Love it or hate it, you can’t argue that garlic is widely used around the world for a number of good reasons. It is also a hardy plant that’s surprisingly easy to grow. This makes it great for beginners, so if you want to take a shot at it, read our quick guide on how to grow garlic.
Table of Contents
1. The many benefits of garlic
2. Where to begin?
3. Getting started
4. The right time, the right temperature
5. Plots, pots, or cups?
5.1 Essential equipment
6. How deep is your clove?
6.1. Germinating and planting garlic seeds
7. Snipping off scapes
A perennial flowering plant growing from a bulb, Allium sativum, or garlic is characterized by its heady, pungent smell which makes it a highly sought after ingredient in many of the world’s cuisines. In addition to being a really tasty seasoning, this close relative of the onion, shallot, leek, and chive also has powerful medicinal properties that were already known since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Even the founder of medicine himself, the Greek physician Hippocrates, used to prescribe garlic to treat a variety of conditions.
Garlic contains amino acids, vitamins, trace minerals, flavonoids, enzymes, and around 200 other compounds including allicin, allin, diallyl disulfide, S-allyl cysteine, and sulfur that gives it a distinct fragrantly appetizing smell when cooked. Not only does garlic give so much taste and aroma to food, it is also known to boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, detoxify your body of heavy metals, improve bone health, and prolong your life. Its antioxidant content is even known to help with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
As you can see, there’s really no good reason why you shouldn’t grow your own garlic plant. Trust me, your tastebuds will grow to like it too.
It’s easy to grow garlic, it can grow almost anywhere around the world. As long as its “tunic”, or upper part of the bulb that’s above the ground stays alive and doesn’t freeze or dry up, your garlic will grow.
There are a number of kinds of garlic. There’s the regular softneck and hardneck ones you usually see at the grocery. There are also a few kinds of Italian garlic, some even come in a nice reddish color like the Aglio Rosso di Nubia. There are even variants with totally black cloves and there’s also one that’s just one whole bulb, no cloves!
This is probably your first time growing garlic so why not try to start with either the hardneck or softneck types. Here’s the difference between the two:
- Softneck – They may look similar to hardnecks but what they lack is the hard stalk in the middle. These grow better in mild weather and have a subtler flavor compared to hardnecks.
- Hardneck – The most obvious difference is that it has a hard stalk in the middle of the bulb. Hardnecks actually do better in climates that go through bad winters. This is because they need a greater period of vernalization, which is the cooling of seed during germination which can accelerate flowering when it is planted. They are also a bit more flavorful than softnecks.
Although garlic flowers do bear seeds, it’s way easier to grow garlic plants from cloves and bulbils. Garlic seeds are small and black, much like onion seeds and although you can grow them, it’s faster and easier to use cloves.
The only advantage of growing garlic from seeds is that the resulting plant won’t be a clone of the original. These plants will have a bit more genetic diversity and may be able to adapt better compared to those grown from cloves and bulbils that are likely to inherit the genetic problems from their mother plant.
There are also some advantages to growing from bulbils. These are the tiny bulbs that can be found in the scape of hardneck garlic. Although these are essentially clones of the mother plant, they won’t bear any soil-borne diseases, thus reviving your garlic strain.
It takes around 9 months for a garlic clove to grow a whole bulb. Meanwhile, a bulbil can take up to 3 years and seeds even longer. However, make sure to check online since this duration can vary depending on the variety of garlic you’ll be planting.
You can plant garlic all year round in countries with two seasons. However, in those that experience winters, you’d want to plant garlic around three to eight weeks before the first autumn freeze. You can then expect to harvest these around June to July. This is because most garlic types need at least 40 days with temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to grow cloves into bulbs. Otherwise, the plant will just form a familiar green stalk with flat leaves and no bulb. Garlic also won’t form bulbs if exposed to temperatures over 77 degrees Fahrenheit before planting. Furthermore, garlic needs 6-8 hours of sun a day and although you can use artificial light for that during winter months, it may not be an economical choice.
You can either plant garlic in containers, in a big pot, or a backyard plot. When you plant it in a pot or plot, just give it around 6 to 8 inches of space apart from the next one since garlic grows shallow roots that need to stretch out.
You don’t need any special tools for planting garlic, but there are certainly some that would make the job easier. Here are a few things that you may want to get before you get started:
- Gardening gloves – Gotta protect your hands. This is a good buy if you plan to do more planting and gardening.
- Trowel – Another essential multipurpose gardening tool. Use this to dig up your harvest.
- Bulb planter tool – Certainly makes things easier if you plan on making lots of holes for planting.
- Potting soil – You can also use regular garden soil, but you probably won’t get good results. Plus, you’ll never know if the soil in your garden has any harmful microbes or diseases. Good potting soil also comes loaded with nutrients and drains better. If you want to make your efforts worth it, use commercial potting soil as it usually contains peat, compost, coconut fiber, sometimes perlite or vermiculite which makes it an ideal planting medium.
- Seedling cups – Like most other plants, you need to grow seedlings in shallow containers first before transplanting them into a bigger pot or plot. These reusable cups are sized correctly unlike regular plastic cups.
- pH pen – Garlic needs loose soil with a pH of around 6-8 to grow well.
The right depth at which you need to plant your bulbils and cloves will vary on how large they are. In general, the smaller they are, the shallower you’d want to plant them. Normal-sized cloves should be pressed around 2 inches deep into the dirt while bulbils just around 1 inch deep. Seeds usually only need a depth of ¼ inch. Cover with dirt loosely after then water.
Seeds need a bit more effort before they are ready for planting. You’ll still need to germinate them, which is the process of making seeds sprout. For best results, soak them in a 1% bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach in 2 cups water) before planting to help protect them from contamination. After rinsing, evenly place the seeds on moist paper towels, put this inside a plastic sack, and store in a refrigerator for approximately four weeks. This “cold treatment” will shorten the dormancy and increase the germination rate of your seeds.
After this, the seeds will be ready for their seedling containers. You should see some of the seedlings emerge after 6 days. You can then transplant these seedlings after a few days if the weather conditions are favorable. If not, transplant them into a larger container to harden them off.
Although garlic can survive the cold, you may want to put compost or mulch on it during the colder months.
One of the bonuses of planting hardneck garlic is that they grow scapes. These are the long, tender green stems that grow flower buds. They taste like a cross of onions, scallions, and garlic and are very versatile in terms of culinary applications. Some growers like to snip them off, believing that they can suck out the energy from the growing bulbs but others are ok leaving them on. Let your scapes grow if you want to harvest seeds or bulbils.
It’s also easy to spot if your garlic is ready for harvest. Once their green leaves begin to turn brown and the flower stems start to soften even though still green, then its time. If you’re still not sure, try to pull back the soil around one of the bulbs. You can go ahead and harvest them if the bulbs are already at a decent size, the clove ridges are already clearly defined and some of the leaves have already wilted.
If you are a beginner and would like to start growing plants that you can harvest afterward, you cannot go wrong with garlic. It is a hardy plant that can give you good results even if you don’t tend to it that much. It can also survive a harsh winter and you don’t even need to put fertilizer on it. Best of all, garlic is cheap but loaded with benefits so there’s really no reason for you not to try to grow your own.