, although then in most years it then takes until mid-July for the heads to be ready for lifting.

 How to grow Garlic – Crop Rotation

  • Garlic is a member of the Onion Family, and it is recommended that it should not be grown in the same soil as other family members for at least three years.

How to grow Garlic – Site and Soil

  • Garlic doesn’t need a very rich soil, but does prefer a free draining soil – if yours is heavy dig in some sand or plenty of organic matter like compost before planting.
  • Ideally, a deep, fertile, very well drained soil is needed. 
  • Add (and incorporate well) a good dressing of a general garden fertilizer before or at the time of sowing. 
  • Your soils pH must be above 6.0, ideally,  pH 6.5 -7.0. 
  • Unless you are gardening on limestone country, most soils will benefit from a liming at least a month or so before planting. 

How to grow Garlic – Planting Out

  • Break the head into individual cloves, and choose the biggest and fattest seed cloves, and sow them root end down, standing erect, and far enough in the soil that they are anything from 25mm (1 inch) to being 50 mm (2 inches) or so under the soil surface. 
  • Put them about 150 mm (6 inches) apart. 
  • If planting in rows then keep them 15cm (6 inches) apart to allow easy hoeing and hand-weeding later.
  • For some of the jumbo varieties you’ll need to increase this spacing, but for your standard garlic this will be fine. 
  • Plant with the flat end down the way – the new green shoot will emerge from the pointy end (a horticultural term) and by spring you’ll have a good few inches of growth. 
  • If you are troubled by crows or pigeons you may wish to net your newly planted cloves as the birds may lift them just for fun. 
  • Warm temperate areas – generally speaking, it can be planted in autumn through to early winter. 
    • Under warm temperate climatic conditions autumn planted garlic will remain dormant for a few weeks, then develop roots and a shoot. 
    • With the onset of the cold of winter growth is fairly slow until temperatures warm in spring. 
    • The cold of winter is needed to initiate the side buds that will ultimately grow and swell to become cloves (and in some types, to initiate the flower bud). 
    • The lengthening days of spring are the signal for the initiated but undeveloped side buds to start forming into cloves. 
    • It is possible to sow in early spring and get a reasonably good harvest, but everything is against you – wet, difficult to work soil; no early root growth; less exposure to winter chill. 
    • Early Spring is possible, but definitely a second choice.
  • Temperate areas– plant after the first good frosts of autumn. 
    • Spring planting is possible in the higher latitudes, as the longer day lengths promote bulbing, but the shorter season means the bulbs are often smaller. 
    • Autumn garlic will produce roots, but either no, or short, top growth. 
    • If the garlic sprouts have emerged, they will survive freezes and snowfalls, but they should be mulched heavily (about 15 cm/6 inches) to prevent heaving. 
    • Pull the mulch aside in spring. 
    • Autumn planted garlic will have strong roots by winters icy grip, and these roots will help prevent the ‘seed’ being pushed out of the ground as the soil alternately freezes and thaws (‘frost heave’). 

How to grow Garlic – Care & Cultivation

  • Once they have started growth in spring, give them regular – say fortnightly – very light side dressings of urea (or other high nitrogen fertilizer), spread 100 mm/6 inches either side of the plants. 
  • Some authorities encourage the application of sulfur to encourage healthy leaf growth. 
    • There is some evidence that the sulfur also assists in the formation of higher levels of allicin, the sulfur compound which is at the centre of the medicinal properties of garlic and also for the sulfurous combinations which make up garlic’s pungent aroma.
  • Liquid manures are also beneficial. 
  • Garlic competes poorly with weeds. Keep them as close to meticulously weeded as is possible. 
  • Be careful with the hoe; it is embarrassing to be responsible for a beautifully growing garlic plant being sliced off at soil level by a hurried hoe! 
  • If the weather is dry, mulch them to conserve water. 

How to grow Garlic – Watering

  • In the garden, garlic needs water in the early stages of growth (between March and June) and unbroken warmth.
  • No water will produced a poor crop because garlic, being a member of the allium family, is shallow-rooted and unable to seek out water from the depths.
  • Mulch is one way of maintaining an even moisture regime. 
    • Not enough moisture means that garlic does not develop a full sized bulb. 
    • Over watering results in garlic with poor keeping qualities – poor wrappers, burst skins and mould. 
    • Also, it is harder to cure garlic that has been over watered.

How to grow Garlic – Harvesting

  • Lift the bulbs as soon as the leaves begin to yellow, or when they lie prostrate on the soil.
  • If it is very wet near harvest time, consider lifting them a bit earlier and drying them under cover. 
  • Left in wet soil, the outer parchment often rots. 
  • If there is disease in the root plate, it may develop too far and cause the bulb to fall apart when it is lifted. 
  • Garlic “Rocambole” is almost always ready to harvest a month or so before common garlic. 
  • Always the state of the foliage is the indicator, not any particular date. 

How to grow Garlic – Storing & Preserving

  • Store garlic in a dry place, the kitchen is fine, and towards autumn (if there is still some left) check for soft bulbs (rotting internally), and sign of insect damage. 
  • Throw out damaged bulbs. 
  • The ideal storage conditions are temperatures of around 10C/50F, dry, and well ventilated.
  • Soft-neck garlic can be braided into strings of garlic that can hang in the pantry or kitchen, providing both convenience and a style statement, but also preserving healthy garlic heads.
  • Hard-necked garlic, or if you can’t be bothered to braid your soft-neck crop, can be tied together with string to provide the same effect.
  • Garlic strings, however they are constructed, will keep the garlic usable for up to two years.


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