Growing Garlic


We really hope you enjoy eating our garlic and hope you decide to also grow it for yourself.  It can be a life=long experience since the garlic you bought this year can be with you and your family and friends for years and even generations.  Garlic (Allium sativum var.) has been cultivated for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal purposes. A member of the allium family which includes onions, leeks and shallots, garlic is a true underground bulb that replicates through bubblier division, with varieties that can be grown throughout the nation, and in most parts of the world.  Each garlic plant has a single head that contains between 4 and 20 cloves.  Each clove will produce a genetically identical bulb (with 4 to 20 cloves) when planted and properly tended.  While it is possible to use seeds for reproduction, that is a multi-year process that is probably best left to experts or the very young.   

While there are 2 types and 10 distinct groups of garlic, there are hundreds of varieties including:

· Softneck (Sativums) varieties: Broadly speaking softnecks are the most common group of garlic most people know about.  This is what you will normally find in any supermarket.  They are amenable to mass production and more than 80% of the garlic sold in America is softneck. Unfortunately the vast majority of that comes from China where mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic are habitually present in the soil as well as the garlic. Softneck varieties strictly speaking do not produce a flower stalk – instead, all their energy goes toward growing a large bulb. They tend to do better in warmer climates, although there are cold-tolerant varieties, and they generally store longer than hardnecks. There are approximately a two dozen named softneck varieties.  I should add that the ‘garlic world’ is in the process of re-naming hardnecks to “weakly bolting” garlic because under the right conditions, it appears all garlics, including ‘softnecks’ will produce a flower stalk (a process referred to as bolting”. ​

· Hardneck (Ophio) varieties: Considered the closest cousin to wild garlic, hardneck varieties always produce a flower stalk. Some varieties don’t store well and most are better suited to cold climates. There are hundreds of named hardneck varieties and they differ from each other in flavor, texture, number and size of cloves, shelf life, pungency and heat (which is further delineated by intensity, duration and location).  Individual varieties also vary significantly due to their growing climate (both zone-wise and annual weather) as well as the micro-nutrient composition of their growing medium.  The best way to choose a variety to grow is to plant several varieties and see how they do in your location.  Don't hesitate to email us and ask.  We want you to be happy with your garlic and are committed to your success. We are in zone 5 and all our varieties should grow well in zones 2-6.  If you are in a warmer area, we suggest you buy your seed from a local grower as you will probably be happier with your crop.  Remember growing garlic should be a long=term venture.  Once you have good seed, you should have it for as long as you want.  If you take care of your garlic, it will take care of you.

​When to plant

The ideal time to plant garlic is in the fall, so it can experience the cold of winter and be ready to grow vigorously during the long days of June. We recommend planting no earlier than Columbus day (early October) nor later than mid November, ideally it should be planted about a week or two after after the first killing frost. If the winter is expected to be mild or warm, or if there is an extended Indian summer, this date should be pushed back.  NEVER PLANT IN WET SOIL, and remember it is normally better to postpone planting rather than moving your planting date forward. The reason we plant in the fall is to allow the garlic time to establish a root system before the ground becomes hard frozen down where the cloves will reside. Don't worry if you see small sprouts emerging in early winter; your garlic will survive. Most hardnecks will tolerate at least 2 early killing freezes; it’s the 3rd that should raise concern. Once winter hits, you won't see much happening till spring. After the garlic is fully emerged, it will focus on bulb development.  We find that mulching allows you to plant a bit earlier or later because it moderates soil temperatures and moisture and protects tender sprouts.  That said, we also have learned that mulch should be removed from rows after the last killing frost to let the plant breathe, reduce moisture that can encourage fungus and reduce the occurrence of ingrown stalks.


1. Great Drainage (at least very good)

2. Full Sun

3. Great stock (we take care of that)

While this will vary based on your location, the traditional garlic grower’s calendar for the mid-Atlantic area is:

1. Plant in mid October to mid November.

2. Start cutting (or pulling) flowers (scapes) late May to early June.

3. Begin harvesting early-mid July.  When most, but not all the leaves have turned brown, your garlic will be ready to harvest.  This may be anytime from early July till mid August depending on the weather and your specific location (Planting date seems to be somewhat irrelevant as to the harvest date).  Don’t harvest when the ground in overly wet, but don’t delay if you see your garlic browning or the bulbs opening.

How to plant

Step 1: Garlic is most easily grown from cloves, rather than seed.  Buy your garlic bulbs from Enon Valley Garlic or another reliable source and don’t use garlic from the grocery store as they are often treated with growth inhibitors to prevent sprouting.  (They are also very boring even when grown in your garden).  

Step 2: Break each head of garlic into separate cloves. Use the larger ones for planting and the smaller ones for eating.   You should not separate your cloves too early as they will dry out faster when you remove the outer wrappers.  A couple weeks are no problem as long as you have them stored in a cool, well-ventilated location.  

Step 3: Locate your garlic patch where it will receive full sun. It’s also important to have well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Compost is a great soil conditioner and will help both with drainage and organic matter. For best results, the soil pH should be between six and seven.  

Step 4: Cover each clove with 1-2 inches of soil ( warmer climates - less, colder climates - a bit more). YES, there is a top and bottom.  The pointed end is up and the broader end is down.  Spacing can be as close as 3 inches (small bulbs) and as wide as 5 inches (maybe 6-7 for Elephant). You should adjust the distance based on the size of the bulbs you are planting.  Garlic root systems do not feed beyond about 1 inch outside the space occupied by the fully grown bulb, so they can be planted fairly close together relative to many other plants, but the heads should never be so close that they would touch each other when fully developed.  

Step 5: Cover the cloves with soil followed by 2”- 4” of mulch to prevent extremes or rapid changes in temperature and moisture, and as a barrier to weeds. The better your drainage the deeper you can mulch.  Less than optimal drainage should not be mulched more than 2-3 inches. Try to avoid large leaves or leaves from unknown sources, as they my have come from diseased trees.  

Step 6: Expect to see sprouts in March or April.  Now is the time to remove your mulch as it has done its job of insulating your cloves.  The mulch, regardless of type, can be used to keep weeds down around the sides of your plants or between rows. Garlic leaves are long and flowing, and while they aren’t showy, they blend in nicely in a flower or herb garden.

Taking care of your garlic

· Mulch: To reduce weeds and insulate your garlic during winter.

· Weed: Keep plants weeded as some garlic don’t like competition and harvesting becomes more difficult.

· Water: Keep garlic from drying out until the last few weeks before harvest, particularly between May and late June when bulbs are growing rapidly. 

· Feed: You can fertilize (side dress) from March to early June.  (10 - 10 - 10).  Organic foliar feeding or side dressing is also helpful.

· Flowers: (hard neck only) Remove flower stalks (scapes) to eat and promote larger bulbs. While some growers say bulbs store better if you wait until the scape becomes woody, most growers cut (or pull) them off when they finish their first curl.  They are much more tender and tasty then too!

Harvesting your garlic

Harvest should start about the 4th of July and could extend into early August, depending on the weather.  Stop watering about two weeks before harvest and avoid harvesting when the soil is still wet. When to stop watering and harvest is a skill that grows with practice and experience and will vary by type.  You can always dig one up and see if it's done.  

Step 1: As the bulb matures, the leaves will begin to turn brown. When about 2/3 of the leaves are brown, carefully scrape back the soil to inspect a few cloves.  You want good-sized bulbs with strong wrappers. Each bulb should have well defined cloves, not a single onion-like structure. You can also cut one open to see if the bulbs fill out the skins nicely.  If your bulbs are starting to split open, you’re almost too late and should harvest immediately.  We have found that softneck varieties and rocamboles ripen faster than other hardnecks but that is not always true???.  

Step 2: Using a fork, carefully loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs. Then lift them out by hand, gently brushing off excess soil. Be careful not to break the skins or bruise the bulbs. Leave the roots and stems attached.  

Step 3: Tie in bundles of 10-12 bulbs, and hang them in a well-ventilated, shady room for several weeks or simply arrange single layers on a well ventilated surface.  

Step 4:  IMPORTANT:  You want to continuously improve your crop, so set aside your largest heads now.  Just as we don't sell our best heads, you too should save your best bulbs for next year's crop. Doing otherwise will result in a steady diminution in your harvest. There's no need to clean the bulbs you will be planting, nor those you will be eating until they are to be used. They will be best preserved by doing no more than removing the dirt and trimming back a bit.  After curing (drying) they should be stored in a cool, dark place with 30%-60% humidity till it’s time to plant or eat.   (NOT A REFRIGERATOR)  

Step 5: After they’ve dried, you can cut the stems down to 1-3 inches and trim the roots, but don't start removing wrappers (papery skins) till you need to.