Six reasons why you should plant garlic– & you can do it now!

bulbs of garlic in Buffalo
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I grow garlic– lots of it. And I recommend that you try growing garlic, too.

Here are six reasons why you should grow garlic:

  1. Garlic is so easy to grow! You plant it, then you sit around for several months, then you harvest it. I haven’t been able to grow zucchini, but I can grow garlic.
  2. You have a wide window for planting. You can plant anywhere from August through November– even into December if the weather is mild. There’s not much to do in the garden in autumn, so it’s nice to be able to plant garlic.
  3. You get two harvests every year. In spring, you harvest the garlic scapes, then in summer, you harvest the garlic bulbs.
  4. You can have garlic on hand for months without having to can or freeze it. You can’t do that with tomatoes!
  5. Garlic doesn’t take up much space in your garden. With just a small patch, you can get enough garlic for yourself and still have plenty to share.
  6. Garlic is delicious. (What else can I say about that?)

How to plant garlic

garlic clove in Western New York
That uneven part on the bottom of the garlic clove is where the roots come out. Plant the clove with the pointy side up. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

The part you eat is the part you plant. One clove of garlic is like one seed.

If you buy garlic in the supermarket, it may have originated in another country and may have been fumigated, so it may not grow. For growing, use organic garlic. You can also find garlic for growing at some garden centers.

Plant the clove of garlic with the pointy side up.

If the clove is an inch tall, you want an inch of dirt above it. If the clove is 1 1/2 inches tall, you want 1 1/2 inches of dirt above it, and so on.

Plant in an area with good drainage because garlic doesn’t like “wet feet.”

When to plant garlic

Some people say to plant garlic after the last full moon in October, which this year occurs tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 24. In general, people plant it in late October through November, and sometimes as late as December, weather permitting.

Last year I ran an article looking at whether you can plant garlic earlier. Robert Pavlis of the Garden Myths website did a test in his garden and concluded that planting garlic in October has no benefits over planting in August.

I decided last year to try planting early, though I didn’t get my garlic planted until September. I didn’t see much of a difference between the garlic I planted in September and the garlic I planted in October. The garlic cloves that I got in the ground in September produced plants that were a little shorter than the ones I planted in October, but that might have been because the September plants were located closer to the house and got less sun.

This year I am planting my garlic in rows stretching away from the house rather than parallel to the house. I’m hoping to see whether the plants closest to house are shorter than those that get more sun, no matter what time the cloves were put into the ground.

garlic planted in August
This year I am planting my garlic in rows perpendicular to the house rather than parallel to the house. I want to see if the garlic that grows in the shadier area near the house grows as well the garlic in the sunnier front of the garden. I am planting rows at different times. To be able to see where I left off with the previous row, I stuck old plant tags, plastic cutlery and chop sticks along the row. The garlic on the right, that I planted in August and September, is already growing. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

I am also staggering my planting times more– and keeping better records. I have marked each row with the date I planted. The ones I planted in August and September have already sent up green shoots. That happened last year, too, and they weren’t damaged over the winter–They showed no ill effects at all.

I also want to pay attention this year to the timing of the garlic scapes. It’s possible that the plants sown later will catch up and produce scapes at the same time as those planted earlier. However, I hope staggering the planting times would stagger the production of garlic scapes so I can harvest them over a longer period of time instead of getting a crop all at once.

I’ll let you know next year how it worked out.

How to harvest garlic and scapes

garlic scapes in Western New York
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Hard neck garlic plants develop curlicue stems called scapes. (There are two kinds of garlic: hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck garlic doesn’t develop scapes.)

The scapes are the flower stalks– that white thing toward the end is the flower.

The scapes look cool and you may be tempted to just leave them, but if you do, the flower will develop seeds. This process diverts the plant’s energy from the underground bulb, which is the part you want to harvest later in the summer. If you want a nice large head of garlic, cut off the scapes.

There’s an upside– You can eat the scapes.

Scapes have a garlicy flavor that’s not as strong as the flavor from a clove of garlic. You can eat the scapes raw or use them in a variety of cooked dishes. Pick them when they are tender. (I cut them with scissors or gardening shears.)

I freeze some scapes in plastic bags so I have some to chop into dishes during the winter.

If you let the flower develop seeds, called bulblets or bulbils, you can plant those bulblets, but the bulb of garlic produced will be small. It will take several years for that plant to produce a large bulb of garlic when you start with bulblets.

You get a larger bulb of garlic sooner if you start by planting a clove of garlic.

To harvest the garlic bulb, dig it up. The bulbs will be ready in July or August. Harvest them when the leaves are turning yellow and are partly brown.

22 Comments on “Six reasons why you should plant garlic– & you can do it now!

  1. Hi Kathy, that’s wonderful! It appears that garlic can be planted in April, August, September, October and November. It’s easy to grow!

  2. I had questions from your article in 2018 I do rotate my crops now. I read an article that said it didn’t make a lot of difference if you planted in fall or spring. So last fall I had hand surgery and wasn’t able to get my garlic planted I did it in spring and had a beautiful crop. I hope I don’t have to do that again but just in case it can be done

  3. Thanks everyone for your great comments on rotation. I have 2 raised beds for vegetables and have been rotating my crops. So far so good.

  4. I have planted 2000+ plants in the same bed for the past 5-6 years . Hear is what I do to amend the plot . First in fall b4 I plant ( mid october) I layer 4-5 Inches of leaf compost ( last years leaves ) and till that in . Plant my cloves and tend to them as needed till harvest in July. After harvest I shallow till and plant Buckwheat let it grow to flower and till under and replant buckwheat for a second crop also to flower.Do not let it go to seed . Buckwheat is a great soil amendment or green manure and gets to flower in about a month.. After second crop of buckwheat is tilled in I let the bed rest for about 2 weeks which brings us to mid October and we start all over again . I have seen no decline in the quality of my garlic size or flavor. This works for me however this year I plowed up a second plot and will plant buckwheat in the spring Times two or three crops and plant there next fall just to be safe . This has worked for me for years FYI . BTW I only grow German White hardneck .

  5. Rotation is done when you grow plants in the same plant family in a given area. An example would be eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes….they are susceptible to the same diseases and remove similar nutrients from the soil. After several years, usually around three, it is suggested that the area be used for something else. Unless one grows onions or other alliums I doubt that planting garlic in the same area would be an issue. The exception would be if the garlic becomes infected with a disease. I have not experienced any diseases. I simply add compost to the soil every year.

  6. I am a MG so I thought I would jump into the discussion again. Wild garlic is a relative of the garlic we cultivate. It is the same genus but a different species. Wild garlic is a serious weed for farmers as it contaminates grain. You can dig it up and use it…the only worry here is that it may be growing with plants which are toxic to humans so be careful!

    Wild garlic reproduces by seed, bulbets, and underground bulbs….that’s why it is so successful! Here’s a cool thing to know….when red maple trees go into flower the bulbs of wild garlic are in the final stage of development. Best time to dig them!

  7. Lorraine, I’m glad you found the information helpful. Yes, if you the scapes go and the bulblets fall, you can get garlic growing where you don’t want it. That has happened to me. You can always dig the garlic up and set it around plants you want to protect from rabbits– they don’t like the smell. The easiest way to tell hard neck from soft neck garlic is to look at it when it is growing. Hard neck garlic will develop scapes and soft neck won’t. If you want to know now what you have, open up a head. The hard neck garlic will have a stem among the cloves and soft neck won’t. You can see photos here.

  8. WOW, love the education — I believe I planted my garlic too deep years ago and got discouraged.

    Surprise today my neighbor left a bag of garlic at my house just in
    time — I ran out of store bought garlic. I am going to plant garlic in
    a pot, experimenting???? How can I determine soft garlic and hard
    garlic. Looking forward to a successful GARLIC YEAR 2019. Also
    in years past I did not remove the scapes and they replanted in my
    small flower bed which is rather a tedious job to control and remove.
    Thank you for sharing and caring.

  9. Greg, maybe that’s why it seems so easy to grow garlic! The rabbits will make a nest in it over the winter, but they don’t eat it. You have 2,200 plants? I have a few dozen and thought that was a lot! If you have a business, contact me about advertising. If you’re small, I can give you a free listing in our Gardening Directory.

  10. A seventh reason for planting Garlic is . Here in New York we dont have any critters that are interested in eating my garlic . No fence needed . Love it . I have 2200 plants in this year and have 40-50 regular customers . Nobody around here grows it , don’y know why.

  11. I have what looks like garlic growing all over in my front beds and now in the back yard. It looks like a scape is growing, and there is a tiny bulb at the base. Very invasive – is this garlic that inadvertantly was planted somehow or a wild garlic, or just a weed?

  12. I absolutely love growing garlic. A few comments: Bulbils form when a scape (the stalk that grows out of the bulb) is allowed to mature. Bulbils are not seeds but can be used for asexual reproduction… some people plant bulbils as a safety measure to prevent the transmission of garlic diseases which can be carried in garlic parts grown in the earth. Often if the scape is allowed to mature you can see the flowers that are present with the bulbils but they usually wither up and die. I allow about half of my hard neck garlic plants to grow mature scapes even though this leads to smaller garlic bulbs because they are so neat looking in the garden.

    I also dig up several garlic heads about mid-July to check on the leaves. The leaves correspond with the wrappers around the bulbs. When about one-third of the leaves are brown it is time to harvest. Use a garden fork! If you wait too long to harvest the garlic won’t keep as long.

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