VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

How do I grow garlic?

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association


How do I grow garlic?


Garlic (allium sativum) is an easy crop to grow for home gardeners and can be stored for months after it’s harvested in the summer. Garlic is most often planted in the fall, between late September and November or 6 -8 weeks before the ground freezes.  Garlic grows roots until the ground freezes, then goes through a dormancy period of 6 - 8 weeks.  In spring, the bulbs will wake up from dormancy and start producing foliage and then bulbs.

Garlic is classified into two types, hardneck and softneck. In the Pacific Northwest, hardneck garlics are a better choice as they are more cold hardy. The different varieties of garlic have different tastes ranging from mild to sweet or spicy. Some popular hardneck garlics are Music (mild and mellow), German Red (robust) and Spanish Roja (strong and hot).  A popular hardneck garlic on Vancouver Island is the Russian Red; it is believed that it can withstand wet, soggy weather better than other varieties.

In late June, hardneck garlic will produce a seed stalk or scape which curls. The scape should be cut off  to allow the plant to put its energy into bulb formation. Scapes are edible and are most tender before they curl.  The scapes taste like garlic and can be sauteed, stir-fried or grilled. 

When planning to grow garlic, it's best to use seed garlic that is purchased through the garden centers.  Certified seed garlic has been grown specifically for planting in the garden and is free of insects and diseases.  Garlic bulbs that are purchased in a grocery store may have diseases present that can contaminate your soil.

When you’re ready to plant, amend the soil with some organic fertilizer, bonemeal or fishmeal. Select large healthy cloves for planting; the larger the clove, the bigger and healthier the bulb will be.  Keeping the papery husk on each clove, plant them 4 - 8 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the pointy ends facing up.  If planting garlic in rows, space them 6 - 12 inches apart.  Garlic does best in full sun (at least 6 hours per day) and in rich, well-drained soil. Keep the planting area weed free since garlic competes poorly with other plants. You can also side dress the plants with compost in late April or May when the tops are 6 - 8 inches tall.  During the spring and summer, garlic plants will need about 1 inch of water per week.

Garlic is usually harvested from late June to August. When the foliage begins to turn yellow and fall over, stop watering and then harvest in 2 -4 weeks. Using a fork, carefully dig up the bulbs.  Brush off the soil but do not remove any foliage or roots.  Garlic needs to be cured in an airy, shady dry spot for about 2 weeks. They can be hung upside down in bunches of 4 - 6 bulbs or laid on racks, allowing air to circulate.  The bulbs are cured when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. To prepare the garlic for storage, brush off any dirt off the bulbs but do not wash them, trim the roots to 1 ⁄ 4 inch and cut the tops to 1 - 2 inches. The bulbs will store for months if they’re kept in a cool, dry dark place.  You can save the largest, best bulbs for planting again in the fall.

To minimize any garlic diseases or pest damage, plant only certified seed garlic and discard any that show discolouration or bruising.  Practice crop rotation every 3 years and avoid planting onions in the same bed as garlic as they share some of the same diseases.  Some common pests affecting garlic include Allium rust and garlic root rot.

Milner Gardens Growing Garlic           Milner Gardens Harvesting Garlic

For gardening questions, contact the Gardening Advice Line.