Did you know that a garlic plant is incredibly easy to grow? This low-maintenance plant thrives in cooler climates, and doesn’t require too much space or attention. Ready to get growing? Here’s everything you need to know about cultivating your own garlic, starting today.
Regular garlic consumption has many health benefits and can boost your immune system. Some studies have even shown that garlic can help to reduce your susceptibility to the common cold and influenza viruses. In addition benefitting human health, the garlic plant is a natural pest deterrent.
Garlic is an attractive plant that can be a striking addition to any garden. Oh, and if you don’t have room in your garden, it will happily grow in a pot on a sunny balcony.
Garlic Plant Varieties
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
This cold-hardy variety doesn’t store as well or for as long as softneck garlic. The flavor is also milder.
In addition to the ring of edible cloves that form around the central stem, hardneck garlic produces a hard flowering spike. The stem of this flower—known as the scape—is also edible, and is commonly used in salads and stir fries.
- Red Duke: A spicy, intense garlic that needs to be planted in autumn.
- Siberian: A subtle variety that’s great in dips.
- Spanish Roja: Produces a rich flavor and is incredibly easy to peel.
This variety doesn’t produce an edible stem. It’s also less cold resistant than hardneck garlic, preferring to grow in warmer climates. Softneck garlics are so called because their necks remain soft after harvest.
- Picardy Wight: An autumn- or spring-planted garlic with a strong flavor. Properly stored, this variety will keep for an extended period.
- Germidour: This is a reliable variety with a mild flavor that you can plant in either the spring or autumn.
- Silverskin: Commonly found on supermarket shelves, this is a reliable, heavy-cropping variety. Silverskin also keeps well.
How to Plant Garlic
While garlic can be grown from seed, this is a tricky and time-consuming process. Instead, the vast majority of garlic is grown from bulbs.
Theoretically, you can grow a garlic plant from the bulbs you purchase in the supermarket, but this isn’t a recommended option. Unknown bulbs can infect other crops and can struggle in local climates. Finally, many supermarket-sold garlic bulbs are chemically treated to give them a longer shelf life. While this is great for consumers, it can make propagation difficult.
Instead, visit a garden center or other specialist supplier. There you will find more choice and will be able to choose a variety that suits your climate, growing conditions, and personal preference.
When to Plant the Bulbs
Plant garlic bulbs at any point between November and April, depending on the variety.
Most varieties will produce a bigger, better, crop if planted in the autumn for harvest the following summer. Autumn planting allows the roots time to properly establish themselves during the winter months. This means that the following spring, your young plants will be ready and able to support the rapid leaf growth that’ needed to produce a large bulb.
You should still plant garlic out in the autumn, even in areas that suffer from hard frost. For best results, plant the garlic about 6-8 weeks before the first estimated frost date. This will give the garlic bulbs plenty of time to establish a root system before the ground freezes, but not enough time to develop any top growth that subsequent frosts can damage.
If you live in a particularly cold climate, start your garlic off indoors in module trays so they’ll be ready for transplanting the following spring.
Where to Plant Garlic
Garlic likes to grow in a sunny position: the brighter the better. The soil should be light and well draining.
When choosing your location, remember that garlic shouldn’t be grown in soil that has recently been used for other members of the allium family. If you are planning on growing garlic every year, you’ll either need to work out a crop rotation system or, if growing in pots, change the soil before each planting.
Planting Garlic Bulbs in the Ground
Once you’ve selected your location, dig in some 5-10-10 complete fertilizer. Garlic likes soil that’s rich in nutrients and this will help to give them an initial boost. You can also work organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil.
Take an intact garlic bulb and carefully split it into individual cloves. Then plant each clove, making sure that the pointed ends are facing up. You don’t need to plant the cloves too deeply—a depth of 2.5cm is fine. Space them out so that they’re roughly 10-15cm apart in rows. Each row should be about 30cm apart from the next row.
Growing Garlic in a Pot
Garlic will happily grow on a patio or balcony in a medium-sized pot. The pot should be at least 20cm wide and deep. This will give the plants roots space to develop.
Fill the pot with a multi-purpose compost, and work in some fertilizer before planting. Space your garlic bulbs 10-15cm apart. Don’t plant them too close to the edge of the pot, as the bulbs need room to grow.
Garlic is an easy crop to grow, but there are a few things you can do to ensure strong, healthy plants and a good harvest.
Birds in particular target freshly planted garlic. Cover plants with netting or a horticultural fleece to provide ample protection.
A horticultural fleece will also be useful if you’re growing in a colder climate, because it will protect the plants from frost damage. Alternatively, mulch the plant with either straw, grass clippings, or chopped leaves. If you’re in a colder climate, apply a 10cm thick layer. In milder climates, just apply a lighter layer of mulch.
Start feeding your plants as soon as leaves begin to emerge. Apply a small dose—no more than 2 teaspoons—of high-nitrogen fertilizer that will decompose slowly. Natural alternatives, such as blood meal, can also be used.You can also add a fresh layer of mulch to encourage moisture retention and deter weeds.
Weeding and Pruning
Weed your plants regularly to prevent them being overwhelmed by unwanted plants.
Some varieties will produce flower stalks with small bulbils in late spring and early summer. Pruning these will encourage the garlic plant to put all its energy into growing the bulb. Allowing garlic to flower won’t harm the crop, but the bulbs may not be as large as they would be if flowering is prevented.
Early in the summer, usually towards the end of June, the garlic plant will stop producing new leaves. This energy is being put towards the growing bulb instead. At this point, remove the mulch from around the plant and cease watering. Your garlic crop will store better if you allow the soil around the plant is to dry out before harvesting.
Don’t let the soil around the garlic plant dry out. This doesn’t mean that you should over-water, garlic plants don’t like to be waterlogged.
From mid-May to the end of June, water the plants no more than once every 3-5 days. If this period is particularly dry then you may need to increase watering. Reduce watering by the end of June.
Pests, Problems and How to Deal With Them
Garlic is generally a low-maintenance plant. If it’s healthy, it’s unlikely to attract many problems, but there are a few things to look out for.
Yellowing leaves are an indication that needs more nitrogen. This is easily solved by applying a nitrogen-rich feed.
Garlic rust displays itself as rust-colored spots on the plant’s leaves. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do if for this affliction. Just avoid growing alliums in this area for the next few years.
Spraying or watering sulfur compounds or Dithane into the soil will give the garlic plants some protection. Alternatively, apply sulphate of potash to the soil around the plant. Do this in February or March, just before the spring growth emerges.
This determined fungus will rot the roots and bulb, eventually turning it into dust. The most noticeable symptom is a white fungal growth speckled with black dots. Like rust, there’s no cure for white rot, and spores can live in the soil for years. If white rot strikes, avoid growing any alliums in the afflicted location for at least 15 years.
Leek Rust is another fungal infection that generally appears in wet conditions. Affected garlic plants are safe to eat, but if you spot leek rust, try to harvest the plants as quickly as possible. Prompt action will prevent spread.
You’ll typically notice an onion fly infection only after your plant has stopped growing. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late and your plant will die soon afterwards. The best way to deter onion flies is to keep the soil around the plant well tended between March and May.
Stem and Bulb Eelworm
Garlic Companion Plants
Many plants thrive when planted alongside garlic. These include:
Some herbs will also encourage garlic plant growth. These include:
- Chamomile, which improves the flavor of garlic
- Rue, which deters maggots
Plants to Avoid
While Garlic is a largely beneficial plant there some plants that struggle when planted near garlic. These include:
Harvesting and Storing Garlic
Garlic planted in the autumn will be ready to harvest in the following June or July. Spring-planted garlic will be ready a little later. Your garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves wither or when the tops turn yellow. When you notice yellowing, lift one bulb to see if the crop is ready.
A mature garlic head will be visibly divided into distinct, plump cloves. The skin covering the bulb should be papery, dry and thick. If the skin is thin and disintegrates easily, then you’ve raised the plant too early. Allow the rest of the crop to remain in the ground for a few more weeks.
Don’t leave garlic bulbs in the ground for too long after the leaves have started to wither. Doing so may encourage the bulbs to re-sprout, or the skin to split. This can lead to the garlic rotting during storage.
How To Harvest Garlic Plants
To harvest the garlic, gently loosen the bulbs from the soil with a trowel or garden fork. Be careful not to cut the bulbs as you do this. Bruising or any other damage will reduce the bulbs’ storage potential.
Gently brush off any soil, and place the garlic in a warm dry place to fully dry out. The best method is to tie the garlic into small bunches hang them upside-down. This will allow air to circulate around the plants. Alternatively you can hang the garlic in net bags. They should be fully dry in about two weeks.
Storing Garlic Bulbs
Once fully dry, clean the bulbs by removing any dirty skin, and trim away remaining roots and leaves.
Store these bulbs in a cool (40°F), dry, dark place for up to three months. The longer the bulbs are in storage, the more intense the flavor. If you plan on growing garlic again next year, save your largest, best-formed bulbs to plant in the autumn.