This article describes how to grow garlic with perfect organic bulbs and scapes, including planting, cultivation, harvesting, curing, and storage. It is a complete guide to growing garlic.

What is Garlic?

Garlic, Allium sativum, is an herbaceous perennial plant in the Amaryllidaceae family, grown annually for its mostly creamy white bulb and garlic scapes. Its root is also a crop, and the large bulb is composed of many smaller ones or cloves. The outer shell is rough and white with roots at the bottom, while the inner membranes around each bulb can be purple or pink.

The stem consists of several dark green hollow leaves and grows up to 40 inches. It blooms during June from the flower stalk or scapes, and the flowers are white or purple and gathered in a large, round inflorescence of about 30 buds. A flower body emerges that hides seed pods full of tiny, black seeds.

There are two types of garlic:

  • Hardneck – subspecies ophioscorodon (creates a flower stalk) and 
  • Softneck – subspecies sativum (does not create a flower stalk). 

These two types can be divided into more than 200 variants, depending on their properties through years of cultivation in a particular area.

It is believed to have originated from central Asia. Still, the earliest evidence of garlic as a culinary ingredient is from Egypt, where they were used to season meat and fish, and from the Bible, where it is mentioned as food given by the Egyptians to the Israelites.

garlic bread

Why should you grow garlic in your garden?

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated vegetable crops, which in addition to being edible, also has very significant medicinal properties. It has antiviral, antibacterial, and fungicidal properties and is a powerful antioxidant.

It contains vitamins A, C, and B, minerals potassium, calcium, selenium, magnesium, flavonoids, and the sulfur compound allicin, which gives it a distinctive odor and many valuable properties.

His antioxidant value also helps the body cleanse itself of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, etc. Numerous studies show garlic’s positive effects on more than 150 different diseases.

Regarding its rich history, it is a popular and effective treatment for many ailments, including improving your health and fighting against colds, flu, and viruses. Garlic has been shown to help lower bad cholesterol, improve circulation, and support immune function. It also supports healthy digestive and nervous systems. 

Garlic is a wonderful vegetable to grow in your garden because it’s easy to grow and doesn’t require much care. Growing garlic is the perfect gardening project to start with when you’re just getting started.

How to grow garlic?

Garlic grows easily in a sunny location and can be grown in containers, raised beds, pots, or directly in the ground.

Due to their high commercial value, many cultivars are adapted to a specific area and are considered ideal for these conditions. Therefore, it is challenging to grow organic variants that are not intended for your region, so it is necessary to investigate the variety that will grow in your garden before planting.

The best way to find the best organic garlic cloves is to visit your local CSA farm market and get it from there.

Garlic is typically grown from cloves, rarely from seeds, because it can be a slow and complex process, and many varieties don’t produce fertile seeds.

garlic cloves

When to plant?

Garlic is a common fall crop, but spring varieties can be planted as early as the end of February. Spring variates are buried in the spring precisely because they do not tolerate low temperatures and cannot overwinter in the ground. They can stand much longer, and the visible difference is thinner and softer leaves. The bulbs are smaller in volume and therefore consist of more cloves and are harvested during the summer.
Autumn variants are much more resistant to lower temperatures, can easily overwinter, and in the spring of the following year, bulbs start to develop foliage until harvest in the spring. Their leaves are longer, and the head is more significant but with fewer cloves.
Garlic grows best in cooler temperatures, so it’s best to plant in late fall or early spring.
If you are growing them for bulbs, choose bigger cloves for planting and remove scapes as soon they appear, and if you are growing them for scapes, you can plant smaller cloves more tightly.

harvested garlic scapes

How to plant with garlic cloves?

To sow garlic with cloves, you should choose healthy bulbs, regular shapes, which cloves will serve as seeds. Before planting, heads need to be stored in ventilated and dry rooms at around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should separate the cloves from the bulb before planting them into the ground. To do that, gently remove the outer skin and dissolve them carefully but leave the papery husk on the cloves. Keep in mind that the clove has a top and bottom ( roots will appear from the basal plate) so place the bottom part to the ground when you put them in the soil.

Bury them 2 inches deep with a distance of 3 to 4 inches inside the row and 8 inches between rows.

garlic seedling

Sow seeds

Sowing garlic with seeds is a rare cultivation method, but it has its advantages. Garlic sown from seeds is considered more resistant to diseases and pests, but it is also adaptive, which allows the creation of more different variants and flavors. The seeds are tiny and black, so they should be kept in a lighter container and stratified before planting.

The seeds are collected from mature plants, removed from the pods, and dried well. Sow 2 to 3 seeds in loose soil 0,5 inches deep, allowing 1 to 2 inches between them. Seeds are sown in January indoors in separate containers. It is necessary to provide a minimum of 8 hours of daylight and room temperature and water it regularly with stagnant water. After developing two leaves, each seedling needs to be moved to a separate container, developing further alone to be transplanted to the desired location during March.

garlic seed pod with seeds

Soil and watering

Garlic likes rich, slightly acidic soil with plenty of organic matter, a pH between 6.2 and 6.8.
Soil should be loose, moist, well-drained, and cleaned from rocks, stones, weeds, and roots.
A mulch layer can reduce the amount of moisture lost through evaporation. To keep the soil from drying out and freezing during the winter, apply straw mulch like hay or wood chips just after planting and give them ample water and space to grow. 
It is also good to mix soil with 5 to 10% sand. Sand improves performance and provides it with a more significant amount of air essential for the proper development of the roots.
Keep the soil moist, but don’t let it sit wet. If you live in areas with much rain, it is necessary to form raised beds to avoid water retention in case of heavy rainfall.

Fertilizing

Garlic is a perennial, meaning that it will produce bulbs over a long time. To grow this healthy vegetable, you’ll need to provide lots of nitrogen and phosphorous. When applying fertilizer, make sure that you do not overfeed your garlic patch.

Too much nitrogen will increase bulb size, but they will not be as tasty. You should apply an organic high-nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion or blood and bone, stimulating the bulb to grow more quickly. In addition, compost and chicken manure are excellent nitrogen sources for garlic.

garlic in garden

General care and maintenance

Growing garlic is an easy task that requires little maintenance to produce large bulbs.

It is crucial to check regularly that the soil is moist enough. You can check by placing your finger to a depth of 0,5 inches into the ground and check for moisture. If the soil is dry at this depth, you need to water. Never water the plant directly but moisten the soil around it when watering.

You should also remove any weeds that are growing around the garlic.

Companion plants

Garlic is a king companion plant for many vegetables, fruits, flowers, and trees, and its fragrance is known to repel insects, rabbits, deers, and even moose and squirrels. Garlic repels pests like spider mites, aphids, mites and many others, making garlic a great companion for tomatoes, dill, carrots, spinach, and fruit trees. 

His natural fungicide attributes by providing sulfur can reduce diseases when planted next to crops known for fungus problems like brassicas ( broccoli, cabbage, kale), potatoes, and peppers. That’s why we can spread our king all over the garden.

It also attracts some beneficial bugs like ladybugs, lacewings, and wasps, which will help you control other damaging insects. You can also improve and enhance the flavor of your garlic by planting them next to chamomille.

Avoid planting any of the following alongside garlic: parsley, beans, sage, peas, strawberries, and other alliums like onions. While it can repeal pests from these plants, they have similar requirements and can compete for nutrients, resulting in poor growth.

When to harvest?

Garlic will reach maturity in about 90 days and are ready for harvest when the bottom leaves start to yellow and one-third of the foliage is still green. At that time, bulbs contain the most sugar and the best flavor. Hardneck varieties will show you when the flower stalk softens and when the entire above-ground part begins to lie down.

Keep in mind that your garlic will continue to grow if allowed, but you will not get any more bulbs. You can harvest them when their papery skin is hard and leathery, and the bulb is 2 to 3 inches long.

garlic ready to harvest

Curing and Storing

Properly cured garlic can be stored for a whole year. To do that, harvest plants by pulling out and keeping the bulbs on the stem with foliage. Once you remove garlic from the ground, place it in a cool, dry, ventilated area where it will not be directly in sunlight.

The best place is the basement, barn, or attic, and when it is completely dry, you can separate the bulbs and remove the leaves, or you can chop as you need them. You can store bulbs in cardboard boxes and even better in hanging nets. 

Common problems

Avoid planting garlic after any plant from the lily or Allium family to reduce the risk of pest infestation and disease development.

It is best to plant it in the same place every 3 to 4 years. In this way, the plantations effectively fight against white rot and stem nematodes.

Downy mildew disease can infect your vegetable, which usually attacks the bulbs, resulting in their decay, reduced yields, and rot even after storage. Rust is also dangerous for garlic. It appears as yellow-brown, round or elongated nodules. The leaves dry and fall off after the disease, and the bulbs shrink. 

Other common diseases are:

  • Garlic mosaic virus
  • Purple blotch
  • White rot

You should also be aware that several insects that can do damage:

  • Onion maggots
  • Thrips
  • Bulb mites
  • Leafminers

Conclusion

In conclusion, garlic is one of the most popular spices globally. It is an onion family member and has been used in culinary and medicinal practices for over 3,000 years. It is a pungent, aromatic, and flavorful allium with a strong, slightly bitter taste. Garlic has various health benefits, including the ability to prevent cancer, improve blood circulation, treat diabetes, and reduce cholesterol.

You can grow them from seed, but it takes a lot of work to get it right, so growing them from cloves is better. You’ll need to prepare the right kind of soil, provide them with plenty of sunlight, and you’ll have to add mulch to protect them from frost and keep the soil moisture. You will get enormous and perfect garlic bulbs or scapes if you do this right. 

garlic scapes ready for harvest

Frequently asked questions

When to harvest garlic scapes?

Garlic scapes (stems on hardneck variety) are harvested when the heads are about to flower. You can pick them just after they form a spiral shape and start to make a second-round turn. That happens 2 to 4 weeks before harvesting the bulbs. They are very delicious, and you should cut them at the bottom where it comes out of the stalk and above the leaves.

What should I plant before garlic?

Garlic is good to grow after crops that have been fertilized with manure because the soil after them is loose and free of weeds. Brassicas are commonly fertilized with manure, making them perfect for crop rotation with garlic and onions.

How do you grow garlic in pots at home?

You can grow smaller quantities of garlic to use as a spice in pots or containers on the balcony or window. A pot should have a minimum depth of 8 inches. Before planting, it is good to fill the bottom with pebbles for better drainage and use loose and humus soil. After planting, pots should be placed in a sunny place and watered once a week. For the bulbs to develop better, leaving a minimum of 2-3 inches of space between each one is necessary. During the growing season and foliage development, you can add liquid fertilizer during watering.

Sources

Plantvillage https://plantvillage.psu.edu/topics/garlic/infos

United States Department of Agriculture https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=ALSA2