Garlic is one of those ingredients that is used almost constantly in the kitchen. Romantic Gallic images of long knotted bulbs can be intimidating when considering growing this bulb. However, garlic is a surprisingly easy crop to grow – and now is a good time to plant.
We’ve spoken to industry experts to provide you with insider advice on how to grow garlic in your garden. This versatile crop can be grown in containers and beds, perfect for a garden of any size. Why not try this weekend?
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What type of garlic to grow?
When planning to grow garlic to your garden there are two types to choose from: hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is the easiest garlic to grow and is the type commonly found in supermarkets.
Softneck garlic produces a lot of smaller cloves and can be stored for months. These are the ones you will typically see plaited on market stalls. However, hardneck bulbs are hardier so a better choice if your garden experiences very cold winters.
Good varieties of softneck garlic to opt for are ‘Provence’ and ‘Solent Wight’. For hardneck garlic, look for ‘Lautrec Wight’ and ‘Carcasonne’ varieties.
‘When buying garlic to grow, it’s advisable not to buy from supermarkets as these are not certified disease free varieties. Instead, buy from a garden centre or by mail order,’ advises Franscesco Ponziani, Horticulturist at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.
How to grow garlic step by step
Garlic is easy to grow with a little know-how.
1. Prepare the ground
Garlic is an easy crop to grow as long as you get the basics right. ‘Garlic needs an open, sunny position and well-drained soil,’ explains Francesco.
Dig in plenty of garden compost before planting the garlic bulbs or well-rotted manure. ‘If your soil is very heavy clay, add grit or plant bulbs in containers instead,’ recommends Kate Turner, Gardening Guru at Miracle-Gro.
As garlic crops take up only a small space, it can easily be grown in a container such as a Vegepod or a Vegebag which won the RHS Chelsea Flower Show product of the year 2020. It can also be planted in between other crops to help them thrive, deterring pests with its pungent scent.
2. Plant the bulbs
Before planting the bulbs you will need to break them up into individual cloves. Plant each clove 10 to 15 cm apart, with 30 cm between each row.
If you are planting in a container, Francesco recommends using a 9cm pot. Plant each clove in its own individual pot.
Make sure each clove is planted pointing upwards, with the tip of the clove showing above the soil. Water after planting to help the soil settle around the bulb.
3. Cover the bulbs as they grow
Kate Turner recommends covering the area with horticultural fleece or cloches to stop birds pulling up the seedlings as they appear. ‘Once the plants grow larger, they are less attractive to birds and the protection can be removed,’ she explains.
Continue to water the garlic bulbs as they grow. However, as soon as a bulb is formed this is a sign to stop watering.
4. Cut off the scape
Hardneck varieties of garlic will send up stalks, also known as scape, from the centre of the plant. Since most garlic is grown for its bulbs, the scape can be removed to increase bulb size by 20%.
‘Cutting off the scape will send all the energy to the bulb, increasing the bulb size rather than putting energy towards flowers and seeds,’ explains Francesco. ‘This can increase the bulb size by 20%.’
If you are hoping to use the garlic flowers in your kitchen, their mild flavour makes them a lovely addition to salads and sauces, you can skip this step. However, it is best to remove the flower before it develops.
5. Harvesting the garlic
While the garlic is growing you can take a few leaves here and there from the plants to use in salads. However, ‘don’t take too many at any time from one plant,’ warns Kate.
As soon as the foliage has turned brown your garlic is ready to harvest. This will usually occur between early June and late August. Francesco’s top tip is to aim to harvest your garlic on a warm summers day.
‘If you get the chance, harvest garlic on a hot sunny day so that the newly dug bulbs can be left on the bed to dry out,’ he explains. ‘Helping with preservation.’
Lift the bulbs out carefully with a fork, and take care not to bruise the bulbs. Brush off as much soil as possible and trim the roots.
How long does it take to grow garlic?
Garlic can take almost 10 months to grow before you are able to harvest the bulbs. Depending on the variety you have planted it you have planted in Autumn, they can be ready from early June to late July.
What month do you plant garlic?
It is best to plant garlic in autumn. The bulbs need a period of cold weather in order to grow. Ideally they need a one-to-two month period at 0 to 10 degrees temperature for the bulbs to develop.
However, it is too cold outside in Autumn, you can also plant them up in Spring. ‘In my experience, autumn-planted garlic is ready four to six weeks earlier than spring planted garlic,’ explains Francesco.
Does garlic grow back every year?
Garlic can be grown as a perennial, providing garlic every year. However, because it is grown for its bulbs, it is usually grown as an annual and replanted each year.
If you choose to grow garlic as a perennial, you will need to leave the bulbs to develop and grow for a few years, during which you can harvest the milder tasting leaves and flowers. In a few years time you should be able to dig up and replant your homegrown garlic and follow the above instructions to produce your own bulbs of garlic.