How To Grow Garlic

  • Growing your own garlic means you get to eat a fresh, organic product.
  • Grow it in a sunny, well-drained spot in the garden or in a pot.
  • Water your garlic plants regularly and fertilise through the growing season.
  • Harvested garlic bulbs can be stored and used over many months.

Autumn means it is time to think about planting bulbs. Sure, think about planting daffodils, bluebells, tulips and all those spectacular spring flowers, but also think about productive bulbs. Top of the list is garlic (Allium sativum).

There are several reasons to plant garlic. First up, it is relatively easy to grow and highly rewarding. Also, growing your own garlic means you get to eat a fresh, organic product and one that hasn’t been imported. Sadly, the local garlic industry is relatively small and imports make up a large percentage of the garlic consumed in Australia.

While importing garlic is a problem for those concerned with food miles (that is, how far food has travelled and the amount of carbon used in the process), it is also a concern for those who want to consume fewer chemicals. Garlic is usually treated with growth retardants and other chemicals when it is brought into Australia.

Crops take many months to grow, so they are not for impatient gardeners. The bulbs are harvested as the foliage dies down in late spring or early summer. Bulbs can be stored and used over many months.

If you are impatient, plant some chives and shallots, which you can enjoy in as little as 12–16 weeks from planting, by harvesting the leaves of chives or the young stems of shallots. For the hit of garlic flavour, try flat-leaved garlic chives.

Garlic varieties

You may have little choice in the variety you plant, so just grow whatever you can find available. Purple-stripe is commonly available, as is Australian White.

For gardeners who are attracted to the odd and unusual, there’s elephant garlic, also called giant Russian garlic. It lives up to the ‘elephant’ or ‘giant’ side of its name, as it is big. It forms a large bulb up to 5cm across, which can fill the palm of your hand. It has a mild flavour and is a great choice for roasting.

Garlic and friends

You’ll find a good selection of garlic and its relatives at your nursery or by visiting online suppliers including:

  • Digger’s Club
  • Green Harvest

As well as garlic, look for onions, shallots, green onions, chives, tree onions and elephant garlic.

Separate cloves

To grow your own garlic, buy organic garlic from a nursery, greengrocer or mail-order supplier.
Break the head up into separate cloves and plant them so the pointy tip of the clove is about 1.5–2cm below the ground.

Plant

Pop garlic into any sunny, well-drained spot in the garden or in a pot. If you are a serious garlic eater, grow a crop by planting rows, spacing each clove about 15cm apart.

Weed

Keep plants free of weeds (they don’t like competition), water regularly and fertilise through their growing season using a complete fertiliser.

Mulch

A layer of mulch around each plant keeps weeds down and moisture in your soil.

Can you grow garlic indoors?

In a word: yes. However… the garlic you grow indoors won’t be like the stuff you grow outside. Growing garlic indoors will provide you with garlic shoots, which can still be used in cooking, but it won’t give you cloves. To grow indoors, plant a few cloves in a pot of soil and sit in a sunny spot. Water lightly. They’ll start to sprout within a week or so

WHERE TO PLANT GARLIC:
Garlic should be planted in a spot not recently used for garlic or other plants from the onion family. Do not plant garlic in areas where water can collect around the roots, causing them to rot or become diseased.

SOIL PREPARATION:
Garlic should be planted in a fertile, well-drained soil. A raised bed works very well. Remove stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Work several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with 10-10-10 fertilizer.

PLANTING GARLIC:
Separate cloves. Space the cloves 4-6″ apart. Rows should be spaced one foot apart. The cloves should be planted with the pointed end up and the blunt end down. Push each clove 1-2″ into the ground, firm the soil around it, and water the bed if it is dry.

MULCH:
After planting, lay down a protective mulch of straw, chopped leaves or grass clippings. In cold-winter regions the mulch should be approximately 4 inches thick. Mulch will help to prevent the garlic roots from being heaved out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing. A light application of mulch is useful in milder climates to control the growth of winter weeds.

SPRING CARE:
When the leaves begin to grow, it is important to feed the garlic plants to encourage good growth. A teaspoon or two of a high-nitrogen fertilizer that decomposes slowly, such as blood meal or Osmocote should be gently worked into the soil near each plant. If the mulch has decomposed, add a layer to help retain moisture and keep weeds under control. In late spring some garlic varieties produce flower stalks that have small bulbils. Cut these stalks off. This will insure that all of the food the plant produces will go into the garlic bulb itself and not the clusters of bulbils. In the month of June the garlic plants stop producing new leaves and begin to form bulbs. At this time you will remove any remaining mulch and stop watering. The garlic will store better if you allow the soil around the bulbs to dry out.

GARLIC HARVESTING AND STORAGE:

You will harvest the garlic when most of the leaves have turned brown. This usually occurs in mid-July to early August, depending on your climate. At this time you may dig the bulbs up, being careful not to bruise them. If the bulbs are left in the ground too long, they may separate and will not store well. Lay the garlic plants out to dry for 2 or 3 weeks in a shady area with good air circulation. Be sure to bring the garlic plants in if rain is forecasted for your area. When the roots feel brittle and dry, rub them off, along with any loose dirt. Do not get the bulbs wet or break them apart, or the plants won't last as long.

Either tie the garlic in bunches, braid the leaves, or cut the stem a few inches above the bulb. Hang the braids and bunches or store the loose bulbs on screens or slatted shelves in a cool, airy location. You may want to set aside some of the largest bulbs for replanting in the fall.

During the winter months you should check your stored garlic bulbs often, and promptly use any that show signs of sprouting.

Each set (bulb) is made up of several sections called cloves, held together by a thin, papery covering. Before planting, break cloves apart.

Fall planting:
Plant cloves in mid-autumn in a sunny location with rich, well-drained soil. Set cloves root side down 4-6″ apart in rows 1-1/2 to 2′ apart, and cover with 1-2″ of fine soil. In the North, put down 6″ of mulch for winter protection. Garlic may begin growth late in fall or early in spring.

Spring planting:
Plant cloves as early in spring as soil can be worked, about the same time as onion sets. Spring planted garlic should be put in the ground in the same manner as in the fall.

Garlic Harvesting and storage:
In late summer, bend over tops to hasten yellowing and drying of tops. Then pull up the garlic plants and allow them to dry in sun a few hours. Spread out in a well-ventilated place until tops are thoroughly dry (2-3 weeks). Cut tops off 1-2″ above garlic bulbs, or braid tops together into strings. Store loose bulbs in a dry, cool, airy place in baskets; hang garlic strings.