When to harvest garlic – for a tasty crop that's in the best shape

Learn when to harvest garlic, so you can store and savor both spring and fall planted crops

harvested garlic
(Image credit: RHS)

Eliminate the guesswork of deciding when to harvest garlic with our handy guide. Whether you decide to plant these flavorsome cloves in spring or fall, there are a few handy signs to look for before starting to gather in your crop.

An undemanding crop to raise, home grown garlic will give high reward for very little effort. Plant individual cloves pointy side up in a sunny spot with free draining soil. Water well during dry spells and keep weed free to ensure each clove plumps up to form a large bulb that’s a joy to cook with. 

As a general rule, you can harvest garlic that was planted in the fall from the end of June. Garlic planted in spring is ready to crop August to September. These timings can vary depending on your location and weather conditions but scroll on to discover the tell-tale signs of when is best to harvest garlic.

When to harvest garlic

Specialist growers at The Garlic Farm say, ‘Garlic will tell you when it is time to harvest. Too early and you'll miss the final growth spurt, too late and your bulbs will rot in the ground. When the garlic falls over and the leaves are brown, it's harvest time.’

Another slightly more cautious approach when you are growing garlic is to lift one bulb first as an indicator for the rest of the crop. Loosen the soil around your chosen bulb, taking care not to nick or damage any of the outer papery skin. Without lifting the plant, check the size. If it looks too small pat the soil back down and wait a few more days before you check again. If it’s a good, plump size, it’s ready to be harvested.

Still unsure? If you have a few plants growing, lift one bulb and cut across the top of the bulb. If there is a gap between the stem and the tops of the individual cloves, then it’s the ideal time to harvest your crop. 

One word of advice from the experts at Thompson & Morgan: ‘Don’t leave the bulbs in the ground too long after the leaves have withered as the bulbs are likely to re-sprout and may rot when stored.’

When to harvest hardneck garlic varieties

Including well known varieties such as ‘Lautrec Wight’ and ‘Chesnock Red’, hardneck garlic gets its name from the central stem that grows up from the clove. Known as a ‘scape’ this can be harvested, chopped and added to salads and cooked dishes. 

The scape is also a good indicator as to when to harvest hardneck garlic varieties. These stems usually appear four to six weeks before maturity. Make a note and check the bulb at this stage, before lifting.

What is the best time to harvest softneck garlic?

Without the central stem or scape, the best way to check whether softneck garlic is ready to harvest is by looking at the leaves. The team at John Boy Farms say ‘Softneck varieties can usually tolerate more of their leaves dying before being harvested. They tend to have tighter, more durable wrappers that can usually handle a little more stress. Some growers wait until half the garlic plants have fallen over as the signal that harvest should begin.’

How do you know when garlic is ready to pick?

You know garlic is ready to pick when the lowest two or three leaves become yellow or brown, and the other leaves are beginning to yellow at the tips. If you harvest now, you will find that you can store garlic better than if you wait. If you do wait, the garlic may rot when stored and the flavor will be spoiled.

What happens if you harvest garlic too early?

If you harvest garlic too early, you will get a poor crop, with small bulbs. However, harvest them too late and the bulbs may be split, won't store well and won't be flavorsome. 

Should you let garlic flower?

You can let garlic flower, but when you plant garlic, you will need to make a choice between growing garlic for flowers and growing it for eating. Allowing garlic to flower won't give you strong bulbs. 

Jill Morgan
Contributing Editor

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Gardeningetc.com. Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens.