How Do You Take Care of a Garlic Plant?

Garlic is essential to many cuisines from around the world. As a key ingredient to add a tonne of flavor to a variety of different dishes, it is even more flavorful when it's homegrown with the right growing conditions.

However, if you’re new to growing your own vegetables you might be wondering: How do you take care of a garlic plant? 

In this article, I cover some key information about growing garlic, including whether growing garlic is invasive or whether garlic needs a lot of water.

So, let’s get started.

Is growing garlic invasive?

No, growing garlic isn’t invasive and shouldn’t be confused with wild garlic. Wild garlic can be a very invasive plant when the growing conditions are right and they tend to form a dense carpet of growth in the spring. You’ll often see entire banks or fields covered in the stuff! But this is not the case when you grow garlic from cloves (or seeds) at home.

You won’t have to worry about this problem when it comes to growing garlic bulbs in your garden. Garlic grows from individual cloves broken off from a whole bulb. Each clove of garlic will multiply in the ground, forming a new bulb that consists of around 5-10 cloves of garlic.

The wait for homegrown garlic might be long for some, as it takes about 8 to 9 months for a small planted garlic clove to develop into a ready-to-harvest bulb of garlic.

However, once you’ve tried homegrown garlic, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. The rewarding payoff of growing your own garlic at home is more variety and depth of flavor and color, as well as larger bulb sizes. Bearing this in mind, growing garlic could well be worth the extra effort if you have an appropriate growing zone with enough sunlight!

Is it ok to grow garlic in spring?

The best time to grow garlic is during the late autumn or early winter. Garlic roots develop during the fall and winter before the ground freezes and by early spring, they start producing foliage. Following this, the garlic will be ready to harvest during the summer season.

However, while it is best to grow garlic in the autumn or winter, you can also plant garlic in the spring, especially if you have a long growing season. It is important to note that when planting the garlic in spring, the cloves won’t be as large, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the garlic scapes which are delicious shoots with a mild garlic flavor.

If your soil is heavy and damp over winter, it's better to start them off in modules in a coldframe before planting out in spring.

When choosing your garlic cloves to plant, you will want to source fresh garlic. It's very important that the garlic bulbs chosen are fresh and of high quality for you to achieve the best, flavorful results from your homegrown garlic. If you can, choose organic garlic from a local farm shop as opposed to store-bought garlic, so that you avoid garlic that has been sprayed with chemicals.

Nurseries also offer garlic bulbs for planting. If you’re unsure about what garlic to plant, visit a nursery if you want to explore the different varieties and speak to a professional to get their advice on local conditions for garlic.

In addition to this, mail-order catalogs and online seed stores offer a variety of different types of garlic and will include specific planting instructions for the type of seed that you purchase.

A Guide on How to Plant Garlic

  • Begin by choosing a planting pot for your garlic and prepare the soil. Garlic needs a lot of full sunlight. Before adding nutrients to the soil, you’ll need to find out what is already in the soil by having a soil test done. Additionally, you will need to ensure that the soil has good drainage. Clay-based soils are not good for planting garlic
  • Next, you’ll want to gently break the cloves from a fresh garlic head. Be careful not to damage the cloves at their base, where they attach to the garlic plate. If the base is damaged, the garlic will not grow.
  • Push each clove into the soil. Plant garlic with the flat end of the clove facing down, this is where the roots will emerge from. Point the tips upward and plant the cloves about 2 inches (5cm) deep. The cloves should be spaced about 8 inches (20cm) apart for best growing conditions.
  • Cover the planted cloves with a mulch of your choice, such as hay, dry leaves, straw, compost, or manure. The purpose of covering your garlic in mulch is that the mulch helps to keep the young shoots from freezing during the winter, and helps keep the soil cool and moist in the summer.
  • Fertilize the cloves or top-dress with compost. The planted garlic needs a complete fertilizer at the time of planting.
  • Water the garlic as necessary throughout the year.

Should I let my garlic go to seed?

You can let your garlic go to seed, but you might want to avoid letting this happen to ensure that your garlic bulbs grow as well as they can.

Typically speaking, you’ll notice in early to mid-June that your garlic is sending up a stalk from the center of the plant. The stalk is thicker than the leaves and is called the garlic scape. If left on the plant, the scape will form a flower and then seed.

By cutting off the scape you are ensuring that the plant uses all of its energy into increasing the bulb size, rather than putting energy toward flowers and seeds. Since the bulb is what you’re growing the garlic for, I recommend that you cut the scape.

In addition, scapes are delicious and can be used just like garlic, but they are ready a month or two before the garlic bulb. The best part of the scape is the young, tender shoot.

To cut your scape, wait until the center stalk completely forms and grows above the rest of the plant. As it grows up it will begin to curl or spiral upward. At that point, cut the stalk as far down as you can without cutting any leaves off.

How tall do garlic plants grow?

Garlic plants tend to grow 18-24 inches tall, and the bulb is a storage organ used for fuel reserves to prepare for adverse and wintery conditions.

When it comes to harvesting your homegrown garlic, the bulbs can be deeper than you expect. To ensure that you don’t damage the bulbs, make sure that you lift them out carefully with a fork.

Does garlic need a lot of water?

Newly planted garlic needs to be kept moist to help the roots to develop. However, it’s important that you don’t overdo the water. This comes down to the fact that garlic does not grow well, or may even rot if it becomes sodden during the colder months at the end of fall and through the winter.

Water deeply once a week if rain has not fallen. Watering garlic is not necessary unless there is a drought, in which case water sparingly, as garlic hates wet soil.
Reduce the watering gradually as the season warms up. The garlic needs a hot, dry summer to allow the bulbs to mature.

You'll need to water your garlic during dry periods throughout the growing season, stopping watering completely during the last few weeks.

It is much safer to harvest garlic too soon rather than too late as bulbs can shatter or sprout if they are left too long. Once you have lifted your homegrown bulbs out of the ground, you need to be careful to handle them gently as bruised or damaged garlic bulbs won’t store well.

Once you have harvested your garlic, you will need to dry it out before you store it. Dry garlic for 7 to 10 days outside preferably in a warm and sunny location. If the weather conditions aren’t suitable then you will need to dry them in a greenhouse, a polytunnel, or a porch that gets plenty of sun and ventilation.

Does garlic need sun or shade?

Garlic needs a lot of full sun, but it might tolerate partial shade provided it's not for very long during the day or growing season. When growing garlic, you will need to select a gardening area that receives 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight per day.

You will also need to make sure it isn’t shaded by weeds. However, you should be aware that hoeing can risk damaging the developing bulbs in the ground. That being said, hand weeding any weeds regularly is best.

However, it is important to note that while garlic needs to be planted in full sun, how much sun it needs will depend on the specific variety. There are varieties of garlic that are bred specially for colder, more Northerly gardens, so it’s best to check which garlic would bode best in the climate that you live in.

There is also some evidence that garlic adapts to local conditions. You can even keep the best of your garlic cloves for use as seed garlic next year to produce your own personal strain perfectly suited to your garden.

In Summary

Garlic is relatively easy to grow at home and the rewards are well worth the long wait!

If the growing conditions are right, homegrown garlic packs a punch and delivers delicious flavor to all of your favorite dishes!