If you crave the rich aroma of freshly roasted garlic tossed into pasta, slathered across a crusty slice of bread or sizzled with grilled meat and vegetables, fall is the peak time to brush up on garlic growing tips.
Garlic bulbs tend to grow best when planted in the fall. This timing gives them a jump start on putting down roots, time to go through winter dormancy and a chance to sprout early in the spring so you can harvest the biggest, healthiest bulbs summer through fall, depending on the variety.
The best surprise? By using these garlic planting tips, you'll be able to savor a far richer (and fresher!) range of flavors than you'll find in a grocery store — from zippy and fiery to sweet and mellow.
Follow these 10 garlic growing tips so you can add this beloved ingredient to your garden.
1. Decide on the Best Garlic
You can find garlic bulb varieties from around the world, from California to Russia, from Italy to Transylvania.
Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Garlic generally comes in hardneck or softneck varieties. Hardneck varieties tend to be more complex and forward in flavor. They require cold winters and are best for growing in the North. Hardnecks grow garlic scapes in the spring (another tasty treat!) and have hard stalks once harvested.
Softneck choices tend to be milder and harvested earlier. They require warmer winters and are ideal for the South. The pliable stalks of softnecks can be braided together after harvest so there's time to cure.
Pick the Right Variety for Your Zone
If you live in northern areas (zones 3-7), consider northern garlic favorites such as 'Georgia Crystal' with a rich and buttery flavor; 'Ajo Rojo,' a reddish garlic that stores well; and 'Purple Glazer,' known for baking well.
If you're in zones 8-11, popular southern garlic choices include 'Silver Rose,' with a classic mild taste; heirloom 'Italian Loiacono'; and 'Early Italian,' a bestseller for the quick harvest.
2. Order From Nurseries and Seed Suppliers
While you technically can plant garlic purchased at a grocery store, most commercial garlic has been treated with a preservative to extend its shelf life. That makes it harder to grow. Instead, look for garlic sets from a reputable garden supplier.
3. Prepare Your Cloves
Most garlic can be planted from late September through October. You can wait until November if you're in warmer parts of the country. However, be sure to plant garlic at least six weeks before the ground freezes. A day or two before planting, peel apart the cloves of your garlic bulbs, let them dry slightly and leave the paper skins intact. The biggest cloves will yield the largest bulbs.
4. Amend Your Soil
Garlic requires at least six to eight hours of sunlight and good, well-drained soil to thrive. Work some compost into the soil until it's cultivated nicely so roots can spread easily. Add more compost if your soil still feels heavy or dense and requires better drainage. Saturated soil can lead to mold or rot.
5. Plant Your Cloves
Cloves can be planted about 2 inches deep and about 4 to 6 inches apart. Place garlic cloves root side down (where there's a slight flatness) with the pointed side up. Rows of garlic should be about 10 inches apart. Give them about 1 inch of water for a few weeks. After the ground freezes, spread mulch across your garlic bulbs. Leaves or straw work well to insulate them in cold climates.
6. Water Your Spring Garlic
Garlic needs about 1 inch of water a week to help it grow well in the spring and early summer. If it rains, adjust the amount you're watering accordingly so as not to overwater. Hardneck varieties will send up a flower shoot — called a garlic scape — that begins to curve usually around mid-June. Cut these off so the plant's energy goes into the bulb rather than the flower.
7. Enjoy Garlic Scapes
Don't toss your garlic scapes! They're delicious chopped up and added to salads, eggs and potatoes. Or blend scapes with hard cheese like a zippy pesto and slather across bread, pasta or pizza dough.
8. Watch for Withering
Consult the instructions you received with your specific kind of garlic to know when it might be ready to dig. As it gets within a few weeks of harvest, remove the soil off the top and feel for the cloves. If you can feel the cloves, your garlic is ready to harvest. If you can't feel the cloves yet, leave it in the ground.
9. Cure Your Bulbs
To keep your garlic bulbs in good shape and ready to use for several months, gently knock or brush off any loose dirt. Let the freshly harvested bulbs air dry and cure for two weeks; do not wash. You can hang them or spread them across a wire basket, screen or chicken wire to make sure they have good air circulation. Trim the stalk down to 1 inch or less, and trim the roots on the bottom to about one-quarter inch.
10. Store Your Garlic
Keep your garlic bulbs somewhere cool and dry, and they should last close to 10 months. Avoid basements, which can be moist, or refrigerators. If you have the softneck variety, you can braid the strands for kitchen décor. Save your biggest bulbs to replant in the next season or try out new varieties.
Check the Burpee Garden Guide for more information on garlic or search our garlic selection to find favorites for planting.