Growing Garlic?

If you’re a garlic lover like me, what can be more fun than growing your own?  Actually, I could say that about a lot of things that I grow because, well, I just find it fun to be able to grow things, especially if they’re a little different.  For example the ginger (root) I’ve been growing in a pot in my sun room for the past few years.  Why?  Simply because I can!

Back to garlic.  Garlic is a bulb and much like flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, etc., garlic needs to be planted in the fall to be harvested the following summer.  Why fall?  Certain bulbs need a cold treatment the best development of the roots and the bulb. Garlic is one of those bulbs.

The ideal planting time for garlic is about two weeks after the first hard frost (32 degrees or less) or sometime between September 15 and October 15th or when the soil temperature is around 60 degrees F.  Clear as mud, right?  (That’s now just in case you didn’t follow all of that.)

So how do you grow it?  Garlic can be grown in beds with rows 30 inches apart on center and 6 inch spacing between plants.  The day of or a day or two before planting, separate the individual cloves from the bulb (a.k.a. head) of garlic. When separating the cloves make sure a small piece of the basal plate (the little flat part at the base of the bulb where the roots grow) is attached to each clove or it won’t root.  When planting day arrives, plant each clove 2 – 3 inches below the surface of the soil with the pointed part facing up.  (If you accidentally plant them upside down they will still grow, but will have an odd shape when you harvest them.)

A few weeks after planting, cover the rows with 3 – 4 inches of straw mulch (seed-free!) to prevent drastic soil temperature changes.  Since Garlic needs a cold treatment, the roots and shoots can tolerate freezing conditions as long as they are mulched to minimize excessive fluctuation in soil temperatures in the winter and early spring.  (Mulch can be removed in the spring after the threat of hard freezes is over, around April 15th.)

When buying bulbs, keep in mind you don’t want to plant the bulbs you buy in your local grocery store because they are typically grown in much warmer climates and won’t be hardy in our climate.  Instead, it’s best to buy local or cold hardy Garlic bulbs.  I bought mine at EGG|PLANT Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul this year, but you should be able to pick them up at other garden supply stores or order them online. The Growing Garlic in Minnesota piece (below) has a nice list of Garlic sources as well.



As far as what kind to buy, there are many types and varieties of Garlic, but they all fall into one of two basic varieties: hard neck and soft neck.  The main difference is that hard neck produce flowers (a.k.a. scapes) and bulbils (baby bulbs) while soft neck do not produce flowers.  If you like garlic scapes and plan on cooking with them or using them in arrangements, you will need to buy hard neck varieties (soft neck will not produce minimal scapes if any).  Beyond that, there are more types and varieties varying in flavor, temperature (mild to hot), etc.  As for me, I’ll be planting three hard neck varieties: Chesnok Red, Georgia Crystal and German Extra Hardy.

If you decide to grow Garlic and want more detailed information, download the pdf of Growing Garlic in Minnesota from the University of Minnesota.  This is filled with detailed info on soils, water, weather, insects, diseases, pretty much anything that might impact garlic growth.

Growing Garlic?  Feel free to share your story!


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