Garlic is so easy to grow that we make sure to include it in our veggie garden every season. However, knowing when to harvest garlic takes a bit of knowledge and experience.
In this article, I’ll share 3 tips to know when to harvest garlic. If you follow our tried-and-true method, you’ll get the biggest, heaviest garlic bulbs every year!
Quick answer: Harvest garlic when about 1/2 of the leaves have fully died back (the lower 50%). For example, if your garlic plant has 10 leaves total, the bottom 5 leaves should be fully shriveled and dead before harvesting the bulb.
Harvesting Garlic (Video):
1. Wait For Die-Back
In mid-summer, it is completely natural to see your garlic plants dying back. The best way to know when to harvest garlic is to pay attention to your plant’s leaves.
Garlic (and other alliums) naturally die back after growing throughout the spring. This is the growth stage when your garlic is storing energy in its bulb underground. So, the leaves die back as the bulb grows larger.
The plant is essentially setting itself up for another year of growth. However, you don’t want to let it go too far and allow the cloves to begin sprouting underground.
So, the perfect time to harvest your garlic is when the plant has reached about 50% die-back. In other words, about half of your plant’s leaves should be fully dead.
At this stage, the bulbs will have had enough time to swell up and get larger. There will also be plenty of protective covering for the bulbs to be stored for several months through the winter.
If you harvest garlic too early, the bulbs won’t be fully grown. During the final month before harvesting, garlic bulbs double in size. If you dig up your garlic too soon, you’ll miss out on a larger harvest.
If you harvest garlic too late, the papery covering on your garlic will be gone, and the cloves will begin to separate. This leads to a shorter shelf life, though you can still use the garlic in the short-term.
Different types of garlic will mature at different times. For example, our “Cuban Purple” garlic was ready for harvest about 3 weeks before all of our other varieties.
This is why it is important not to rely on a specific date to decide when to harvest. Watch for die-back and harvest when the plant tells you it’s ready!
Note: If you are growing hardneck garlic, it is important to prune the scapes in early summer. Learn more about harvesting garlic scapes in our article here.
2. Dig Around The Bulbs
When you decide it is time to harvest, don’t just yank the plants up by their stems! Instead, it is best to gently loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs before pulling them up.
To do this, I recommend using a pitch fork or hori hori knife. Dig in about 2″ from the main stem and pry up the soil. Be careful to avoid nicking the bulbs as you dig into the ground.
When the soil is loose enough, the garlic should come up easily when pulled. By loosening the soil first, you’ll protect the garlic stems from becoming damaged during harvest. This mindful harvesting technique helps prolong storage time for your garlic bulbs.
3. Harvest When It Is Dry
Another important rule I follow when harvesting garlic is to wait for a dry period. So, instead of harvesting after a day of heavy rainfall, try to wait until there have been a few days of dry weather.
While this isn’t completely required, it can help to allow the plants to dry out while still in the soil. This simply makes it easier to harvest the bulbs without causing damage.
Wet, heavy soil makes it easier to damage the bulbs during harvest through excessive pulling and disturbance. Dry soil tends to break up easier, allowing the garlic to release with ease.
Plus, the garlic will have a bit of a head-start on drying out when harvested from dryer soil. When you harvest from wet soil, the bulbs will be on the damp side, requiring a bit more time to dehydrate and cure.
However, if you live in a wet climate, don’t put off harvesting too long! It is more important to harvest when dieback is around 50% than to wait for a dry period.
After Harvesting Garlic
After harvesting garlic, you have several options. You can use it immediately, cure it for storage, or preserve it fresh.
Use these first:
- Smaller bulbs/cloves
- Late-harvested bulbs (especially with separating cloves)
- Damaged bulbs
I like to use any damaged or otherwise imperfect bulbs first. A few options are to cook, freeze, or preserve them in a hot vinegar brine stored in the fridge.
If you have an abundance of garlic that is not suitable for fresh storage, you can easily preserve the cloves. Here are a few options:
- Vinegar. Peel the cloves and place them in a canning jar. Bring white vinegar to a boil and pour it over the cloves. Cover, allow it to cool at room temp, and store in the refrigerator for at least 3 months.
- Freezing. Peel the cloves and chop them into small pieces (this makes the frozen garlic easier to use in cooking). You can also leave them whole if you prefer. Place them in a freezer bag and push out all the excess air before sealing. Ideally, use a vacuum sealer for the best storage.
Warning: Never store garlic in olive oil, as there is a risk of botulism. If you infuse olive oil with garlic, always store it in the fridge (<40°F), and for no longer than 4 days.
Curing and storing garlic
For the bigger, higher quality bulbs, I usually like to cure and store them whole. This gives me a long-term supply of fresh garlic throughout the fall and winter months.
Curing is the process of allowing the garlic to dry out fully. It is important not to remove the roots or the foliage during curing, and to not wash the garlic bulbs with water.
Read More: Curing garlic properly
Simply pull up the garlic, brush off excess soil, and place the bulbs in a well ventilated room. Allow the garlic to cure for 3-4 weeks. When finished, the bulbs should have papery, dry outer skin.
After curing, you can remove the roots, cut off the stalk, and brush off any extra soil. Then, the garlic is ready to be stored in a cool, dry location for several months!
I also save the largest cloves for planting again in the fall. The larger the clove you plant, the larger the resulting bulb will be. So, save the biggest, meatiest cloves, and plant them again in late fall.
It is also cheaper to grow garlic from your own cloves every year. That way, you’re not buying seed garlic every season.
By planting your own garlic cloves, you also give the plants a chance to adapt to your specific climate. By selecting the healthiest plants for re-planting, you’re essentially performing selective plant breeding in your garden.
After a few seasons of re-planting garlic, your plants should be growing healthier than ever. This can be a life-saver, especially if you live in a climate where garlic does not typically grow well.
I hope this article helps you harvest your garlic at the perfect time! I love growing garlic, as it is so easy, and makes an amazing companion plant for the vegetable garden.