How to Start Growing Garlic

Ben Ronniger Last updated on Jul 12, 2024 by

The Overview

Everyone who can should learn how to grow garlic. Growing garlic is fairly easy as it is a hardy survivor that can withstand much abuse.  Growing great garlic is more difficult and time-consuming because it requires paying close attention to every plant and promptly providing the water it needs to grow and keeping the weeds down in its area.  You can even grow lots of kinds of garlic without any of them crossing because they don't use pollen. 

What Really is Garlic, anyway?

Garlic (Allium sativum L.) may be the oldest cultivated plant by humans and is of the same general plant family as lilies and onions and leeks. More than botanical designations, garlic is a lifeform, that is, a living being that continues to remain alive by dividing or cloning itself into many miniature versions of itself and basically consumes its old self in the process of becoming its new selves.

The heart and soul, as it were, of the garlic is the so-called true stem, or basal plate from which the roots extend downward and the leaves, cloves and false stalk (properly called scape) emerge and reach upward seeking light, for it is the sun that powers the water pump that is a garlic plant. It is from this true stem that the mother clove gives her life to all her daughter cloves, passing her very essence on directly to each of them alike.

Garlic grows by dissolving nutrients and drawing the nutrient laden moisture into its roots and drawing it up to the true stem where it is used to build various parts of the plant. The whole time, the tiny central heart of the plant is growing like a nautilus in its chambered shell, for its growth pattern is a spiral, with new growth forming at the center and maturing as the new little cloves work their way around and out from their birthplace at the the center, growing ever larger as they dance round the center in celebration of their lives as if honoring their giver of life as they take their first steps in their trip through life. What else could it be?

Garlic is undeniably a living entity that responds to its environment. As diners, we justify our wholesale slaughter of our defenseless little brethren by agreeing to preserve their species by becoming growers and thereby allowing the garlic species not only to carry on their kind, but promising to let them live in sumptuous quarters, free from interference by weeds on the condition that they have plenty of kids we can eat or sell or plant.

Sunlight and atmospheric gasses provide energy to power the process and as sunlight increases with the day-length in spring, the pump works harder and harder until the intensity of the sun causes it to burn out and the plant withdraws all its liquid resources back down into the rapidly forming cloves and it withdraws to the cool underground to wait until fall so it can begin the process of growing again, this time in multiplex with all cloves dreaming of the day when they, too would become whole bulbs all by themselves.

Overview of Growing Gourmet Garlic

Garlic is fairly easy to grow. Great garlic is fairly difficult to grow. If you just want to grow garlic, put the separated cloves in the ground anytime between October and March and it will probably grow, but not very well. If you want to grow large, healthy bulbs, there's much more to it than that.

This section is meant for the backyard gardener and is not meant for those who want to grow large quantities of garlic for commercial purposes, I recommend Ron Engeland's book Growing Great Garlic. It's the book that got us started.

First, consider your location, climate and soil conditions and then determine the kinds of garlic which grow best in your area.

Let's talk about location and climate first. While garlic originated in central Asia with its long cold winters, damp cool springs and hot, dry summers, it has been transported around the globe and grown in so many areas that its needs seem to have changed a little. Some varieties, such as Rocamboles, still want those conditions in order to thrive. Porcelains, Purple Stripes and Silverskins are more tolerant, but still won't stand for a hot, dry spring. Artichokes will do well almost anywhere. For a detailed description of these five basic varieties, please read our Overview of Garlic section where we explain the differences between them. Don't be afraid to experiment. A wonderful and wizened master herbalist, Odena Brannam, told us when we first started that she had grown things all her life in places the experts said they would not grow. She had accomplished the impossible many times because she did not know it could not be done