Growing Garlic

The information provided below is intended to be helpful to you if you are thinking of growing garlic from one of many garlic "seed" suppliers. Hudson Clove does not sell "seed" garlic, only garlic for your culinary enjoyment. If you choose to grow Hudson Clove garlic, you do so at your own risk (although that is truly the case no matter where you purchase your "seed"). Never plant any cloves from bulbs that look unhealthy, have rot, fungus, mold, or any other suspect condition.

The Short Answer

Garlic is easy to grow in good garden soil, planted in autumn, two or three inches deep, pointy side up. Full sun, water in spring if needed. A little organic nitrogen fertilizer before planting, and more in early spring. Mulch to keep weeds down. Harvest as leaves begin to brown. Hang to cure for 2-3 weeks. Cut stems off after curing, store away from bright light, keep them at 55-70 degrees F, 50-60% humidity, with good air circulation for the longest storage.

The Long Answer

Full sun.

I've had success growing nice-sized heads of garlic in both sandy loams and humus-rich loams. Do increase the drainage of your garlic plot, make sure the pH is between 6 and 7, and maintain a friable tilth (good soil structure). Garlic sizes up best when it is not impeded by stones, heavy clay, or other barriers to growth. Adding compost to your plot always helps.

Planting in the Garden
It's possible to plant every garlic clove, but for the largest garlic plant only the biggest cloves from big bulbs. "Pop" the cloves from the bulb no more than 24 hours prior to planting. It's okay if the wrapper falls off, but don't plant any cloves that look damaged or receive any nicks in the popping process.

To grow the largest heads of garlic, space each bulb six to eight inches apart. If you are tight for space, you could shrink that to four inches, but the heads will not grow as large. We plant garlic cloves with the pointed tips about two or three inches below the soil surface. Some folks plant deeper, some more shallow -you can experiment with that. It is very important to make sure that the root end is down, and pointy tip faces up when you plant. We like raised beds, but it isn't necessary.

Planting in Pots
Yes, you can plant garlic in pots or growbags -just make sure it's a deep one! More than 14 inches deep is best. Because pots and planters dry out more readily than the ground, you will need to ensure consistent moisture. Ensure that your pot or planter has good drainage.  Over winter, keep your garlic-planted pots out of the wind. Do not allow them to dry out completely. It is okay for your garlic to freeze, but if you're in a zone colder than 6b, make sure your pots are in a well-protected, south-facing area and consider planting only hardneck varieties. Apply natural fertilizers in fall and spring as suggested below.

It is useful to provide a boost of nitrogen in the form of blood, alfalfa, or corn-gluten meal before planting in the fall and another boost in the early spring. Healthy soil is a must, maintaining proper pH and balanced micronutrients. Do not over-fertilize. Unlike other bulbs, garlic does not need heavy doses of phosphorous. It is always valuable to get a soil test to find out your garden's current N-P-K values and micronutrient levels.

Weeding and Mulch
It is important to keep your garlic plot free of weeds. I weed before planting, and then weed as necessary throughout the growing season to make sure the garlic has no competition. If you mulch with  clean straw or chopped-leaves, you should have less weeding to do in spring. We are experimenting with corn-gluten meal as a nitrogen fertilizer and organic, preemergent "weedicide." Beware: geese like to feast on the corn gluten in spring and will stomp on the emerging garlic. 

After planting the cloves, you should water-in if it is exceptionally dry, however you do not need to water throughout winter. Do not water if it rains regularly in spring. If it is dry, you may need to add an inch of water per week. Watch the weather, and do not over-water. Remember, your garden soil should be well-drained because garlic dislikes constantly saturated soil. When plants begin to dry down, stop all watering and pray for little to no rain.

To Scape or Not To Scape
It is arguable whether it is necessary to cut the 'hardneck' stem from A. sativum ophioscorodon. Some say that cutting them puts energy into sizing up the bulbs and some argue that it matters not, and that  leaving the scape to mature may actually favor storage life. Whether you do it or not, you will still have healthy garlic at harvest time! When I do cut them, it is when they are still tender, several inches long and curving, with an immature beak at the tip. Every variety will have different scape maturity dates within the last month before harvest. As a general guide, an earlier harvest means an earlier scape.

Softneck and weakly bolting varieties (Sliverskin, Artichoke and Creole) are known to perform best in warmer climates, while the hardneck varieties are well adapted to the cold. With this in mind, we've grown both near the northeastern foothills of the Catskills of upstate New York and under the maritime climate of the Montauk and Rockaway Peninsulas.

Pests and Pathogens
Garlic is a hardy, generally disease-free plant, but it may harbor invisible organisms. Although there are a handful of severely damaging pathogens, many of these will not harm your garlic crop. My experience has been that fungal infections due to wet conditions and poor nutrient balance in the soil can lead to significant losses. The stress of nutrient deficiencies creates opportunity for pathogens when environmental conditions are ripe for infection. A primary symptom of this is rot in spring, both early and late, in less hardy varieties. I've have had little success in rooting out these problems and have learned to live with them, often dismissing the more sensitive strains.

Harvest time will vary depending on the garlic variety, local conditions, seasonal weather, and the climate zone your garden belongs to. Mid-June to mid-July is harvest time on our farm. Varietal descriptions state whether it is an early, mid or late season harvest, although it's rarely before mid-June or beyond mid-July in our region. Most gardeners will use a shovel or fork to loosen the bulb, then gently pull it out by the stem. Shake off soil with a brush of the hand, but be careful not to tear the wrapper. Do not leave freshly-pulled garlic in the sun. Bundle the same varieties with some string in groups of five or ten and place in a shady or covered location soon after pulling them.

  • A. sativum ophioscorodon, or hardneck, varieties are harvested when 40-50 percent of the leaves have browned, with 4 or 5 remaining green leaves. If you are unsure, you can always dig down to check on the size of a bulb. Don't wait until all the leaves are completely brown to harvest.
  • A. sativum sativum, or sofneck, Silverskin and Artichoke varieties will be ready when 1-3 leaves have browned or the weak stem of leaves entirely falls over. If the weather is dry, these can tolerate some days in the ground after falling over. My experience is that the Artichoke will be harvested significantly earlier than the Silverskin, but every climate will produce different results.
  • Weakly bolting Turban and Asiatic will be the earliest to harvest. Harvest after the first leaves dry down, with 5 or 6 remaining green leaves. Dig down to check for readiness. Do not wait until the stem falls over.

Bundled garlic should be labeled and hung in a cool, dry place not unlike the storage conditions listed below. It could take 3 to 4 weeks to cure your garlic depending on the variety and climate. When complete, the leaves and stem will be completely dried. You can then cut the stem about an inch or so up the bulb and trim the roots to 1/4-inch. Artichoke strains are the hardest to cure -ensure the driest conditions for these strains.

Humidity is the greatest adversary to long-term storage in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. For long-term storage, place your crop of garlic in a cool place such as a dry basement or heated garage. Temperatures of 55-65 degrees F with 50%-60% humidity are ideal. Place your garlic in a mesh sack or other ventilated container. Consider a fan for air circulation. For short term storage, room temperature is fine, out of direct sun and away from the stove. Do not store your garlic in a refrigerator as it may sprout when you remove it. See variety descriptions for more information.

Porcelain scapes just harvested.