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Types of Garlic and How to Grow and Harvest Garlic

Do you know how to grow garlic from bulbs?

Ah, garlic. This plant also called a vegetable or herb, is the aromatic foundation of cuisine around the world, humans have been using this ancient plant for flavor, health and medicine for over 5,000 years. In this article on how to grow garlic, you’ll be pleased to know that while garlic takes a long time to reach maturity, it’s easy to grow, and worth it!

Garlic, Allium sativum, is a member of the lily and amaryllis, Amaryllidaceae, family along with onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives known as allums. If you’re interested in more on the family connections of garlic, you can read Susun Weed’s informative article for a deeper dive on that.1)

Garlic Nutrition and Health Benefits

Healthy for you, garlic has numerous potent health benefits. Garlic is low in calories and very rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese, plus traces of other nutrients.

Garlic contains allicin, a sulfur compound with many health benefits. Medicinal benefits of garlic include cardiovascular health, inflammation, antibacterial, antiviral, cancer prevention, expectorant, immune enhancer, and helpful in iron metabolism.2)

The studies indicate that to gain the most benefit from garlic, the exterior skin of the garlic must be cut, crushed or pressed for the beneficial reaction to occur.3)

It’s easy to prepare, and, as you will see, garlic is also very easy to grow.

TIP: The best time to plant garlic is in the fall.


Garlic Festivals

Garlic is so loved that in the US there is a National Garlic Day in the spring of each year. In many cities around the country there are actually annual garlic festivals. These festivals occur from spring through fall, so just search garlic festival and your city or region name to find the most up to date information for your area.

The Garlic Family

Garlic is a member of the allium family, along with onions and leeks and you can find wild garlic growing throughout the United States and Canada.

When to Plant Garlic

Fall is the best time to plant garlic.

Planting Garlic – image by GardensAll community member Tim Hill of his wife Wanda Pothier-Hill

Garlic is best planted in the fall, and harvested the following summer.

You can also plant garlic in early spring, when the soil is fresh and soft, and many people do choose to plant while they’re getting their spring gardens going. However, May is not widely recommended.

Garlic needs a long growing season. It’s wonderful that garlic is still relatively inexpensive since it takes so long to grow to maturity—it takes almost a year—but you can grow a lot of garlic in a small amount of space.

Garlic matures in 6-8 months.

  • Fall planted garlic is harvested in the summer
  • Spring planted garlic is harvested in the summer or fall

The spring planted bulbs are often smaller than fall planted, but should be tender and delicious.

But what types of garlic are best to grow? When looking for the right variety for your garden, it’s helpful to know the different types of garlic that are available to you.


Types of Garlic:  Softneck, Hardneck, or Elephant

Garlic can be divided into 3 types:

  • Softneck Garlic – Most grocery store garlic is softneck.  Softneck varieties store the longest and are best suited to temperate climates.  Their flavor tends to be mild.  The bulbs contain a lot of cloves, ranging from large to tiny.  If you want to make long, beautiful braids of garlic, then softneck is the garlic type for you. Garlic varieties in the softneck category grow best in regions with mild winters.  
Softneck garlic stems are soft enough to be braided

Softneck Garlic is mild, can be braided and grows best in mild winters.


  • Hardneck Garlic – Hardneck often has less cloves than soft neck, but they are more uniform in size.  As a rule, hard neck varieties are stronger in flavor than soft neck, and can contain subtle flavor differences that garlic connoisseurs will appreciate.  Hardnecks won’t braid, and also don’t have a long shelf life, usually not much more than 6 months, even after curing.  Hardnecks are your cold hardy type.  Choose hardneck garlics for regions with harsher winters.


Hardneck Garlic is stronger in flavor, won’t braid and doesn’t last as long.


  • Elephant Garlic – This garlic type is actually a leek!  As its name suggests, Elephant Garlic grows the largest of the 3 types, and has the mildest flavor.  Cloves are uniform in size, and BIG!  Elephant garlic stores well, though it doesn’t braid. This garlic type is fun in children’s gardens, due to its large size and nontoxicity.  Elephant garlic can be hardy to growing zone 5.

raw-garlicElephant Garlic is the largest but mildest, stores well and is hardy to zone 5.

Now that you know a little about each type, and which is best for your region, let’s learn about garlic’s growing stats, soil needs, and harvesting.

How to Grow Garlic

Here is your basic info for growing garlic:

  • Propagation:  seed garlic from local markets or online sources, bulbils (hardneck varieties), seeds  
  • Growing Media: soil
  • USDA Hardiness:  5-10 (some hardneck varieties can tolerate colder)
  • Germination: months, usually not until spring
  • Spacing:  4-6”
  • Height:  1-2’
  • Width:  3-4”
  • Soil:  fertile, well draining a must, pH neutral
  • Light Needs:  Full sun
  • Water:  Allow soil to dry out a little between waterings.  Don’t overwater!
  • Pests/Diseases: subject to water rot or fungal disease if kept moist

TIP: Avoid planting garlic where any other alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) have been planted the previous season.

Planting Garlic

Plant garlic in rich pH neutral soil that’s well draining to ensure that water rot or fungal diseases don’t develop.  Mounded or raised beds work well in areas where the land is flat, or the soil is clay.  It’s a good idea to avoid planting garlic where any other alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) have been planted the previous season.  This ensures both better soil health and less risk of passing on any diseases to the new crop.

TIP: Garlic prefers rich, pH neutral soil.

It’s easiest to plant your garlic from “seed garlic,” which are just bulbs that you’ve purchased specifically for growing, or saved from your previous season’s harvest.  You can actually grow them from seed, but like most alliums, they’re a slight pain.  You’ll have to start them indoors, and care for them for a long time until they’re big enough to put outside.

TIP: Garlic is best grown from bulbs than seeds.

Seed garlic generally hasn’t been sprayed with a growth inhibitor. Store bought garlic often is sprayed with growth inhibitor to retard sprouting while still on the store shelves. You can still plant store bought, and while sprouting success can vary, garlic is a pretty tough plant that’s easy to grow.

If you’re starting from seed garlic, first separate the bulbs into individual cloves.  Don’t cut the cloves up. Each will develop into its own bulb.  Plant each clove with the blunt (root) end facing down, pointed end facing up.  About 1-2” depth is sufficient.  Mulch over the bed heavily, 4-6 inches.  The harsher your winters, the heavier you should mulch.  

TIP: Don’t over water!  

If the cloves sit in waterlogged soil for extended periods, rot will set in. Allowing the soil to dry out just a little between waterings will be beneficial. So if you’re planting in a field, make sure you have well drained soil or raised rows for drainage.

TIP: Cut off bloom scapes to grow healthier bulbs… 

Garlic Scapes

When the leaves begin to grow in the spring, give them a feed.  Top dress with organic fertilizer or compost that’s high in nitrogen.  Cut off any bloom scapes that appear.  This is a more frequent happening with the hardneck varieties.  This will sacrifice the lovely pinkish-lavender puffball flowers, but it helps to build the bulb and meanwhile, at least those scapes are edible and delicious, tasting just like garlic!  Saute them up for a tasty dish.  Or you can try making a flavorful pesto!

Garlic Flowers are Edible too!

However, if you want to bring your garlic to flower for beauty, the flowers are delicious and edible too and a wonderful addition to salads. You could grow an area of garlic that you let go to flower, such as in a front yard garden bed like in this cover image, as one idea. It would be interesting to do this and then compare the bulb harvest.

garlic-flowerTIP: Trim the garlic bloom scapes and cook them, toss in salads and make pesto.

Quick Garlic Scape Pesto

Recipe by Jennifer Capestany, PrairieHawkBotanica.com4)

  • 10 large garlic scapes
  • ⅛ cup toasted pine nuts, or sliced almonds, or pistachios (optional)
  • ⅓ cup fresh parmesan cheese, finely grated (vary amount to taste)
  • up to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add scapes and parmesan to a food processor.  Blend, adding the oil slowly until you get a mostly smooth paste.  Stop adding oil when you reach the texture that suits you best.  Salt and pepper as desired.  This pesto will keep in the fridge, covered, for about 10 days. Tastes lovely with pasta, chicken, fish, or steamed vegetables!

TIP:  If you leave a few scapes to mature, they may develop bulbils, which can be planted just like cloves to produce a new bulb.

Companion Planting with Garlic

Garlic is beneficial for many garden plants, fruit trees, and roses. Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers) and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower) are varieties that especially enjoy having garlic nearby.  Simply interplant garlic with these crops to see benefits.  Garlic will have an inhibitory effect on legumes. Avoid planting these together.

For more on companion planting, try Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte.

Harvesting Garlic

Usually, you harvest when the leaves start dying back. That’s an environmental trigger, so you see how you can end up with smaller bulbs if you don’t give it a long time to grow.

harvest when the leaves start dying back.

After a very long season, and in the height of summer, you will notice that the base stems of your garlic plants begin to brown or harden.  Some of the leaves may also brown and begin to die.  This is your clue that the garlic is ready to harvest.

TIP: Harvest when garlic base stems brown and die.

Spread the plants out in a well-ventilated area and allow to cure for 2-3 weeks.  Then you can cut off the tops and store in a cool, dry place in mesh bags.  Alternatively, you can leave the tops on, braid your garlic, and hang them in strings.


The key here is to never store them in an airtight container.  Garlic bulbs should be kept in a place where they can continue to get air flow.  Eric of Gardenfork TV gives us more details on harvesting garlic.

TIP: Never store garlic in an airtight container.

Planting Garlic

For a video on planting garlic, we found this one by Misila of Learn to Grow.


Harvesting Garlic

See how easy?  Garlic is small enough that you can fit a large amount into a small bed, and provide for your own garlic needs year round.

For a free PDF download on how to grow garlic, there’s a great resource at

There’s a lively conversation with lots of wisdom on garlic growing and harvesting on the Gardens All Facebook page, so feel free to come on over and chime in.

GardensAll Contributor, Teresa McCullar Shares:

I’ve got rocambole garlic, killarney garlic, Asian tempest, something red, and California white soft neck. (All breeds are written on sticks outside in dirt). Planted yesterday (10/22/16). All in my first top garden.
  • 3 breeds are in a 4×7 area
  • 2 are in a 3×7
  • Softnecks took up a 7 x15
  • Hardnecks are in seed stock phase for next year
  • Every year for next few years, I’ll keep 1/2 to 3/4 for replanting. 

At a 6-12 yield (6 -14 cloves to every 1 planted) I’ll definitely have to cut more new soil every year to sell a bunch. Im utilizing old garden space from this year. Moving main garden to old pig pen (celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes & popcorn next spring).Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · 57 mins

Teresa and her husband Lee, have homesteading down!6)

And… for an online “Farmer’s Market” for buying and selling garlic, plus all kinds of in depth information from garlic experts, you may enjoy visiting this

Let’s keep on growing!

Garlic contains allicin, a sulfur compound with many health benefits. Medicinal benefits of garlic include cardiovascular health, inflammation, antibacterial, antiviral, cancer prevention, expectorant, immune enhancer, and helpful in iron metabolism.

Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatiod arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.

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