How to Grow Garlic
All About Garlic
Every year gardeners across Canada look forward to planting garlic in the fall and eagerly anticipate its harvest in the summer. Garlic (Allium sativum) is a relative of onions, shallots, leeks, and chives, and is grown by gardeners worldwide. Garlic is low maintenance, stores well through the winter, and has more culinary uses than we can count – you can fry it, roast it, pickle it, dry it, or even eat it raw! If you’re ready to get planting, here’s our guide to growing successful garlic.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is less cold-hardy, while hardneck garlic is hardy all the way to zone 3. Halifax Seed carries a range of hardneck garlics each fall. When choosing which variety of garlic to plant, you'll want to consider characteristics like flavour, storage life, and production.
There are many popular varieties of hardneck garlic, grouped into five families: Purple Stripe, Marble Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Strip, Porcelain, and Rocambole. Within those families, there are a few that are specific favourites of growers in Canada for their great flavour, storage life, and hardiness to our climate.
Music: Music is perhaps the most popular variety of garlic that we carry. It’s a porcelain type that grows well in cold climates and is a favourite for its medium flavour and long storage life. Bulbs typically contain 4-6 large cloves. Our Music garlic is grown by Gagetown Garlic in New Brunswick.
Marble Purple Stripe: An earlier maturing variety, Marble Purple Stripe has a distinctive purple skin with some heat to its flavour. Bulbs typically contain 5-7 cloves. The variety we carry is Khabar, grown by Gagetown Garlic in New Brunswick.
Rocambole: Rocambole has attractive purple skin and a famously rich flavour. They don’t store as long as other hardneck varieties, but they’re a prime candidate for pickling and make a fantastic garlic powder if dehydrated. 6-12 cloves per bulb. Our Rocambole garlic is grown by Gagetown Garlic in New Brunswick.
Argentinian: A porcelain type, Argentinian has a strong flavour and produces 4-5 large cloves per bulb. Stores well. Our Argentinian garlic is grown by Mapplebeck Garlic in Nova Scotia.
Continental: A porcelain type, Continental is cold-hardy and reliably produces 4 very large cloves per bulb. It has a rich, slightly spicy flavour and stores well. Our Continental garlic is grown by Mapplebeck Garlic in Nova Scotia.
We carry other varieties of locally grown garlic when available, including Red Russian, Siberian, and Duganski. Give our stores a call to see what’s available each season!
Garlic is most successful when planted in a full sun area (6-8 hours of sun per day) with good drainage. Avoid wet, clay-heavy areas or you risk your garlic rotting in the ground. Once you’ve chosen a location, prepare your bed by adding 2-4 inches of compost a few weeks before you intend to plant. Garlic is a heavy feeder, and requires nutrient-rich soil to produce large bulbs.
When you’re ready to plant, first break up your bulbs into individual cloves. Each clove will grow and develop into a full sized garlic bulb – the larger the clove, the larger the bulb will become. Leave the papery skin on the cloves when planting.
Some gardeners choose to apply additional fertilizers at the time of planting. Avoid applying too much high nitrogen fertilizer, as this can encourage growth too much top growth at the expense of the bulb.
Each clove should be planted 4 – 8 inches apart, and about 3 inches deep, oriented with the pointy end up and the wider end down. Space your rows 6 – 12 inches apart. Your spacing will depend on the size of your bed and the size of the bulbs you hope to produce. It’s absolutely possible to grow garlic tightly spaced, but keep in mind the more actively growing plants in a bed the higher the demands will be for water and nutrients in the soil.
Add several inches of mulch on top of the soil to protect your garlic from temperature fluctuations and hard freezes throughout the winter. Straw is a favourite mulch of garlic growers, as it’s light and easy for shoots to emerge.
Throughout the winter, garlic experiences a period of dormancy. After developing a strong root system in the fall, garlic will stop growing as the temperatures drop and will remain in this state until the weather warms in the spring. After the snow melts some gardeners will remove the layer of mulch from on top of the soil, but if you anticipate temperature fluctuations it can be left in place to offer extra insulation. Mulch can be left on all season, especially if you’re concerned about conserving moisture in the soil during dry periods.
You’ll see garlic shoots emerge in the spring, which quickly form into tall sets of leaves that produce a scape in the early summer. The scape should always be cut after it appears to avoid directing energy away from the formation of the bulb. We recommend cutting them back after they’ve curled around one or two times. Scapes are edible and make a tasty pesto!
Garlic is a hardy plant and is resistant to most pests, but especially in poorly-draining soil, it can be susceptible to rot and fungal infections. Yearly crop rotation will help to reduce the prevalence of pests and pathogens, as will keeping your beds weed-free and regularly cleaning and sanitizing your garden tools. When rotating crops, avoid planting any allium relatives in the same bed two years in a row.
A few weeks after the garlic scape is harvested, you’ll see the foliage begin to turn brown. Once half to two-thirds of the leaves have browned, your garlic is ready to harvest! Harvesting can be a delicate operation, as damage to the papery garlic skin can reduce the bulb’s ability to be stored. We recommend using a garden fork to gently lift bulbs from the ground. Avoid damaging the roots and skin.
After harvesting, garlic needs to cure before being stored. Curing is the process of drying out your garlic bulbs so they don’t rot in storage. Before curing you can brush excess dirt from your bulbs, but don’t wash or cut back any part of the plant. Find a dry, shaded area with good circulation to hang your garlic for about two to four weeks. There are many different methods for hanging, bundling, or laying out garlic to cure, and the method you choose depends on space and personal preference.
Garlic is cured when its roots are completely dry and shrivelled and its leaves are totally dry. At this point, you can cut back the foliage and roots and brush off any remaining dirt from the skin, which should feel papery and dry. If the skin is particularly dirty you can peel back a layer or two, but be careful not to expose the clove.
Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area. Avoid places with high humidity, and don’t store your garlic in the fridge! The cold, humid environment in your fridge mimics the winter conditions garlic needs to sprout and will stimulate shoot growth.
Store your garlic in a mesh bag or a container with some airflow to prevent trapping moisture and causing rot. Avoid airtight containers and storage areas with high humidity. Properly stored, hardneck garlic can last from 4-9 months depending on variety.
Save a few of your largest garlic bulbs for planting next year! If you'd like some further reading, we also recommend Storey Publishing's guide to Growing and Using Garlic.