I remember back in the day being shocked and intrigued at my uncle growing his own garlic. Today, I consider it a staple in our backyard garden, and with good reason: It’s easy to grow, and expensive to buy at the store.
Looking back, I think it would have been helpful to see the full life cycle of the garlic plant before getting started. So, in this article, I’ll share all of the garlic plant stages, including pictures of each.
Hopefully, this can help you know what to expect from your garlic plants. I’ll also touch on some of the important growing tips for each stage so you can get the best harvest possible!
Stage 1: Winter Vernalization
While not all garlic varieties go through this stage, hardneck garlics require a cold period to grow properly. Since my personal favorite garlic varieties are all hardneck, it is important for me to understand this stage.
Hardneck garlic is planted in the fall, allowing the cloves to be exposed to cold weather, ideally below 40°F for several weeks. This process is known as vernalization, and allows the cloves to divide properly into bulbs.
So, while you can’t really see this stage happening, it is important to understand that it does occur in hardneck garlic. For softneck varieties, this is less important, but can still help the plants develop properly.
Tip: If you live in a warm climate, place your seed garlic in a paper bag in the refrigerator for around 12 weeks before planting. This imitates the winter weather that the cloves require.
Stage 2: Spring Sprouts
After the winter thaw, garlic will push through the soil, forming green sprouts. The timing of this will vary based on each year’s weather. I even had garlic sprout as early as January due to a random warm spell!
Normally, garlic should sprout when the temperatures warm up to between 50-60°F. If your garlic sprouts too early, don’t worry! The plants will naturally dieback again when it freezes, and will re-sprout in the early spring.
During the first few weeks of growth, it can help to apply a gentle liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion. However, this is not necessary if your soil is rich and fertile.
Stage 3: Growth
As the weather warms up, garlic plants will put on new growth and leaves. Most garlic plants will have between 6-12 leaves at maturity, and be around 3 feel tall.
If you grow multiple varieties, this is a good time to pay attention to which garlic plants grow fastest in your particular climate. This can help you decide which varieties to save for re-planting the following fall.
Avoid over-watering your garlic, as it can cause the cloves to rot. Make sure your soil drains well, and try your best to apply even-watering during the growth stage.
Stage 4: Flowering
In early summer, hardneck garlic plants form a long shoot called a scape. These twisty stalks grow from the very tops of each plant. Garlic scapes are actually the flowering part of the plants.
If left alone, garlic plants often produce a flower that has “bulbels.” These can be planted, almost like a seed, to grow smaller garlic bulbs or spring garlic.
For most gardeners, it is best to simply remove the scapes as soon as they appear. Personally, I sometimes let the scapes develop for a few days before pruning them, as they are tasty and edible.
Stage 5: Bulb Formation
Around the same time your garlic plants are trying to flower, they will begin to process of forming a bulb underground. Since the bulb is the most important part of the plant for gardeners, we want to do everything possible to ensure the biggest bulbs.
Removing the scapes, if applicable, helps the plant focus energy on the bulb rather than flowering. Also, planting in a full-sun location is best for optimal yield.
How to get larger garlic bulbs:
- Remove scapes as soon as they appear
- Plant larger cloves
- Space garlic properly (about 3-4″ between cloves)
- Plant in full sun and avoid the shade of larger plants
Stage 6: Dieback and Harvest
Garlic is part of the allium family. If you’ve ever planted an ornamental allium (like a globemaster), you know that the plants look a bit tired and dreary after flowering. The same is true for garlic.
As garlic plants continue to age, the leaves will start to turn yellow and brown, even crispy. However, this is normal and helpful to determine when to harvest your garlic.
Each leaf corresponds to one of the papery wrappers that surrounds the garlic bulb. So, by allowing the right amount of leaves to die off before harvesting, you can optimize your garlic for storage.
When about half of the leaves on a garlic plant are dead, it is time to dig up the garlic bulbs. If you harvest too early, the bulbs may not be as large as possible. Harvest too late, and the cloves may begin to separate, reducing storage life.
Thankfully, the garlic is edible even if you harvest too early or too late. Just do your best to pick at the optimal time for bigger, more store-able bulbs.
After harvesting, your garlic can be cured and stored for long-term use. Also, you can save your garlic bulbs to plant again in the fall! This is a great way to help a specific garlic variety to adapt to your climate.
Garlic Growing FAQs
- Is garlic perennial? Technically, garlic is a perennial plant. The cloves divide into a bulb of multiple cloves. If left in the ground, the bulb will sprout into multiple plants (though they will be crowded and will not produce an ideal crop). It is best to harvest the garlic and separate the cloves for planting each year.
- How much sun does garlic need to grow? Garlic thrives in full sun conditions with at least 8 hours of direct sun each day. Garlic can be grown in part shade, though the resulting bulbs may be smaller.
- When do you plant garlic cloves? Most gardeners plant garlic in the fall to expose the cloves to cold weather. If you live in a warmer climate (like Florida or Texas), you can place seed garlic in the refrigerator for 10-12 weeks before planting out in early spring.
- What are the best companion plants for garlic? Garlic makes an amazing companion plant for almost any other garden veggie or herb. I highly recommend interplanting garlic around your peppers, tomatoes, carrots, beets, leafy greens, onions, and herbs.
- How deep do you plant garlic cloves? Garlic cloves should be planted about 3 inches deep, and 3-4 inches between each plant. Learn more about growing garlic here.
Garlic is genuinely one of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow in the garden. You can plant cloves all around, in between other plants to take advantage of small open spots.