How-To Guide to Growing Garlic

Pinterest Pin Growing Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest things to grow in your garden. It really is hard to have a black thumb when it comes to planting this culinary delight. The best part of growing your own garlic is the wide variety available for growth. Different varieties of garlic have their own unique taste profiles and characteristics. Garlic grown commercially mainly come from artichoke garlic. Artichoke type garlic is a softneck variety known for its large size and long storage life. Two traits that are commercially desirable. However, commercial desirability rules out a whole spectrum of flavor dense garlic available to home gardeners.

Garlic has literally been cultivated for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the writings of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The Chinese have used it as a medicinal herb for centuries. It grows wild in many regions (including my backyard). My point is with this long, rich tradition there are many subtleties of flavor in each variety of garlic. Why limit yourself to what is commercially available?


From Medical Botany published in 1793 by William Woodville courtesy of



Garlic Classification

Garlic is a member of the genus Allium which also includes familiar favorites like onions, shallots, leeks and chives. The full botanical name is Allium sativum. This species is further divided into 2 subspecies: ophioscorodon and sativum. Why is this important? Other than being important information for a 10th grade biology class, the 2 subspecies of garlic have characteristics important when choosing which variety to cultivate. The more common names for the 2 subspecies are hardneck and softneck varieties.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck varieties got their name because of the hard stem or neck that grows out of the center of the bulb. When you see those big bunches of braided garlic in charming European kitchens you can be sure that is not hardneck garlic. Because of the hard stem it is not suitable for braiding. Hardneck garlic also is considered to have a “hotter” flavor than the softneck kind. Another unique characteristic is the production of garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the curly-cue shoots that are essentially the flowering bud of the garlic. Growers cut off the scape so that all the plant productive efforts go towards bigger bulb production. But don’t throw them away! They have a delicious mild garlic flavor and can be prepared in a dish all to themselves.

Another important fact about hardneck garlic it its hardiness to colder winters. If you live in a northern latitude you probably will want to choose a hardneck variety. Especially if you are planting in the fall.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the milder flavor cousin to the hardneck variety. This is the type that you will see braided in the charming European kitchens. Softneck garlic has a soft flexible stem growing from the center that makes this possible. Another key difference is softnecks do not produce garlic scapes. You don’t have to worry about removing them, but you also miss out on the yummy goodness.

Softneck garlic is suitable to more milder climates. It is not as tolerant to harsh winters as the hardneck varieties. It doesn’t mean you can grow it in more northern latitudes, but you will have to take care to protect it from harsh winter elements.

Planting Garlic

Garlic is usually planted in the fall. Think tulips and daffodils. The hardneck varieties especially need the long period of cooler temperatures in order to grow. If you live in a northern latitude and want to grow a softneck variety, you may want to wait and plant them in early spring, much like you do onions. If planting in the fall use a thick layer of mulch to help protect the cloves during the winter.

To plant, separate the bulb into cloves. Plant each clove 1-2″ deep about 4-6″ apart. Leave about 1 foot between rows. Plant the pointy end up and the blunt end down. Water if the soil is dry. You want to give your cloves a nice environment for the roots to grow a little bit and settle in for the winter.

Your garlic should be ready to dig in July or early August.  When the leaves start dying back it will be ready for harvest. If planting hardneck garlic, the scapes should start to appear in late May into June.

Garlic has very little to worry about in terms of pest and disease. In fact garlic is a key ingredient in many organic pest repellent recipes. One thing you do have to watch out for is fungus and nematodes. Plant in well-drained soil to minimize the risk. Also mulching appropriately in the fall will help to protect the cloves. As with most fungal infections there is not much to do but remove the infected plants. Do not put them on your compost pile! Nematodes and fungus can remain in the soil after the plants have been removed.

I have had a lot of success growing garlic in my raised beds. I mulch in the fall and then in the spring when the days start to get longer I use a hoop house to really give them a jump start on growth.


Fall Garden Clean-Up and Bonus Garlic Bed

Fall Garden Clean-Up and Bonus Garlic Bed

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day in my area. Lots of sunshine, mild temperatures and a day full of fall garden chores. On my to-do list was to get the garden ready for the Handy Hubby to mow everything flat with the tractor and mowing machine. It was a great day to be outside and get some of my planned tasks done for the season.

This past summer has been kind of an off year for our garden. Because we were building the new house, I made a conscious decision in January not to plant a large garden. My homemade canned goods were in good supply and I thought I could make it through another year without needing too much. What I did need I could purchase locally from either the produce auction or local Amish farmers. I did plant my 3 raised beds, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and some peppers.

Benefits of Fall Garden Clean-up

You may be asking, “Why do I want to clean up my garden in the fall?” Come spring you’ll just plow it or till it under anyway (if you aren’t using a no-till method, but that is an entirely different subject). There are a couple of different reasons for tidying up this time of year.

Leaving all that dead vegetation provided nice winter time beds for insects, bacteria and fungus. Taking away those nice winter hiding spots and throwing them out on the street can help reduce their population and save you headache next year.

Removing items like trellises and stakes to store under cover helps to extend the life of the item. Winter conditions can be harsh. Freezing and thawing, exposure to wind and rain all takes it toll on equipment. Let’s face it this stuff ain’t cheap! Who doesn’t want to extend the life of their investment? Plus, you’ll have to do it in the spring if you don’t do it now. If you get it out of the way now you’ll have more time for the fun stuff in the spring.

Finally, I think it is just good for the soul to have a nice tidy space. I didn’t want to look at all that dead vegetation all winter. How depressing.

Green Bean Trellis and Tomato Stakes

The first task I checked off my list was pulling up my bean trellis. I always plant green beans because I can never find the particular variety I like unless I plant them. We eat an heirloom variety called Half-Runners. I have eaten them all my life. Any other bean just tastes, well, anemic to me. Half-Runners have an actual bean inside. You can let them on the vine and let the pod ripen fully and just harvest the white bean or you can pick it earlier when the pod is still tender and eat the whole thing. This is what we do and the results are delicious.

Half-Runners are kind of in between a bush bean (meaning it grows low like a bush) and a pole bean (meaning it sends out runners and climbs anything it can). Beans that grow low to the ground have a tendency to get dark spots on them from the moisture in the ground. I have found that by putting up a fence for them to climb and actively training them to grow on it I have very little “fouling” or dark marks. It also makes them easier to pick.

My trellis is made of some inexpensive livestock fencing. I just zip tie it to sturdy stakes and stretch it out in a long row. I then plant beans on both sides. The fencing is flexible and every fall I pick the old dead vine off of it, cut the zip ties and roll the fencing up into bundles. Once that is done I tie it with some old hay twine and store it with the other garden supplies.

I also gathered all the tomato stakes. I stored the ones that were decent enough to use next year and sent any of the broken ones to the burn pile at the farm. Luckily there weren’t too many that needed thrown out. I inherited some metal ones that will last long past my lifetime, but in recent years I have started purchasing bamboo ones and a few of them were damaged during the season. Luckily I should have plenty for next year. I like bamboo because it is a renewable resource and I got the stakes for a reasonable price. Tomato cages are not something I recommend. I just don’t understand the concept of reaching into the small holes of the cage to harvest what I hope are really bid tomatoes. (Obviously I understand how to do it, but why?)

Finally the last thing I did was to pull all the old dead vegetation from my raised beds and transport it to the compost pile.

Bonus Garlic Bed

The bonus of the day was the installation of a garlic bed and a new onion bed for next year. The garlic bed has been brewing in my mind for some time now. As I get farther along in my adventure with raised bed gardening, I have discovered it suits my gardening needs more to plant beds dedicated to one vegetable. One of those “vegetables” was garlic and I have been wanting to establish a dedicated garlic bed. While working up in the garden I discovered an old weathered frame that came off another project. It had everything I needed, four sides and about 4-6 inches in height. This is all you really need to start a garden bed. Oh yeah, you also need soil, but I covered that in the next step.

Excavation for house construction required we relocate our existing raised beds. We moved them to a spot that is less than ideal. Because of where we located them and the torrential rain we received in the month of July, everything I planted in them turned black and died. They were sitting in a bit of a low spot and with all the rain they had too much water. When we moved them I had suggested just spreading out the dirt and starting new with fresh compost. The Handy Hubby replied “that’s good dirt”. Being a farmer all his life he would know. For this reason and the fact we have a tractor with a loader bucket we moved soil and all when relocating them.

Knowing that we were going to relocate (again) the raised beds, I shoveled some of the dirt from one of them to use in the new garlic bed. Now I just need to order some garlic and plant it.

Tractor Tire Onion Bed

The other bed happened at the spur of the moment. Our contractor completed the chimney on our new house about two weeks ago. Left over from the chimney construction was a large pile of sand. The sand pile was preventing the Handy Hubby from doing some grading to stop water getting into our barn. He asked what should we do with it? I said, “if you got an old tractor tire we could make an onion bed out of it”. He thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. Off he went and returned with an old tractor tire from the farm. He used the loader bucket to dump a bunch of sand into it. Voila! I’ll mix some compost in with and it will be ready to plant next spring.

Cleaning up the garden for the year is just one of the chores that gardeners find themselves doing this time of year.The type of gardening and location will determine what is on your list. For example, if you live in Florida you certainly wouldn’t want to plant bulbs this early, but here in Ohio it is the perfect time.

Some of the many things I didn’t mention was cleaning and winterizing tools and lawn equipment, pruning fruit trees, cleaning out flower beds, gathering herbs and nuts. Fall is a busy time for gardeners and homesteading types like me. If you’d like to explore the topic further here are a couple of great resources:

Search “fall garden chores” on both sites for some good articles. Mother Earth News also has some articles on what to plant for a fall and winter garden.

Let me know what your thoughts and comments are below. I’d love to know what you are working on this time of year and I’m always looking for new resources.