Harvesting homegrown garlic on a bright and sunny spring morning.

Several years ago, I read an eBook on how to grow and harvest garlic. It sounded so interesting and remarkably easy, so the following year I bought some seed garlic and gave it a try. Growing garlic went SO well! I ended up harvesting a large amount of fresh garlic. It kept well and tasted amazing, like all fresh garlic does. Ever since then, I’ve been saving back some of the best cloves and planting garlic again each fall.

After going through the process a few times, I thought I’d share it with you, so you can grow and harvest your own homegrown garlic too! Let’s get started!


How to Plant Garlic
What’s a Clove of Garlic vs. a Bulb of Garlic?
What Types of Garlic to Plant
What’s the Difference Between Softneck Garlic vs. Hardneck Garlic
When to Plant Garlic
How to Grow Garlic Through the Winter
Caring for Garlic Plants
Watering & Fertilizing Garlic Plants
How to Cut Garlic Scapes
How to Use Garlic Scapes
How to Harvest Garlic
How Do You Know When Garlic is Ready to Harvest?
Harvesting Garlic
How to Cure Garlic
Watch Curing & Harvesting Garlic Video
How to Know When Garlic is Done Curing
How to Store Garlic
How to Use Fresh Garlic – Quick Tips

A bowl of garlic bulbs sitting next to garlic cloves planted in the row.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic isn’t something you plant in the spring like other garden plants. It requires a little forethought and planning, starting the summer before you want to harvest garlic.

Gardeners plant mature garlic cloves (sometimes dubbed “seed garlic”) in the fall, so you’ll probably need to purchase seed garlic from a garden supply store. (I purchased mine from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, which sells seed garlic every fall.) BUT, you can also order from many other places! Seeds for Generations is a family business that sometimes carries seed garlic too. 🙂

While I suppose you could plant cloves of garlic you’ve saved from the grocery store, I’ve read you’ll get the best success from actual seed garlic. If you have a friend who already grows garlic in your area, ask them for some seed garlic instead or check around local gardening or homesteading groups, where you might be able to purchase from or swap with another grower.

What’s a Clove of Garlic vs. a Bulb of Garlic?

A bulb of garlic is the full head of garlic harvested from the soil. A clove of garlic is one of the smaller pieces found inside a head or bulb of garlic.

What Type of Garlic to Plant

When you’re shopping for garlic, you’ll see a wide variety of types available. I’ll talk about the differences between hardneck and softneck garlic in a moment, but first, make sure to keep these things in mind:

  • What does it taste like? Different garlics are prized for different flavors and levels of spiciness or heat. If you’re looking for something a little less potent, you’ll want to avoid the hottest varieties.
  • What growing conditions does it prefer? While first shopping for garlic, I settled on a variety from Canada or Russia (I can’t remember which), because I knew it could handle the sometimes bitter winters we get here in the Midwest. It has served me well, but your growing conditions may be different. Most product descriptions will mention if that particular variety is well suited in certain climates, moisture levels, and temperature conditions.
  • How do you plan to use your garlic? Some varieties of garlic are known to store better than others or work particularly well for certain types of cooking, so keep this in mind.

What’s the Difference Between Softneck Garlic vs. Hardneck Garlic?

While shopping for garlic you’ll probably run across two main types: softneck and hardneck garlic. What’s the difference?

What is Hardneck Garlic?

Hardneck garlic gets its name from the hard “neck” that comes out of the middle of each bulb. This is related to the scape, which grows out of the top of the bulb and turns into a flower head if left to mature. (More on scapes and what to do with them later in this article.) Hardneck garlic tolerates colder growing conditions than softneck and produces larger cloves that are easier to peel in the kitchen.

What is Softneck Garlic?

Softneck garlic, in contrast, doesn’t have such a hard neck and doesn’t grow scapes. It’s commonly braided for curing because of its softer neck. Softneck garlic is better suited for warmer climates, and it reportedly stores better than hardneck and produces more cloves per bulb.

You can see the visual differences on this page.

What is Elephant Garlic?

You may also run across something called elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is actually not garlic–it’s a type of leek! But it is grown and used much like regular garlic and also produces scapes. Elephant garlic produces massive bulbs!

Storing Hardneck Garlic vs. Softneck Garlic

According to my online research, softneck garlic supposedly stores better than hardneck. Ironically, I’ve actually had better success storing my hardneck garlic than softneck garlic. I’m not sure why–it could have something to do with my growing conditions here in the Midwest, which seem to favor hardneck garlic. (I usually grow Music, a very hardy and potent variety, so that could be part of it too.)

Rachel planting garlic outside next to greenhouse. The sun is setting over the fall garden.

When to Plant Garlic

Garlic is planted in the fall. Where I live, I usually plant my garlic sometime in early November, but the exact date varies. Online you’ll find various dates suggested for planting, so I suggest following the instructions that come with your seed garlic, as well as taking your microclimate (i.e., unique growing conditions on your property) into account.

I’ve always planted my garlic past our first frost. I watch the weather and try to get it in the ground before the soil freezes solid. The goal is to let the garlic begin sprouting but not give it enough time to actually grow into large garlic plants before winter arrives.

In prepared soil, I dig a row about 4” deep. Separate the cloves from the bulbs immediately before planting, leaving the paper skins on the cloves. Place the cloves every 4-6” apart, with the pointy sides up. Cover with soil. I’m usually generous with the soil, giving the cloves plenty of protection.

How to Grow Garlic Through the Winter

Caring for Garlic Plants

Once planted in the fall, garlic doesn’t require much attention. Many growers use mulch, especially in areas with harsh winters. I plant my garlic in a place that gets plenty of sun, and I always bury the cloves deeply, so I’ve never needed mulch. But if you live in a harsh winter climate, especially if you don’t get much snow, you may want to use straw or something else to protect your garlic plants. Some of this will depend on the variety you grow too–again, I grow a variety that is very cold hardy, but yours may be different.

It’s normal to see a few leafy greens sprouting above the soil, even in the winter. Don’t worry–they’ll grow much taller come spring, when you’ll also need to weed the rows.

Watering & Fertilizing Garlic Plants

Don’t fertilize the garlic as you plant it, because you don’t want to encourage premature growth. If I fertilize my garlic, I do it in the spring.

I don’t usually water my garlic until spring arrives either, and then it gets water depending on how dry it gets. Our spring weather can be unpredictable, meaning we can get a lot of rain or very little moisture at all, so I just water accordingly.

A bowl of curly garlic scapes in front of garlic plants in the garden.

How to Cut Garlic Scapes

When spring arrives, the garlic grows quickly, reaching its tall, green leaves towards the sky.

As the season progresses, if you’re growing hardneck garlic, you’ll probably notice a green sprout shooting up from the middle of the plants. As it grows, it begins curling. This is called a garlic “scape” and means the plant is trying to produce its own flower head.

Since we’re growing the garlic for its bulbs, however, we want to direct all of the plant’s energies below the soil. Once the scape has started to curl, cut it off using a pair of scissors or a knife.

How to Use Garlic Scapes

Don’t throw them out immediately! Scapes have a lovely mild garlic flavor. Mine are always a little tough and I’m still experimenting with how to use them in a way our family actually enjoys, but I know families who make pesto and pickles with them.

If you have a favorite way of using garlic scapes, let me know in the comments. I need ideas! 😉

A bundle of garlic with lots of other freshly harvested garlic in the background.

How to Harvest Garlic

How Do You Know When Garlic is Ready to Harvest?

In the late spring/early summer, your garlic will be ready to harvest. Watch the plants, and once the bottom 2-3 leaves have turned brown and started dying back, that’s a good indicator that your garlic is mature. Try digging a bulb to see what it looks like underneath the soil. If it doesn’t look quite mature enough, leave it for a little while longer.

Harvesting Garlic

Harvest garlic on a dry day. Avoid harvesting garlic on rainy or foggy days, and if it has rained recently, I try to let the soil dry out first.

At least where I live, garlic can’t be pulled. If you try to pull it from the ground, the top will pop off from the bulb, which means it won’t store later.

Instead, dig garlic with a spade or a shovel, being careful not to nick or slice into the garlic. I usually dig around the garlic bulbs to loosen the plants from the soil and then pick them up by hand. Gently shake off the excess dirt, leaving the whole garlic plant intact.

Garlic hanging to cure in an outbuilding.

How to Cure Garlic

Curing garlic develops its flavor and helps it store better. “Curing” just means letting the garlic rest in a dry place with plenty of air ventilation, giving it time to dry and harden up a bit.

I filmed a video of my process! I talk a little bit about what you look for when harvesting garlic, as well as some pitfalls to avoid:

Harvesting & Curing Garlic Video

How to Hang Garlic to Cure

I bundle together about 4 bulbs of garlic, tying them tightly in bunches and hanging the bunches in a dry place, protected from the elements. Make sure wherever you’re curing the garlic gets plenty of air flow.

Cure for a month or so. (I usually cure mine for more than a month, just to be sure. I go by ear, depending on the weather and what my garlic looks like.)

How to Know When Garlic is Done Curing

When garlic has finished curing, the necks will get very firm and dry to the touch. The exterior will turn into a browner color than what’s pictured here with the freshly dug garlic. The papery skins on the bulbs will be harder and less fragile than they were when you harvested them. Be careful to handle the garlic gently at this stage, as you don’t bruise them. Trim off the leaves and ends of the roots.

Side note: I always take down my garlic on a very dry day, with low humidity.

A bowl of harvested and cured garlic.

How to Store Garlic

I store our garlic inside the house at room temperature, in a place away from moisture and drastic temperature changes. We keep ours in a bowl or a hanging mesh bag. Make sure it gets air flow and check regularly for bulbs that have gone bad.

How Long Does Fresh Garlic Keep?

I’ve successfully kept some garlic, even my hardneck, for 10-12 months! As it ages, it will begin shriveling up, and you’ll know when it’s gone bad. It will begin sprouting, molding, etc.

How to Use Fresh Garlic – Quick Tips

Did you know…smashing garlic triggers an enzyme reaction that provides the characteristic garlic flavor and aroma? That’s why recipes will tell you to smash or crush cloves before use.

If you’ve never cooked with fresh garlic before, know that its smell will linger on your fingers for days, much like onions. 🙂

If you’re using a lot of fresh garlic, invest in a garlic press. It makes using fresh garlic much easier! You put the peeled clove into the basket and press it through the little holes, scraping off the garlic using a flat utensil.

Conclusion of How to Grow Garlic

Have a question about something I didn’t cover in this article? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Learn how to grow and harvest garlic - from planting seed garlic, to caring for garlic through the winter, to harvesting and curing in the spring/summer! The ultimate guide. #gardening #RachelsRealFoodKitchen #garlic

6 Replies to “How to Grow & Harvest Garlic: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. I found garlic bulbs for planting at my Home Depot the other day and it’s only March . Why would garlic for planting be for sale for spring planting?? Can I go ahead and plant them now???

  2. Have you ever done anything with the flowers of garlic? They taste so good but I don’t know what to do with them. I hate to waste them.

    1. I haven’t! That’s a great question though. I’ve used the scapes (the stems leading up to the flowers), but not the flowers themselves. Anyone out there have ideas for Nellicita? 🙂

  3. I’m going to try my hand at garlic this fall. I pre ordered music and chesnock red. I live in north texas. Winters are unpredictable here. Lol You said you don’t fertilize or water till spring. Being in texas and not knowing for sure how it will be what should I look for to determine if I should water or fertilize or not? And did you leave your garlic in the open thru winter or put a frame and plastic cover over them? Thank you for this article. I hope I have success like you

    1. You’re welcome! I hope it goes well for you. I wouldn’t fertilize until the spring, for sure, and only if your soil doesn’t have a lot of organic matter in it or the plants look a little weak. Since you live in TX, you may very well want to water a little bit if you don’t get any rain at all and your soil is very dry/drought like. I leave my garlic in the open through winter, though some people use mulch too. Hope this helps!

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