How to Plant Garlic: Tips for Growing, Watering and Choosing the Right Soil

Used as a spice, herb or vegetable in various dishes, garlic is easy to grow and low-maintenance, making them a great addition to your home garden.

Belonging to the onion family, garlic is among the oldest known cultivated crops throughout history and is not difficult to grow in most areas of the U.S., Scott Aker, the head of horticulture and education at the U.S. National Arboretum, told Newsweek.

Garlic is also very resistant to pest and insect pressure—so much so that some garlic extracts are use in organic farming production as a natural insect repellent, Derek Azevedo, the executive vice president at Bowles Farming Company in California, told Newsweek.

Garlic is grown in individual cloves, rather than by sowing seeds. Azevedo explained: "The most unique aspect of garlic is the planting process, specifically the 'seed.' Garlic does not produce seed; however, it reproduces by essentially cloning itself into multiple cloves."

While it might not be impossible to grow garlic from the garlic bulbs sold in groceries, most of these generally do not grow well at home and will produce only small bulbs of garlic, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the oldest almanac in the country, dating back to 1792.

Most commercial garlic sold in stores is grown in large farming areas in mild climates, so they may not be appropriate for growing in your local area. Plus they may have been treated with chemicals that prevent sprouting, unless they're organic, the almanac explains.

A close-up view of garlic on table.
A close-up view of garlic on a wooden table. Garlic is used as a spice, herb and vegetable in various dishes. iStock/Getty Images Plus

When to Plant Garlic

Barbara Pleasant, plant expert and the author of Homegrown Pantry, said garlic is usually planted in the fall.

"The cloves spend the winter developing roots and start growing first thing in spring. Garlic planted in spring will grow, but won't get big and pretty like fall-planted garlic," she said.

According to Aker, garlic is planted in the autumn at least one month before the soil may freeze.

Planted in late October or November, it remains in the ground for up to 13 months before it's harvested from August to November, Azevedo explained.

How to Grow Garlic

Aker advised the head of the garlic should be broken into individual cloves and the cloves are planted two inches deep, pointed side up about six inches apart.

Azevedo explained garlic is grown in two rows planted on a 40 inch-bed. It's usually planted on north/south facing rows to help "uniformly utilize the winter sunshine," he said.

"East-west rows sometimes promote uneven growth due to the sun's position in the winter sky," according to Azevedo.

"The roots develop over the winter and the foliage grows in the spring. Hot summer weather makes the plants go dormant, at which time the garlic can be harvested," he said.

Choose the Right Soil

Garlic should be planted in moderately fertile, neutral pH soil that drains well, according to Aker. "Heavy soils that contain a lot of clay should be avoided since they can cause the bulbs to rot."

Aker added it's good to work in some compost or rotted manure before planting garlic. The area should also be free of weeds or weed seeds, as "garlic does not compete well with weeds."

After planting, you should mulch (add a layer of material to help keep the soil moist, prevent the growth of weeds and protect its roots) with straw or chopped leaves, Aker said.

If your garden soil has poor drainage or is high in clay, try growing your garlic in heavily mulched raised beds, which should be two to three feet wide and at least 10 to 12 inches deep, The Old Farmer's Almanac noted.

The garlic will sprout and grow rapidly during the spring and you can apply "a side dressing of high-nitrogen fertilizer" as the shoots emerge, Aker said. Alfalfa meal, compost tea, manure tea or a synthetic fertilizer high in the nitrate form of nitrogen work well for this, he added.

A farmer preparing garlic for planting.
A farmer preparing garlic for planting in a garden. Garlic is typically planted in the fall and grows in the spring. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Water Well As Needed

Azevedo explained garlic is watered "off-peak" from most of the summer crops. It's watered throughout the winter and into the spring and allowed to dry through the late spring and early summer.

Be sure to water your garlic well if the soil is dry and ensure that the soil is moist before the cold weather hits. Water as needed to keep the soil moist, Aker said.

Allow Full Sun Exposure

Garlic should be exposed to full sunlight throughout the day, Aker said. Garlic grows best in full sunlight, soaking in six to eight hours of sun each day, advises The Old Farmer's Almanac.

Freshly harvested young garlic.
Freshly harvested young garlic seen outdoors. Garlic is harvested from August to November. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How to Deep Plant Garlic

Those not planning to mulch should sow garlic at least five inches deep, advised Petra Page-Mann (the founder of Fruition Seeds) in an article for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University in New York State.

Planting depth "makes all the difference" and often growers make the mistake of not planting their garlic deep enough, according to Page-Mann.

As they are planted in the fall and don't grow rapidly until spring, garlic crops face "the most dramatic freeze-thaw frost heaving of the season," which brings each clove to the surface if they're not deep enough, she explained.

"Garlic will tolerate impressively cold temperatures but quickly succumbs to desiccating winter winds at the soils' surface," Page-Mann wrote.

A bowl of freshly peeled garlic.
A bowl of freshly peeled garlic on a wooden table. Part of the onion family, garlic is among the oldest known cultivated crops throughout history. iStock/Getty Images Plus