How to grow garlic
Find out everything you need to know about growing garlic at home, in our Grow Guide.
Jobs to do each month:
- March: sow varieties suitable for spring sowing
- April to June: water
- July or August: harvest garlic
- November or December: sow most varieties of garlic
It’s easy to think of garlic as a Mediterranean plant and therefore a tender crop that needs lots of warmth to grow well. However, if you choose a good variety and give it the right conditions, you can produce a decent crop no matter where you live in the UK.
Garlic needs a long growing season to do well, and autumn through to early winter is the perfect time to sow so that plants develop roots and shoots before the heavy frosts. Some varieties can be sown in spring.
Home-grown garlic takes up little space and requires hardly any effort to get a good crop. It's an easy crop to grow – it's sown from garlic cloves as opposed to seeds. The certified garlic bulbs are sold at garden centres or online.
There are two types of garlic to grow: softneck garlic and hardneck garlic.
The most common type in supermarkets. It produces the greatest number of cloves per bulb – up to 18. It has a white, papery skin, stores well and rarely produces a flower stalk. Softneck garlic is less tolerant of prolonged cold temperatures and is therefore best suited to growing in mild southern counties, though it can be grown elsewhere with protection in the winter.
Hardneck garlic has fewer cloves per bulb – usually 10 or less. They are generally hardier than softneck types and can be grown throughout the UK. Hardneck types will often produce a curling flower stalk or ‘scape’. This straightens out as it matures, to carry a head of tiny clove-like bulbils. It is best to remove the scape as soon as it appears (use it in stir fries) so that the plant will divert its energies into producing a larger bulb. If left to develop on the plants, you can harvest and plant the bulbils, but it may take 2-3 years to form a decent bulb.
There's also elephant garlic, which bears giant, mild-flavoured bulbs, which you can grow for a lighter garlic taste.
Grow garlic in a warm, sunny spot, in fertile, well-drained soil that doesn't get too wet in winter. Garlic is usually planted in late autumn or early winter (although some cultivars can be planted in early spring). It can be sown directly in the ground, or started off in small pots if you have heavy soil. It can also be grown in a large container.
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Whichever way you decide to grow garlic, always buy bulbs at the garden centre or order from a seed supplier – don't use bulbs from the supermarket. Break up the bulbs into separate cloves and plant the large ones with the fat end downwards and the pointy end 2.5cm below the soil surface. Harvest from July onwards, once the top growth has begun to die back. Leave the bulbs to dry in the sun for a few days before storing.
Growing garlic: jump links
- Planting garlic
- Caring for garlic
- Growing garlic: problem-solving
- Harvesting garlic
- Buying garlic
- Garlic varieties to grow
How to plant garlic
Most varieties of garlic are best planted in late autumn or early winter, as the cloves need a period of cold weather to develop into bulbs.
Make sure your soil is cleared of weeds and the remains of summer crops. Before planting, dig in some home-made compost or well-rotted manure and rake over well. Push cloves in, or use a dibber to make holes 15cm apart, leaving 30cm between rows. Birds have a penchant for the bulbs and will pull them out of the soil, so lay bird netting or horticultural fleece over new plants until the shoots are 5cm tall. In cold areas, you may need to cover plants with cloches over winter. This extra protection will encourage root growth, so plants are ready to grow next spring.
Here, Monty Don demonstrates how to plant garlic, with advice on planting depth and varieties to grow:
If you have heavy clay soil, you can start garlic off by planting cloves singly in module trays in autumn and growing them on in a cold frame. This prevents the bulbs rotting off in very wet soil during winter. You can then plant these out in spring, when the soil has dried out a little. You could also try growing garlic in mounds 15cm tall and 20cm wide at the base. Plant the garlic cloves into these mounds, 15-20cm apart and 7-10cm deep. Because the soil is slightly raised, it doesn't get as wet, so the garlic is less likely to rot.
How to grow garlic in a container
If you have no space, or your plot has been affected by onion white rot in the past, then growing in containers is for you. Use any pot that's at least 15cm wide and deep, filled with multipurpose compost. Sow three cloves in a 15cm wide pot, six in a 30cm one. Feed from April when you see strong spring growth, using a high nitrogen feed such as dried chicken manure pellets, or fill the container to the top with more compost. Stop feeding in mid May.
Watch Monty plant garlic in a container, with advice on drainage and feeding:
How to care for garlic
Garlic needs little care. Water regularly in spring and early summer, but reduce once you see the foliage turning yellow – this is a sign that the bulbs are reaching maturity. Weed between the plants to reduce the competition for water and nutrients. This is best done by hand, as hoeing could damage the developing bulbs. Remove any flowers, or 'scapes' the plants produce – you can eat these in stir-fries.
Growing garlic: problem solving
Garlic is generally pest free and is only affected by a few problems.
Birds, especially pigeons, will take freshly sown garlic cloves from the ground and will also eat recently germinated plants. Cover the area with netting or horticultural fleece immediately after sowing and don't remove until the young plants are at least 5cm tall.
Onion white rot
Onion white rot is hard to detect until it's too late – the first sign that anything is wrong is usually yellowing, wilting foliage but this is usually around harvest time, when you'd expect the leaves to be dying back anyway. When you dig up the plant, you'll notice a white fluffy fungus on the base of the bulb, along with tiny black growths. In severe cases, the bulb will be black and rotten.
Onion white rot is a soil-borne disease, so there is no control and the problem can persist for years. Avoid spreading the problem around the garden on boots and tools, as the disease can affect the whole allium family, including onions and leeks. Dig up all of the affected plants and bin or burn them – do not add them to the compost heap. You may be able to salvage some of your crop to eat, but it won't store well. In future, grow garlic in containers, in fresh soil that does not come from the garden.
Garlic can be affected by leek rust, a fungal infection that is more common in wet weather. There is no cure. Orange pustules appear on the leaves in summer, which then begin to die back. The bulbs are perfectly safe to eat but it's a good idea to harvest affected plants immediately, to prevent the disease spreading, and to eat them straightaway. Dispose of the rest of the plant material (bin or burn it, don't add to the compost heap) and avoid growing garlic, leeks and onions in the same place for three years. Choose a variety that has some resistance to rust, and space plants out to reduce humidity.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to dealing with rust on garlic:
How to harvest garlic
Harvest garlic in summer when the leaves turn yellow. Gently lift out bulbs with a fork or trowel, taking care not to damage the bulbs. Leave the garlic to dry out for a couple of days, by laying it out on a table or tray, in full sun.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to harvesting garlic:
How to store garlic
Once the bulbs are dry and feel papery to touch, you can either store them loose or plait their foliage to make a traditional string of bulbs. Store in a cool, dry place. Take care not to bruise the bulbs, as any damage can make them deteriorate in storage. Bear in mind that Softneck garlic varieties store better than hardneck garlic and should keep for several months, so eat the hardneck varieties first.
How to prepare and use garlic
Crush, slice or finely chop, or roast cloves whole, to add flavour to many dishes. Hardneck varieties tend to have more flavour than softnecks, so work well when roasted whole.
Watch this 20-second video demonstration from our friends at olive magazine on how to chop and crush garlic.
Can you plant supermarket garlic?It is possible to grow garlic from supermarket bulbs, but it's not recommended as there's a risk of virus infection. If you buy from proper planting stock, it should be virus free. And you can also choose a variety that has been bred especially for our climate.
Advice on buying garlicHere’s our guide to buying garlic, including where to buy garlic.
- Always buy from a garden centre or online seed supplier – do not use bulbs from the supermarket
- Choose from softneck or hardneck garlic. Softneck varieties tend to be hardier and last longer, but hardnecks are said to have more depth of flavour
- Check the garlic bulbs to make sure they have no signs of mould, and are firm to touch
Where to buy garlic online
Great garlic varieties to grow
Garlic 'Albigensian Wight'
A heavy cropping, softneck variety from south west France. It has large bulbs and is a heavy cropper.
Garlic 'Chesnok Red'
This hardneck variety hails from the Ukraine and has attractive purple stripes. It’s said to be the best variety for garlic bread.
Garlic 'Early Purple Wight'
This softneck variety produces mild, purple-tinged bulbs. As its name suggests, it crops very early, from mid May. It doesn’t store well, so use within three months.
Garlic 'Iberian Wight'
This softneck variety from Spain has large bulbs with plump cloves. Good for plaiting, it stores well.
Garlic 'Solent Wight'
This softneck variety was bred on the Isle of Wight, so is well suited to the UK climate. It has small bulbs with a strong flavour and keeps well.
This softneck variety is reliable and easy to grow and produces large bulbs. It can be planted in autumn or spring stores well.