Knowing when to plant garlic is important to help you get the best crops. Garlic is best planted between November and April although you will generally get a bigger and better crop if you plant it in the autumn. Garlic bulbs are sold according to their suitability for spring or autumn planting. Growing garlic from seed is not possible at present because viable seed is very difficult to produce.
You may see garlic referred to as 'Hardneck' or 'Softneck' - this simply refers to the way the garlic grows:
This type of garlic produces a flower stem (referred to as a 'scape'), which can be removed and used in salads and stir fries. Hardneck varieties are ideal if you fancy growing garlic scapes but still want a crop of garlic bulbs too. The bulbs produced by hardneck varieties don't store as well as softneck varieties but they often have unique qualities. See below for our pick of the best hardneck varieties:
This type of garlic does not produce a flower stem and will store for much longer than the hardneck varieties. See below for our pick of the best softneck varieties:
Garlic prefers a position in full sun with a well drained, light soil. Garlic bulbs will not tolerate water logging so dig in plenty of organic matter such as compost, well rotted manure or recycled green waste before planting. This will also provide nutrients for your garlic.
Carefully split the bulb into individual cloves and plant each clove 2.5cm (1 inch) below the surface of the soil with the pointed end facing up (so the bulb sits just below the soil surface). Plant each clove 10cm (4 inches) apart and in rows 30cm (12 inches) apart. You may find birds are tempted to pull your garlic out of the ground when it is freshly planted so it is a good idea to cover the area with netting after planting.
If you live in very cold areas or your soil is heavy then plant the cloves into module trays during the winter. Fill the tray with multi-purpose compost and place one clove 2.5cm (1 inch) deep in each module; covering the cloves with more compost afterwards. Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully so place the module tray in a sheltered position outdoors. Garlic grown in this way can be planted out to its final position in the spring when the cloves have sprouted.
Growing garlic in a pot is ideal for those with patios and balconies. The pot will need to be at least 20cm (8 inches) in diameter with a similar depth, to allow for good root growth. Simply fill your chosen container with multi-purpose compost and incorporate some fertiliser.
Plant each clove at a depth of 2.5cm (1 inch) and space them 10cm (4 inches) apart, allowing space for the bulbs to swell (don't plant too close to the container edge). Make sure the compost remains moist, especially during dry spells.
For something a bit different you could even try growing garlic indoors on a windowsill to provide garlic leaves, which have a milder flavour than the bulb and can be added to soups, curries and stir fries. Harvest the leaves as required until the bulb has been exhausted. However, growing garlic indoors is not usually a successful method for cultivating good quality garlic bulbs. Watch the video below to find out more about how to grow garlic in containers:
Garlic is not very demanding! However it is vulnerable to being smothered by weeds so make sure you weed regularly. As mentioned above, birds may be tempted to pull your garlic out of the ground when it is young so it's a good idea to have some protective netting to hand in the early stages. You only need to water your garlic during long dry spells. If you notice flowers forming you can remove them or leave them intact, either way this should not affect the swelling of the bulb.
Garlic is normally trouble-free. There are however two diseases which you may find symptoms of on your garlic crop - rust and white rot. Rust appears as rusty coloured spots on the leaves and there is no cure apart from avoiding growing garlic in the same place for 3 years. Garlic can also be affected by white rot, which decays the roots and eventually the bulb. Again there is no cure apart from crop rotation.
Autumn-planted garlic will be ready to harvest in June and July and spring-planted garlic will be ready slightly later. Simply wait until the leaves have started to wither and turn yellow, and then loosen the bulbs from the soil with a trowel. Be careful not to cut the garlic bulbs with your trowel as this will reduce their storage potential. Also be careful not to leave the bulbs in the ground too long after the leaves have withered as the bulbs are likely to re-sprout and may rot when stored.
Lay the garlic bulbs out somewhere warm and dry before storing them. Any dry soil left on the bulbs can be gently brushed off. Bulbs should then store for up to 3 months in good condition. It really is so easy to grow your own garlic!
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.