HOMEGROWN: Garlic Growing Guide

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Guest series by Danielle Smith of Garden Like a Mother

If you love cooking with garlic and would like to grow your own at home, today’s blog post is for you.

I get a lot of questions about garlic. For some reason, growing garlic seems to really intimidate people, but garlic is truly such an easy crop to grow!

It doesn’t require a lot of space

It doesn’t require a lot of attention.

All it requires is a lot of TIME!

Believe it or not, if you want to harvest garlic in 2022… you need to plant your garlic NOW! 

And it will stay in the ground all the way through mid-summer next year.

WHAT TO PLANT

The first thing that you might not realize is that garlic is not grown from seed. It’s actually grown by planting individual cloves from a garlic bulb (or head).

Every garlic clove has the ability to grow into an entire bulb when planted. Since each bulb typically has anywhere between 4 and 15 cloves, one garlic bulb can produce 4-15+ garlic plants/bulbs the next year. 

4 cloves of garlic here that will each grow into a garlic bulb

If you google “types of garlic” online, you will find that there are two main types of garlic:

  1. Hardneck garlic, which produces a scape, is better suited for colder climates, and stores for short periods of time.
  2. Softneck garlic, which does not produce a scape, is better suited for warmer climates, and stores for longer periods of time.

You can really go down a rabbit hole and spend a lot of time trying to decide what exact kind of garlic to buy and where to buy it from…

But honestly, the easiest way for most home growers to find a good variety for your area is just to head to the farmers’ market and buy garlic directly from farmers or talk to them about what grows well in your area.

In future years, once you have established garlic in your own garden, you can just replant a portion of the garlic you harvest.

WHEN TO PLANT

One major mistake that people make when growing garlic is that they wait to start growing it in the spring. Garlic needs to experience cold temperatures in order for the bulbing process to get triggered on the cellular level. 

Therefore, to successfully grow garlic bulbs, you actually need to plant your garlic the prior fall so it can be in the ground overwinter. If you try planting in the spring, you will be disappointed by growing garlic that more closely resembles scallions.

Here in Wisconsin, I typically plant sometime around Halloween ( give or take a week). The warmer the fall has been, the longer I wait. I recommend you wait for your area to experience its first frost and then plant within the next week.

The goal here is to plant early enough to allow the cloves to grow roots and send shoots up into the soil, but not too early– you don’t really want the shoots to emerge above ground before freezing temperatures/snow. It’s not the end of the world if they do- it’s just a waste of energy because they will die off during winter.

The plant will go dormant once temperatures get colder, start growing again when temperatures warm back up in the spring, and then continue growing until you harvest next summer.

Garlic shoots in April that I planted the previous October.

WHERE TO PLANT

The most important thing to consider when selecting a spot for your garlic is whether the spot will offer garlic the conditions it needs to thrive. 

Garlic needs full sun to grow (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day, but even more is better).

It also requires loose and well-draining soil that has lots of organic matter. Garlic needs a lot of nutrients and it needs soil that allows the bulbs to expand easily as they grow.

Keep in mind that whatever spot you choose to plant your garlic will be unusable for other crops in the spring and early summer, as garlic won’t be ready for harvest until mid-July.

HOW TO PLANT

To prep the soil, add compost or other nitrogen fertilizer to the site. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you have lots of nutrients ready to go in the soil before you plant.

When you are ready to plant, break apart the cloves and plant the largest, best looking cloves. You don’t need to remove any of the paper covering. Cook or discard any cloves that are damaged or have brown spots.

Make 3” deep holes 4-6” apart (4 to 9 per square foot).

Drop in one garlic clove per hole, with the pointy bit of the clove pointing up.

Make sure to drop your garlic in the right way- pointy bit up towards the sky.

Finally, just fill the holes in with soil, water well, and add a thick (4”-6”) layer of straw mulch on top. This will help insulate the plants and protect them through the winter.

And that’s it– enjoy the winter knowing that your garlic is happily awaiting spring (just like you are)!

If you want a super handy checklist to follow while you are out in your garden (that also includes garlic care and harvesting tips for next year), sign up HERE to download a FREE PDF Growing Garlic Guide that is typically only available to my clients!

And if you’ve enjoyed my series of blog posts this summer, make sure to sign up for my newsletter to get updates about blog posts, courses, and workshops.

Thank you so much for learning with me this summer. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for home gardening with you. I hope you picked up a few tips that make your gardens grow better and feel more enjoyable. 

Happy growing!

Danielle Smith is a professional garden coach, and she helps busy moms learn how to grow simple and hassle-free vegetable gardens at home so they can fuel their mind, body and soul and cultivate the mom life they truly want. If you are interested in learning how to grow a veggie garden that improves your life rather than becoming yet another stressful thing on your plate, contact her at gardenlikeamother@gmail.com to learn more about how she can help.

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