Garlic truly is one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. With fertile, well-drained soil, and proper timing, you can grow a bounty of garlic, right at home.
I have found that garlic grows particularly well in raised beds. So, in this article, you’ll learn how to grow garlic in raised beds from cloves, regardless of where you live.
Note: This grow guide can be applied to growing garlic in containers (pots), or directly in the ground.
Growing Garlic (Video):
Where To Buy Seed Garlic
First and foremost, I recommend buying seed garlic. This is garlic that is grown specifically for planting. It can be ordered online, or found at local nurseries in the fall months.
Softneck vs. Hardneck
There are two major types of garlic: softneck and hardneck.
- Softneck garlic is best for growing in warmer climates with shorter winters. It tends to grow smaller cloves, but stores better than hardneck garlic.
- Hardneck garlic grows best in cold climates below USDA hardiness zone 7. Cloves are large and easier to peel. Hardneck plants also have a stiff, central shoot and produce have a flowering “scape” (more on these later).
In this article, I will focus on hardneck garlic, but all of the same principles apply for softneck. The major difference is that hardneck requires an early summer pruning to remove the scape, while softnecks do not.
Planting Garlic Cloves In Fall
Garlic requires a cold period before coming to life. This is called cold stratification, and allows each clove to become a multi-clove bulb the following year. So, this is why garlic is planted in the fall rather than the spring.
1. Preparing the soil
Help your garlic grow healthy by amending the soil before planting. Add compost, manure, or all-purpose fertilizer to your raised bed soil to ensure it has plenty of nutrition.
Also, consider where your garlic will grow during the following growing season. Garlic makes a great companion plant, so I like to interplant cloves nearby where I plan to grow other summer crops.
If you have new raised beds, make sure the soil drains well. If it is heavy with clay, improve the soil by adding organic matter (not sand or other inorganic materials).
2. Planting at the right time (fall)
Plant garlic in the fall on (or just after) your first frost date. If your region does not freeze, plant garlic about 2-4 weeks before the coldest part of the year.
The goal is to allow the garlic cloves to set roots for a couple of weeks without growing much above ground (leaves). This is usually about 2-4 weeks before the ground freezes solid.
Plant each clove flat-side down about 3-4″ deep. Space each clove about 4-6 inches apart, and space each row about 6-9″ from the next.
To do this quickly, I like to dig out a trench the full length of the raised bed. Then, I can just place each clove into the bottom of the trench, and backfill the soil.
4. Mulching and watering
After planting the garlic, add a thick layer of mulch to protect the soil over the winter. We have used pine needles and leaf mulch with great results.
Finally, water in the garlic gently. No need to add too much moisture, just enough to wet the cloves underground and get them situated.
That’s all there is to it! All that is left to do is wait for your garlic to begin growing. You may see some small sprouts in the late fall, but the plants will die back when the ground freezes solid.
Using the freezer for cold stratification
If you live in a tropical climate that never freezes, you can expose your garlic to cold in the freezer. Simply pop the cloves into a baggie with some damp potting soil, and freeze it for 1-2 months before planting outdoors.
If you use this method, make sure to plant the garlic out in the cooler part of the year when the weather is warming up. The garlic should sprout within 1-2 weeks after planting.
Early Spring Garlic Sprouts
After the winter comes to an end and the soil begins to warm up, you will begin to see shoots of green in your raised bed. I love this time of year, as it is a great reminder that spring is coming (and that your garlic is still alive)!
You may be tempted to water, fertilize, or otherwise “help” your garlic plants. Resist this urge! You hopefully did the prep work of amending the soil in the fall, and your garlic will take care of the rest.
Don’t worry if you get a few late frosts, as garlic plants can handle it. The foliage may turn a bit yellow, but trust that your garlic plants will be okay.
The garlic should continue to grow taller, and each plant will develop anywhere from 7-12+ leaves, depending on the variety. Our plants are usually reach their mature height of around 3 feet tall in early summer.
Harvesting Garlic Scapes (Hardneck Only)
Early summer is a great time to check in on your hardneck garlic. This is the time when your plants should be producing their scapes.
Garlic scapes are the flowering shoot that emerges from the top of hardneck varieties. I recommend pruning this off when the scape curls around itself once.
By pruning off the scapes, you’re telling the plant to focus its energy on producing a larger bulb underground. If you leave the scapes on, they will continue to pour energy into flower production, leading to smaller cloves.
Plus, garlic scapes are a delicious addition to food! Chop them up and stir fry them, or add sliced garlic scapes to mashed potatoes. Yum.
Learn more about harvesting garlic scapes here.
When To Harvest Garlic Bulbs
After harvesting your hardneck scapes, it is usually about 1 month later that the bulbs are ready. However, don’t rely on a certain time of year to know when to harvest garlic.
Instead, harvest your garlic when 50% of the leaves have fully died back (dry and crispy). For example, if your plant has 10 total leaves, 5 of them should be dry, and the other 5 should still be partially green.
Each green leaf represents one papery bulb wrapper that will remain on your garlic after harvesting. The fewer green leaves, the less storage time for your garlic.
If you harvest too early, your garlic bulbs will be smaller than desired. Harvest too late, and there will be less bulb wrappers, and a shorter shelf life.
Your garlic cloves may begin to separate if you wait too long to harvest. Use these bulbs first, as they are most likely to go back or begin sprouting.
Note: It is okay that your garlic plants look a bit sad at this time of the year – it’s normal!
Don’t just pull it up!
When you’re ready to harvest, don’t just go yanking on the stems! This can cause damage to the bulb/stem junction, decreasing storage time.
Instead, use a pitch fork or a trowel to dig around, each bulb. Dig into the soil about 2-3″ from each bulb, and pry up the soil to loosen it. Once loose, the bulbs should come free easily. Be careful not to damage the bulbs in the process!
Once harvested, brush off the excess soil and move on to curing and storing.
Curing and Storing Garlic Bulbs
Once harvested, your garlic can be used in a variety of ways. Fresh eating and cooking of course, but also curing, storing, and preserving for the long term.
To cure your garlic, don’t remove the roots or leafy tops. Simply brush off excess soil and hang the garlic plants in bunches of 10. Make sure to hang your garlic in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
Allow the garlic to dry and cure for 3-4 weeks depending on the humidity. You’ll know the garlic is ready for storage when the wrappers are papery and dry.
After curing, cut off the roots and snip the leaves about 1 inch from the top of the bulb. You can also give them another cleaning to remove any remaining soil before storing.
Garlic stores best in a well-ventilated, cool location. The ideal conditions for storage are around 60°F and 50% humidity.
If your garlic is kept in a humid environment (such as the refrigerator), it may begin to sprout. Use this garlic right away, and move the remaining cloves to a dryer spot.
Re-plant your own garlic
One of the great ways to use your garlic is to plant it again in the fall. Save a handful of the largest cloves and replant them again.
By doing this, you will get better and better yields each season. The garlic will adapt to your climate over time. Plus, larger cloves result in larger bulbs, so think ahead!
I hope you enjoy planting garlic in raised beds as much as I do. Garlic is a miracle plant that is so easy to grow, with almost no maintenance. Get the timing and technique right, and you’ll be swimming in garlic cloves all year long!