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How to Grow Garlic

how to grow garlic lead
Here's everything you need to know about growing garlic
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic is an easy crop to grow in your garden – it’s fairly low maintenance and it doesn’t require much space. It will happily grow in a container on your patio, if that’s what you have available.

For the best results, you should buy garlic sets from a garden centre or supplier, rather than from a supermarket. A quality variety from a good supplier will yield delicious crop of fat, juicy garlic. You can plant many varieties outdoors in either spring or autumn. But for an interesting twist, try growing it on a sunny windowsill like a herb for its delicately flavoured leaves to use in cooking or salads.

What variety of garlic should I choose?

what variety of garlic should I choose?
Hardnecks are a good choice if you want to harvest the edible garlic stem.
Image: Shutterstock

There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck varieties.

Hardneck varieties produce an edible flower stem (often called a 'scape'), which can be used in salads and stir fries. These are a great choice if you want to harvest both the scapes and the bulbs.

Softneck varieties don’t produce the stem, but the advantage of these types is that the bulbs can be stored for longer than their hardneck cousins.

Here are some of the most popular hardneck varieties:

These are some of the best softneck varieties:

  • 'Wight Cristo' produces an elegant bouquet and is planted in spring or autumn.
  • 'Picardy Wight’ has a strong flavour and long storage potential. Spring or autumn.
  • 'Germidour' is very reliable with a slightly milder flavour. Spring or autumn planting.

When to plant garlic

when to plant garlic
Garlic cloves should be planted narrow end up.
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic cloves are best planted between November and April, although you will generally get a bigger and better crop if you plant in the autumn. In fact, many gardeners swear by planting before Christmas to get the best results.

But garlic bulbs are sold according to their suitability for spring or autumn planting, so check before you plant. Growing garlic from seed isn’t currently possible for home gardeners because viable seed is tricky to produce.

Where to plant garlic

where to plant garlic
Don’t grow garlic in soil that’s recently been used for other alliums.
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic shouldn’t be planted in soil that’s recently been used for garlic, or indeed for any other plants from the allium family. So if this is to be a regular crop, you’ll need to plan a rotation system.

When choosing a suitable spot, keep in mind that garlic prefers a position in full sun with well-drained, light soil.

How to grow garlic in the ground?

grow garlic in the ground
Garlic likes sun and dislikes water-logging, which should be kept in mind!
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic bulbs prefer light, nutrient-rich soil and they don’t tolerate water-logging, so dig in plenty of organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure or recycled green waste before planting.

Carefully split the bulb into individual cloves and plant each clove just below the surface of the soil (about 2.5cm deep) with the pointed end facing up. Plant each clove 10-15cm apart in rows that are roughly 30cm apart.

How to protect garlic?

protect your garlic
Horticultural fleece might be a good option to protect young plants from birds.
Image: Shutterstock

Birds love to pull freshly-planted garlic out of the ground so it’s a good idea to cover the area with netting or horticultural fleece after planting.

Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully, but during the winter, if you live in very cold areas or your soil is heavy, then plant the cloves into module trays. Fill the tray with multi-purpose compost and place one clove 2.5cm deep in each module, covering the cloves with more compost afterwards. The trays should be kept in a sheltered position outdoors.

Grown in this way, the garlic can be planted out to its final position in the spring when the cloves have sprouted.

How to grow garlic in containers

container garlic
Garlic is a versatile plant and can easily be grown in medium-sized containers.
Image: Shutterstock

You don’t need a massive garden to grow garlic; it grows quite happily in containers on a patio or balcony.

Containers will need to be at least 20cm in diameter and depth to allow for good root growth. Simply fill your chosen container with multi-purpose compost and incorporate some fertiliser.

Just like planting garlic in the ground or in module trays, plant each clove at a depth of 2.5cm and space them about 10-15cm apart. You’ll need to allow space for the bulbs to swell as well, so don't plant them too close to the container edge. Make sure the compost remains moist, especially during dry spells.

You can even grow garlic indoors on a windowsill to provide garlic leaves, which have a mild and aromatic flavour 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.

How to care for garlic

caring for garlic
Weed regularly to keep your garlic happy.
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic is not very demanding. But it is vulnerable to being smothered by weeds as it doesn’t create much shade, so make sure you weed regularly.

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, it should not affect the swelling of the bulb.

How to harvest garlic

harvesting garlic
Garlic is usually ready to harvest in early summer.
Image: Shutterstock

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 don’t 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.

Before storing them, lay the garlic bulbs out somewhere warm and dry. Any dry soil left on the bulbs can be gently brushed off. In good condition, garlic bulbs can be stored up to three months.

Common garlic problems to watch out for

common problems garlic
Garlic is fairly low maintenance, but there are two diseases to look out for.
Image: Shutterstock

Garlic is normally trouble-free. But there are two diseases to watch out for: rust and white rot.

Rust appears as rusty-coloured spots on the leaves. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is avoid growing garlic in that place for three years; there’s no cure for rust.

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.

Top tips for growing garlic

Growing garlic is pretty easy and the results taste unlike anything you’d get in the average supermarket. The main things to remember are:

  • Buy garlic bulbs from a reputable garden supplier, not a supermarket
  • Plant before Christmas, if you can
  • Don’t plant in soil that’s recently been used for any allium plants
  • Don’t water-log the bulbs
  • Weed regularly

Watch: How to grow garlic in containers

So that's it in a nutshell, everything you need to know about garlic. Happy growing!

Have you got any great tips for growing garlic? We'd love to hear them - head over to our Facebook page and share them with our 'grow your own' community.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

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.


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