Garlic Growing Guide – From Planting to Harvest

garlic growing guide

Growing up in an Italian household, most cooking starts with extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Running out of either is worse than running out of wine! While most people can’t grow their own olives, you can easily grow your own garlic. Homegrown garlic (
IT: aglio) is nothing like what you find in supermarkets. Firstly, the flavour is much stronger. Where you’d normally use 3-4 cloves to intensify your cooking, you can get away with 1-2 cloves of homegrown garlic. Secondly, the source is much safer. Yes, most things grown in your backyard or locally are better for you and the environment, but the vast majority of retail garlic comes from China – and I won’t ever trust that. So, having an annual supply of homegrown garlic has become a must. 

Follow along with my simple and easy how-to-guide so you too can grow your own garlic. 

Types of Garlic

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The difference is in the bulb that forms underground and the stem that grows above. Softneck garlic produces a leafy stem that stays flexible with garlic cloves that cluster together under the soil. Whereas hardneck produces a central, rigid stem (similar to an onion or leek) with cloves that form a bulb around the base of the stem below ground – this is the more common variety in grocery stores. Softneck garlic is your choice if you live in a warm climate, while hardnecks are what I plant as they are better suited for cold climates. 

Seed vs. Clove

When planting garlic, you can start it from either seed or clove. But there’s a big difference between what they produce and the timeframe. Planting a garlic seed will form a single clove in the first year. You then have to leave that clove in the ground for a second year to produce an entire bulb. Planting a clove is the same as leaving a clove in the ground – it will produce a full head with multiple cloves. So rather than plant a seed and wait two years for it to turn into a full head of garlic, it’s more common and effective to plant single cloves and get a full bulb in one growing season. For this reason, most “seed garlic” you purchase will actually be loose cloves for replanting.

garlic seed vs clove

When to Plant

Garlic is traditionally planted in the Fall. The general rule is to get it into the ground 4 to 6 weeks before the soil freezes solid and winter sets in. By that time of year – usually planting in October or November in the Northern Hemisphere – the days are short and cool, so planted garlic won’t sprout prematurely. Keeping in mind the natural seed-clove-bulb cycle explained above, hardneck garlic actually requires cold temperatures to signal that it's time to enter the second phase (year) of growth. 

How to Plant

Prepare your soil for planting by mixing in fresh compost or manure that will breakdown and slowly feed the garlic in spring. The top 6 inches of soil needs to be loose and airy for water to penetrate, so break it up with a light raking and do not compact it. Once this is done use two fingers, or the end of a rake or pole to create rows of holes 2-3 (5-7cm) inches deep spaced about 4-5 inches (10-12cm) apart. 

To plant cloves, break a bulb of garlic apart and sort for the largest ones. Do not peel cloves, as the papery skin helps protect them from rotting. Place a single clove in each hole with the pointed end facing upwards and cover with soil. 

It is also a good idea to cover 2-3 inches on top of the planted area with straw, mulched leaves or shredded newspaper. 

Spring Care

Once the snow melts, days get longer and temperatures rise, your garlic will be one of the earliest signs of life in the garden. Check for shoots to break through the soil and keep the area well watered. Once they are about 6 inches tall it's time for the first feed. Apply a liquid fertilizer high in nitrogen to ensure the plants' leaves grow strong. Repeat this every 3 weeks until the scapes form. Keep the beds free of weeds – and try interplanting lettuce for a natural garlic-infused pest defenece – but no other maintenance is needed. 

garlic plants

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

After 60 days of vigorous growth (usually early to mid June) the stems of hardneck garlic form a curling shoot with a flower head at the end. This is called a scape. Once the scape has gone around in a full circle, harvest it by cutting it where it emerges from the stem. Scapes have a mild garlic flavour and can be used in cooking and mixes. But more importantly, if left on the plant, the scape will flower and form a seed pod. By removing the scape the plant’s energy is focused into forming a larger bulb below ground. This is the time to apply the last fertilization of the plant – banana peel compost tea or granular feeds high in potassium will encourage the head of garlic to grow large and limit further leaf growth.

Harvesting Garlic Bulbs

Timing the harvest of garlic is the most difficult step to master because what is happening below ground is hidden. Pulling garlic too soon results in underdeveloped bulbs. Wait too long and the bulbs will start to split apart. The signs to watch for are in the leaves and the stem. About 30-40 days after scapes are removed, the leaves and stem will start to brown. Once the bottom 3 or 4 lowest leaves have dried out, it’s time to consider harvesting. Remove soil from around the base of a plant to check the size of the bulb. If it looks small, you can push the soil back and leave it a little longer to form up. 

When you’re finally ready to take them out, remove the soil from around the base and dig the garlic up with your hands or a garden fork. I prefer this method over pulling them, to ensure the bulb and stem stay intact. Brush off any excess soil and leave the bulbs to dry out for a few hours until the rest of the loose soil can be brushed off. 

harvesting garlic and how to grow

Curing and Storage

Garlic must be cured to ensure it will last. To do this, lay garlic out or hang the full plant it in a sheltered location away from sun and rain. Sheds, garages, basements and porches are all good spots. After at least 2-3 weeks, the remaining leaves and entire stem should turn brown and dry out. Once it has, you can trim the roots from the end, peel off the outermost dried skin and cut the stem leaving a few inches above the bulb. Keep the garlic stored in a cool, dry and dark location to enjoy for months!

Ready to start growing garlic in your space? I can help from beginning to end. It starts with the right location and soil. Let me build you a standard or custom raised bed or in-ground garden for your backyard in the Greater Toronto Area. If you prefer to be completely hands off, I can assist with garden planning and planting – shop my garden services page for more info. And as always, reach out via email, Facebook or Instagram with any questions or comments you may have. 

Buon giardinaggio!


  • Appreciate the information you’ve sent regarding garlic. I don’t like this gsrlic from China, which seems to be everywhere, and has been chemically treated! Growing your own is the only way to go now. I’m in South Africa so the seasons are the reverse if Canada. Thanks.

    Anthony Hubbard
  • Thank you so much for clear instructions and definite inspiration.I’m ready to go ahead planting now (Tasmania) .. it has taken me far too long to realise that it is virtually all in the soil ..

    Hedy Savcenko
  • Thank you for all your information. This is my second season and I’m growing three different types of hard neck, garlic, planet 6 inches apart. Worked with Rutgers University to get the spacing incorrectly and I’m looking forward to a banner crop this year. Any information you have or sharing is most appreciated, sincerely Matthew Long

    Matthew C Long
  • Thanks for sending this guidance for cultivating and caring for garlic. We’ve grown ours for 25+ years and are always learning. I need to learn more about spring time fertilizing…can you send more information? grazie molto

  • Thank you for the guide!! I’ve grown garlic but harvested tiny heads years ago. I haven’t given up and will try again with your instructions!


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