Grow Garlic at Home!

Welcome to Grow Garlic at Home! This information was developed and presented in workshop format by Bridget Indelicato, Founder, Innisfil Seed Library (2017).

What you'll need to get started:

  • Find a sunny spot in your existing garden or dig a new plot. If needed, amend the soil with well-composted manure. Each clove needs a perimeter of about 6 inches around to form a good-sized bulb. You don't need a lot of space to grow garlic at home – in a 4x4-ft plot you can grow up to 49 bulbs! If you are planting in an existing garden, check out the tips for companion planting below.
  • Buy local garlic bulbs. Local is better as they're conditioned to grow in our climate and you'll get better results. These are “hardneck” varieties; most supermarkets carry imported “softneck” varieties that don't grow well in our climate. Each bulb has an average of about 6 cloves, depending on the variety and size, so calculate how many you'll need to maximize your plot (ie. you'd need 8 to 9 bulbs for a 4x4-ft plot). Visit your local farmers' market, buy directly from farmers and keep an eye out for “garlic for sale” signs on country roads. Remember next year you'll use some of your best-looking homegrown bulbs to grow your next batch!
  • Buy a straw bale with its seeds already stripped off (very important so you don't end up with grain seedlings all over your plot). Most garden centres will sell them this time of year for fall displays. The straw will be the mulch layer that protects your garlic undisturbed over the next 10 months. You'll want to apply a good thick layer (4 to 6 inches) so be sure you have enough for the size of your plot.
  • Plan to plant your garlic cloves by mid-October. They will need time to establish a good root-base before the ground freezes.
  • Tools and materials: trowel or dibber, pitch fork, knee pads, plant labels, measuring tape, composted manure if needed

Preparing your garlic for planting:

  • Separate the individual cloves from the bulb of garlic immediately before planting. Do this carefully, wiggling the stem to loosen them, ensuring that the papery covering on each clove is kept intact. If the flesh of the garlic is exposed, it will be susceptible to damage and decay while underground. Also, once separated, choose your best looking, largest cloves to plant to get the best results.
  • If you are planting several varieties, keep your cloves in separate containers before planting so you can easily identify them. Prepare plant makers with the variety names.

Spacing and planting:

  • Work and loosen the soil with your pitchfork about a foot deep. You may add well-composted manure into your soil especially if it's a newly dug plot.
  • Lay your measuring tape along the width of your plot and using your dibber or trowel dig holes 4 inches deep and at least 6 inches apart. Move your measuring tape to the next row and repeat. Now you have a dug-out grid ready for planting!
  • Drop one clove in each hole and be sure the pointed tip is facing up. The bottom of the clove will produce its roots.
  • If you are planting different varieties, be sure to label your rows as you go.
  • Once all of your cloves are in their holes, carefully cover them with soil. You don't need to water.
  • Add a thick layer of straw mulch, 4 to 6 inches, over the entire garlic bed. This mulch will remain undisturbed until harvest next summer.

What to expect over the next few months:

  • October/ November: If we experience warm fall temperatures, as we usually do in our area, you may see green shoots popping up through the mulch. Fear not! Leave them be and they will die back. Once the ground begins to freeze it will arrest sprouting until next spring.
  • December to March: Your mulched plot will be safely tucked under a blanket of snow.
  • April/May: Signs of life will begin! You will start to see green stalks sprouting as spring weather warms up the plot. The melting snow and spring rain will be enough moisture so no need to water.
  • June: You can water the undisturbed (do not lift mulch) garlic plot as you would the rest of your garden this time of year. The stalks will grow taller and thicker and you'll begin to see “garlic scapes” shooting up from each one. Scapes are the garlic plant sending up its flower/seed head. Once the scape grows and curls, even doubling, snip the scape at its base (NOT the base of the stalk) and use it to add a mild garlic flavour to your early summer cooking. Once the scape is removed, the plant will force its energy into forming a mature garlic bulb rather than going to seed.
  • July/early August: This is the month when your bulbs are getting bigger and maturing underground. You'll notice that the stalks will start to brown and dry – leave them be as they are still providing energy to your bulbs. By mid-July, stop intentionally watering your garlic bed. By the end of July and early August when two-thirds of each stalk is brown and dry, your bulbs should be ready to harvest!

How to harvest, cure, clean and store garlic:

  • If you planted different varieties, be sure to keep the labels you put in at planting with the bulbs through all these stages so they don't get mixed up!
  • Remove the entire layer of straw mulch and discard. On your knees, carefully insert a hand shovel at least three inches from the stalk to avoid piercing the bulb (if you do pierce it, reserve it for eating soon). Begin loosening the soil all around it and then pull on the bottom of the stalk to remove the bulb. Gently shake and rub off some of the soil being careful not to shed the papery covering. Place it out of direct sunlight while you harvest the rest.
  • Now it's time to cure your garlic for enjoyment over the next few months. Do not cut off the stalks at this time! The drying stalks will still provide energy to the bulbs at this stage. Keep the hairy roots in tact as well. Find a sheltered location like a porch or an open shed where you can tie up and hang your garlic in bunches by its stalks with the bulbs at the bottom (check out “garlic braiding” online for an attractive, alternative way to dry them). Be sure the location has good air circulation (if not, you may use fans) and is out of direct sunlight. This will ensure even drying and less chance of spoilage.
  • After about two weeks when the paper wrappers appear dry, you may begin cleaning and preparing your garlic for use and long-term storage (up to 8 months!). At this stage, also begin selecting your biggest, healthiest-looking bulbs to grow again this fall! Snip off the stalk about an inch above the bulb with sharp clippers, cut off the roots to about one centimetre and remove dry dirt with your fingers (do not use water) and the first dirty paper layer if necessary.
  • Store your ready-to-eat garlic at a steady room temperature. They can be hung in mesh bags or stored in a container with good ventilation.
  • Remember, your homegrown garlic is ready to eat as soon as you harvest it. However, by curing your bulbs, you are preventing spoilage and extending the time you can enjoy them.

Good plant companions for garlic:

  • Garlic is a good, natural pest control and helps prevent disease in the garden! They repel aphids, thrips and help fight black spot and mildew. Plant your garlic near roses and at the drip line of fruit trees like apple. If you're planting them in a vegetable garden, garlic grows well with carrots, beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage. Avoid planting peas, beans, parsley and leeks near your garlic bed.

Online resources:

Bounty Garlic Farm (Midway, BC) 
A great resource for information on different varieties, growing and curing tips, recipes and growing from “bulbils” (produced from flower head).

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
A good resource for growing garlic in our climate.

Search for “garlic braiding” on You Tube for an alternative method of curing and hanging your garlic. Makes a special gift!