I’m not the world’s best gardener and it is fair to say that I’ve killed a good number of plants in my time. Yet, I love to grow garlic. Growing garlic is something that even I can’t screw up. Since I planted my first garlic clove a few years ago, I’ve been hooked.
If you’re thinking about growing garlic at home, worried about using supermarket garlic cloves to get started, or just don’t know what to expect, my guide is for you.
How to Grow Garlic from Bulbs
This is the method I use. As you’ll be able to tell, I’m not a gardening expert. Make sure you use the largest cloves you can find – this will result in a bumper crop.
- Separate garlic cloves from a garlic bulb (see my advice on supermarket garlic below),
- Discard any that are broken or with punctured outer skin,
- Fill small plant pots (roughly 5-inch diameter) with compost,
- Use your thumb to make deep holes in the middle of each pot,
- Place your garlic clove in the pot, flat side down and pointy end up,
- Cover with compost – the garlic can go in quite deep,
- Water it and wait!
Only water it when the soil is dry. I use standard compost and tap water – no fertiliser or anything special. The pots are placed in our conservatory, in a sunny spot. Wait until the green sprout emerges and is a few inches tall before you plant them out.
Planting Garlic Outside
Once you’ve got your sprouted garlic in pots, it’s time to take them outside.
- Dig a hole in your gardening patch that’s large enough to fit the 5-inch pot in,
- Carefully extract the garlic sprout and soil from the pot,
- Place it in the hole you’ve dug,
- Cover with a little more soil and give it a water.
Do that for each garlic plant. I usually plant them 5 to 10 inches apart. Garlic is a narrow plant, but it grows down a lot so when you come to dig them out, you’ll be glad you left plenty of space around them to manoeuvre.
You know it’s time to harvest garlic when the first leaves above ground go yellow and start to wilt. I wait until all 10 of my garlic plants have yellow first leaves like this before I harvest.
- Have a bucket ready to put your garlic in,
- Identify the garlic in your garden (leeks and spring onions are easily confused!),
- Carefully dig around the garlic plant with a trowel,
- Dig underneath and around, without touching the bulb, until you can pull the whole plant loose.
If you accidentally scrape or cut the garlic bulb, you won’t be able to dry it. It will just go mouldy and horrible. So, take extra care in this stage.
Don’t be afraid to use your hands to dig out the bulb and NEVER pull on the leaves to tug the garlic out.
This is the part I was most worried about at first. I don’t have a dark space, so I had to make do.
- Clean off all the dirt from your bulbs carefully so you don’t damage them,
- Tie them all together (you don’t need to do a fancy braid),
- Tie string to the stems,
- Hang the garlic bunch from the ceiling or something high up,
- Open a thick black bin liner and tie it by the string of the garlic (leave a gap for ventilation), so the bulbs are inside the dark bag without touching anything,
- Wait at least 2 weeks.
Garlic needs to be warm and dry but with good ventilation to become the crispy-skinned bulbs you’re accustomed to seeing at the supermarket. Most importantly, they shouldn’t be exposed to light. I have a warm and dry place (AKA, the shed) but I wasn’t able to block all the light form the windows, hence the bin bag.
This method worked a treat!
Do I Have to Dry Garlic?
Nope, you do not have to dry the garlic you grow at home. Just bear in mind that it won’t last long at all if you don’t dry it.
I usually keep one or two bulbs back and eat them fresh. The flavour is really intense when you eat fresh garlic. It’s great for using in garlic dishes (like a Chinese garlic chicken recipe or our popular tofu ‘chicken’ salad recipe) where it’s the main flavour. Putting fresh garlic in your bolognese might overpower it completely.
With your fresh garlic, make sure you store it in the fridge and consume within a week or so of harvesting it. Dried garlic, on the other hand, could last months if dried and stored correctly.
Timings to Grow Garlic
To be perfectly honest, I wing it. But if you want to be more exact, here’s my rough timings.
April – sometime during this month, I plant out all my seeds for tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, etc. My garlic cloves go in pots too.
May – in my experience, garlic sprouts really fast so it’s barely a month since I planted them in pots that I’m putting them in the garden.
August to September – there’s no fixed date of when they’ll be ready, but for me, harvest time has always been at the end of the summer holidays and the first few weeks of September.
Late September – my garlic has dried up and is ready to be used in the kitchen.
If you want to do the traditional method of planting garlic in September/October and letting it stay out all winter, then scroll down to find my links at the end of this article.
Can I Grow Garlic from Supermarket Garlic?
The short answer is yes, definitely. I researched this extensively during my first year of growing garlic and I know that a lot of websites don’t recommend growing garlic from bulbs you buy at the supermarket…
But I’ve never had any trouble.
The main concerns are that the bulbs just won’t sprout or that they’ll be more susceptible to disease. I was really worried about this, but in the end, I thought I’d just give it a go. If no garlic sprouted or it just didn’t grow right, then that’s not the end of the world.
So, I always plant up to 10 cloves from different garlic bulbs I buy at the supermarket, in case one bulb just won’t grow.
I also start my garlic off in separate small pots, so if one is diseased it won’t spread to the others.
But do you know what? I’ve always had all 10 cloves sprout and I’ve never had diseased garlic from growing supermarket bulbs. My success rate for growing garlic from supermarket-bought cloves is 100%.
I’ve never had a single clove not grow or not produce delicious garlic!
Here you can see some of my garlic harvest. The bulbs have a really intense smell from the second you dig them out of the earth. I love that! Growing garlic from home is a great way to save money, but more importantly, it’s a little bit therapeutic.
Gardening, taking care of something, watching it grow… that’s a really nice thing to do and I really believe it’s good for your soul. Cheesy, I know.
If you want a little more advice on growing garlic, here are the resources I trust:
- Growing Great Garlic by Ron L. Engeland – this is a cool book that takes you through everything. It’s ideal if you plan to sell your home-grown garlic.
- The Spruce – if you want to get very precise with garlic varieties and over-wintering planting schedules, this guide will give you what you need to know.
- The Balance Everyday – simple and easy-to-follow advice on curing garlic.