Fall Gardening: How to Grow Garlic

I love garlic. I put copious amounts in everything and you haven’t lived until you’ve tried 40 Clove Garlic Chicken. And now, as the weather cools down and you bid farewell to your summer garden, it is the perfect time to start thinking about planting garlic.

When Should I Plant Garlic?

For most regions, you plant garlic in the fall for next year’s crop because garlic needs a period of cold weather (called vernalization) in order to be viable. In Chicago and places with similar climates, mid-September through mid-November is ideal for planting. It is more difficult to grown garlic in warm regions (i.e., zones 7-9), but it is certainly not impossible. (Unfortunately, garlic heads may be smaller.) Areas with mild winters may not provide the vernalization needed by many garlic varieties. However, you can cold stratify and simulate winter by putting your garlic in the fridge for about 4 weeks before planting.

Should I Plant Garlic From the Grocery Store?

I know it’s tempting to just stick garlic in the ground from the grocery store and call it a day. Don’t do it, though! If you get garlic from a good seed seller or producer, you’ll be able to pick from so many different heirloom varieties, which often have better flavor than garlic from the grocery store. Grocery store garlic may also be treated (and therefore not viable for growing) or carry disease. However, you if have a good farmers market near you, you can try picking up some specialty garlic there and planting it. I got my seed garlic this year from Seed Savers Exchange, but you can probably find some at your local garden center.

Softneck Garlic Hardneck Garlic

What Type of Garlic Should I Grow?

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks develop a hard stalk in the center of the bulb, which softnecks don’t. Most people say hardnecks, which are the type you want to be growing in the Chicago region, have bigger bulbs and more complex flavors since they come in so many different varieties; they also produce edible scapes in the spring, which you can also harvest. However, softnecks, which you are likely to find in your grocer’s produce department, can be stored for longer periods of time. Because they are less hardy, softneck garlic tends to grow better in milder climates so gardeners in more temperate zones can try growing it.

Where Should I Plant My Garlic?

Though I continually sing the praises of fabric grow bags, I don’t grow my garlic in them; I choose a sturdy wooden container. Though garlic needs winter to start producing bulbs, it gets COLD in Chicago and fabric bags just don’t protect garlic enough and you end of with no garlic. (Ask me how I know.) Garlic needs plenty of sun and space, since you want to plant a fair number of bulbs to get a good crop. Plant individual cloves, pointy side up, 2 inches apart, in well-draining compost-rich soil. Once you’ve chosen a sturdy container (a raised bed is even better) and planted your cloves, be sure to cover with at least 6 inches of mulch; I like straw.

Garlic scapes harvested earlier this year

When Should I Harvest Garlic?

The cool thing about hardnecks is that you get two harvest from them: scapes and bulbs. In June, your garlic will start to sprout green-onion like stalks in the center. They are delicious (try this Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe)! Even if you don’t like the flavor, though, you need to harvest the scapes so your garlic puts all of its energy into growing bigger bulbs. Once you’ve harvested the scapes, it’ll be about a month before you can harvest the bulbs.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

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