Garlic is one of the most rewarding things you can grow on your own. Garlic bulbs are tasty, and they last a long time. Since the growing season is coming, and we’re thinking about timings, you may wonder: how long does it take for garlic to grow?
While most varieties take around 9 months to mature when propagated from cloves, there are short-season varieties that take less time. The way you plant garlic has bearing on when it’s ready for harvest too. Some garlic types allow you to easily propagate from last year’s harvest and grow garlic again, while other harvested garlic is better for using right away.
Planting garlic involves deciding whether you’re going to work with spring-planted garlic or fall-planted garlic. The USDA growing zone you’re in is an important consideration. And issues that arise in the process of growing garlic can change your timing as well.
So let’s examine all of these factors to help you decide the type of garlic bulbs and the timing of planting so you can enjoy homegrown garlic for years to come.
Growing from Seed v Growing from Clove
Aside from harvesting garlic scapes, you can grow garlic in different garlic growing stages. After harvesting garlic, growers cure each garlic bulb in good air circulation and use multiple ways of storing their garlic. During the growing process, gardeners can collect garlic seed from flowers to grow again the following year. They also have the option to plant garlic cloves, which each act as a seed on their own.
Which type you choose to plant has bearing on your harvest time. While cloves take roughly 9 months from planting, garlic seeds take a year more than garlic bulbs (sometimes called bulbils). That’s because the seed has to germinate, grow the greenery necessary for photosynthesis, and then go through the process of bulb formation. When you plant cloves, the first half of the process is already complete.
If you’re going to grow garlic plants in the upcoming growing season, consider the variety and its source! This will help you determine when to get that garlic planted. There are some cold-climate garlic varieties that like it best when temperatures are cooler.
When to Plant Garlic
Another consideration in knowing when you’ll harvest garlic is the planting time. While there is spring-planted garlic and fall-planted garlic overall, there is also climate to consider. Softneck garlic is better when planted in warmer climates and hardneck garlic is best planted in cooler climates. The differences between the two exist in their botany as well. We will discuss those in a later section.
Timings by Zone
Garlic is generally part of fall planting 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost in early summer to early fall. It is also most often fall-planted garlic due to its ability to produce larger bulbs over cold winters. This general list is for fall plantings. Spring planted garlic is possible, and it generally takes place 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in early spring. Softneck varieties are suited for mild climates in zones 6 and higher, but there are varieties adapted to cold weather, such as Polish softneck.
The timing of planting cloves of either could just depend on the season you’re planning for, and that is largely determined by your USDA growing zone. Here is a rough breakdown of when to plant garlic based on the type and USDA growing zone.
- Zones 0-3: Late August – early September to Late September
- Zones 3-5: Mid – late September to Early – mid-October
- Zones 5-7: Early – mid-October to Late October
- Zones 7-9: Late October to November
- Zones 9-10: Late October to December
If you’re growing garlic companion plants alongside your alliums, use their planting times to determine exactly when to start growing garlic plants. For instance, grow tomatoes next to garlic to prevent spider mites.
Garlic Growth By Type
Whether you’re interested in making garlic spray, or you want to make garlic spread or produce garlic just like the kind you buy in the store, the types of garlic you grow have bearing on how to plant them. Softneck versus hardneck determines whether you’re carrying out a fall or spring planting. Fall garlic plantings should be winter-hardy and are ready in the middle of summer. Spring plantings should be ready in the fall (either the current or following based on whether you planted cloves or bulbils). In a place with a long growing season and enough cold, you may find you can harvest garlic multiple times in a year.
So let’s discuss the types of garlic you can grow and how that changes your harvest time.
Hardneck garlic is called such because it has a stalk in the center of the garlic head that turns rigid at maturity. It has long flower stalks that produce bulbils after the flower stems bloom. It is often cold-hardy and peels easier because it has thick skin. Each garlic bulb has only a few cloves. In this case, the harder the neck, the larger the clove. If you plant and store garlic of the hardneck variety, you’ll find it doesn’t keep as long as store-bought garlic. And as we mentioned earlier, this garlic grows best in colder climates. A few of the best hardneck varieties are Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain.
When it comes to timing hardneck harvests, you’ll know they’re ready when the bottom ⅓ of the leaves have turned yellow. Since this variety is typically planted in the fall, you’ll harvest in early summer to mid-summer. Before that, you have to remove green leaves called garlic scapes to ensure a decent harvest. Doing this promotes the growth of large cloves from the time the bulbs begin to grow at the root system.
Softneck garlic has a softer stalk made of green garlic leaves rather than a hard stalk. Softnecks do not flower – not usually, anyway – and therefore don’t produce bulbils. Mature bulbs have many more individual cloves than hardnecks, and they are much smaller. The garlic skin on softnecks is papery and difficult to peel. This garlic grows best in a warmer climate and is often planted in spring. Softneck cloves must be planted for propagation. This is the type you get when you purchase garlic in grocery stores. Two great softneck varieties are Silverskin and Artichoke garlic.
To time the types of garlic that fall into the softneck category, know that they can be ready as early as the beginning of spring. Wait until the top 5 to 6 leaves are still green, and the bottom leaves have turned brown. Then remove them with a garden fork.
Elephant garlic is technically not true garlic, but it is always included with the other types of garlic we’ve discussed so far. Elephant garlic varieties form bulbs with the largest cloves out there. When it comes to elephant varieties, each head of garlic contains no more than 6 cloves each whereas most garlic has 10 to 12 cloves. Each of the elephant garlic cloves is ready to eat after very little cooking. That’s why it’s great garlic to use for spreads. If you need garlic that’s ready quickly, go for elephant. You’ll have your garden fork out for harvesting within 90 days of planting.
If you’re interested in growing garlic purely for the greens, know you can harvest those multiple times in a growing season. However, you must wait for late spring and early summer to do so. That’s because the bulbs need the greens to continue forming up to the harvest. Remember to keep leaves on the plant if you don’t want to harvest bulbs at the same time.
You may experience issues that limit the growth of your garlic bulbs and delay your harvest. This section will cover those factors and what you can do to limit them at the time of planting.
Because garlic requires lots of water to grow, you’ll need to keep the garden soil moist throughout the growing process. Most often, failed harvests are due to dry soil. Especially if you’re growing in full sun, consistent monitoring of the water content in the soil is important. But you don’t want to go overboard with water. That can cause bulb rot. Here is where the growing medium comes in. Amendment mixtures of garden compost, well-rotted steer manure, and sand will promote moisture, but also assist with drainage. An addition of 2 tablespoons of 5-10-10 fish meal gives the bulbs the nutrition they need. And mulching with pine needles helps the soil retain moisture even in direct sunlight. Keep this in mind when preparing your site.
Onion maggots don’t do much damage to a harvest at first, but after a few generations, they can cause up to 50% yield loss. They feed on the garlic seedlings at first, and then on expanding bulbs in the 2nd and 3rd generations. Insecticides applied to the growing area before planting will assist in removing the threat of onion maggots. Spinosads applied to seeds will also prevent them. Maggot flies are the same pests as onion maggots but in their adult form. Prevention methods for controlling them are cultural. Rotate your garlic crops to prevent them. This also prevents wearing out the soil in the process of growing delicious garlic bulbs.
Dry bulb mites also feed on garlic and reduce yields, delaying your harvest. They are part of the same class as ticks and mites. They overwinter inside stored cloves and affected plants become stunted. Females lay eggs on garlic leaves that hatch releasing hundreds of larva who flock to bulbs to eat. Crop rotation will keep your garlic producing at a normal rate, and prevent these mites. Hot water treatments of garlic seeds keep them away as well. Neem sprayed on non-flowering plants will keep the mites from laying eggs on your leaves altogether.
Consider these when gardening to ensure you have a timely and plentiful garlic harvest.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?
A: It depends on the type you’re growing. See above!
Q: What is the best month to plant garlic?
A: Most garlic does best when planted in late summer to early fall. However, you can plant some varieties in spring as well.
Q: How long does garlic take to sprout?
A: Cloves sprout within 4 to 8 weeks. Bulbils take 8 to 9 months.