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9 Steps for Growing Big Garlic!

In this Article: Time to Plant  Choose Variety   Prepare Soil  Plant Biggest Cloves  Spacing  Keep it Cool  Watering  Weeding  Scapes  Harvest Time

Garlic is one of the easiest veggies to grow, but sometimes those big green tops yield a harvest of disappointingly small heads. After nearly a year of patiently watering, weeding and fertilizing, we want large flavorful garlic for our favorite recipes! Here’s 9 steps to take, from pre-planting preparation through harvest, to help you grow your biggest garlic heads yet. In addition to following all of the steps outlined below, it is important to plant your garlic at the right time.

Best Time to Plant Garlic

Plant garlic in the Fall (September and October are the best months to plant), it should be at least 2 weeks before your first frost of the season. This affords your garlic the best possible chances to withstand winter conditions by giving it ample time to establish. November is late to plant garlic, December is marginal.

9 Steps for Big Garlic

1. Select the best variety for your region

Not all seed garlic grows equally well everywhere. Most seed garlic requires sufficient cold temperatures in winter to develop good heads in spring, but some varieties are more tolerant of warm weather. Hardneck garlic needs exposure to 40 to 50°F for 6 to 12 weeks for the biggest heads. If you live in an area with warm winters, avoid garlic described as “great for cold areas;” softnecks such as California Early White and California Late White are a good choice for warm climates. Growing varieties that are not adapted to your climate can result in smaller heads.

2. Prepare the soil for planting

Garlic tolerates a wide variety of soils, but for large heads it is important to prepare your garden with the optimum nutrients and conditions before planting.

Garlic prefers:

  • Loose, loamy soil with high organic matter content
  • Soil with good drainage. Boggy or heavy wet soils can cause cloves to rot or develop poorly.
  • If your garden soil is not suitable for garlic, consider growing it in a raised bed for better drainage.
  • If you fertilize your garden, only do so between pre-planting time and late spring when scapes begin to form. Otherwise you could encourage too much top growth instead of head development.
  • Be careful also of over-fertilizing with nitrogen-rich fertilizers in the fall, this could lead to stimulating top growth and result in frost damage in very cold winter areas. For details on soil preparation for garlic, see our Garlic Planting and Growing Guide.
planting garlic cloves

3. Plant the biggest cloves

The biggest garlic heads grow from the biggest garlic cloves. Large garlic cloves have more energy stored up to help get your garlic off to a good start, and are more resistant to frost damage. When separating cloves for planting, select the largest cloves for growing garlic heads, and use the smaller ones for growing spring green garlic (just harvest in spring when the leaves have grown, and use like garlic chives). If you saved some of your harvested garlic for planting, select the larger of your heads for seed garlic and eat the smaller heads. While the larger ones are more appetizing, by selecting larger heads for planting this year, you’ll have more big heads for both planting and eating in future years.

4. Give them room to grow

Plant your garlic with plenty of room for their roots to grow, and to keep the garlic from competing with each other for nutrients and water. Spacing them at 6 inches when planting is best. This also is close enough for them to provide some shade to each other while growing, which also helps with the next step.

5. Keep growing garlic cool

The biggest garlic experiences a long cool winter and early spring when it establishes its root system and prepares for head development, followed by a long (but not too hot) spring and early summer growth period when the heads grow and divide. Head growth starts when the soil temperature is around 60° F, and ends when the soil reaches 90° F.

The key to this step is to keep your garlic’s soil cool for as long as possible until it is ready for harvest. This will give it the longest time possible to develop large heads. If your soil gets too hot too early, head growth will stop when they are still small.

How to Keep Your Garlic Cool in the Summer

  • Select a planting site that is shaded during the hottest part of the day.
  • Mulch deeply with light colored material such as straw to help reflect light, insulate the soil from heat, and retain moisture – all of which keep the soil temperature lower.
  • In areas where the ground freezes, mulching also protects the garlic from getting too cold. Compost, Cocoa Mulch, or Mega Mulch are also good mulch options.
  • You can also shade your garlic patch with shade fabric.

6. Plenty of water

A good irrigation plan will also help to increase head size. Mulching helps to reduce evaporation, so your soil stays moist longer and less water needs to be applied. Water your seed garlic deeply but infrequently (allow the surface to dry out between watering, but keep it moist several inches down). This will encourage the roots to grow deeper to find water, instead of staying in the upper regions of the soil where the temperature is higher.

7. Weed your garlic beds

Weeds growing among your garlic provide unnecessary competition for nutrients and water. Weed your garden regularly! Mulching can also help to reduce the amount of weeds that sprout up.

Garlic scape

8. Remove scapes right away

Scapes are the flower stalks that hardneck garlic produces in the spring and early summer. Check your growing garlic frequently for these, and remove them at leaf level. They’re good to eat, so don’t throw them out! They should not be allowed to grow because this takes energy away from head growth.

9. Harvest at the right time

Make sure that your garlic is fully grown before harvesting. Your garlic will not grow any more and is considered mature when the tops are a third (about 4 bottom leaves) brown or when it falls over (for softneck varieties). When your garlic tops begin to yellow, stop watering them. Harvest 2 weeks later and cure them. Don’t wait too long, or the papery covering will start to break down and they won’t store as well. Your garlic will not all be ready at the same time, so harvest each head as needed.

32 comments

  • Bev, yes you should add more soil to cover the garlic to at least the planting depth to what you originally planted them.

    Suzanne
  • Our garlic was planted last fall at one end of a raised bed. The soil level in the bed has fallen quite a bit and I would like to add soil. Is it Ok to add over the garlic – probably 4 inches?

    Bev
  • Valerie, once it warms up in the spring you can apply an all-purpose fertilizer to the garlic.

    Suzanne
  • As a rule of thumb, we always plant our garlic around the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year) and harvest around the Summer Solstice (longest day of the year). Thank-you for this article btw, it is very comprehensive.

    Catherine Roberts
  • What type of fertilizer should we be applying in the spring? I saw a response of adding straw in the fall, but didn’t see a response to what we should add in the spring to promote growth. We live in Ontario Canada and this winter was a very (unusually mild) one, but normally we would still have had 10-12 inches of snow on the ground.
    Thank you

    Valerie Cameron
  • Mary, you can start feeding your garlic once it warms up in the spring. I would not feed it if the temps are still low. You don’t want your garlic to start growing if cold temps are still in the forcast. A fish fertilizer would be fine or better yet a blood or feather meal.

    Suzanne
  • Great article, thanks! I have a small garden but love growing garlic. Most of mine is an elephant garlic type that a friend dug up from a 50+ year old patch in NE Texas; I am in Austin. I did order a few different types last fall as an experiment to see what does well here, jury is out but we sure had a shot of very cold and snow/ice this year to skew the results! Spring is here in post-snowmageddon central Texas, redbuds are flowering… most of my garlic is looking pretty good, but would fish fertilizer be a good choice for a nitrogen fertilizer this time of year? I have a small enough patch to make it practical to mix with rainwater and water it in. When I planted last November I prepped with an 8-2-4 organic dry mix and blood meal, as well as compost from my fish pond. This is my third year with this garlic, so I know to expect late June/early July to harvest. Thank you for your thoughts.

    Mary
  • Lorraine, you can grow garlic in a container. You still need to space it 6" apart and I would use something that is at least 12-18" deep.

    Suzanne
  • Joe, you can use a bone meal fertilizer in the fall when you plant. You don’t want to dump a bunch of nitrogen on it since really all you want to grow in the fall is a good strong root system. In the spring you can give it a good all purpose fertilizer.

    Suzanne
  • I live in New Jersey – zone 7a/b and winters have been getting much warmer, with very heavy spring rains. Can I plant garlic in a container? What is the minimum depth you would recommend? (I have several large plastic planters that are 20-24" around and about 17" deep)

    Lorraine
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