Think you can’t grow great garlic on clay soil? Then think again. It’s is an easy crop that can thrive in heavy or light soil, anywhere in the UK. And because you can plant it in autumn and pick by mid-July at the latest, you can an even squeeze and extra crop, such as carrots, beetroot or salads, into the space after harvesting.
You can plant autumn any time from October to March. Find out all you need to know about growing garlic in our garlic Grow Guide.
You might worry that garlic will rot in heavy clay, but the Midi-Pyrénées region of France is a major producer of garlic and has mainly clay soil.
Garlic will, however, struggle in heavily waterlogged ground, where there is visible standing water over winter. If this is the case for you, there are other alternatives – just read on.
Buy just one bulb of several different varieties so you can see which ones grow well for you and which flavours you prefer. There are lots of different varieties, divided into two different types. Discover the best varieties of garlic to grow.
Here are some tips for growing garlic on clay soil.
Plant cloves on top of the soil
If your soil is exceptionally heavy, don’t dig or rotavate – simply stand the cloves on the soil surface, then cover with compost. Alternatively, build up a ridge of soil and plant the cloves along the top. This is known as the ‘no-dig’ approach.
Grow in raised beds
Growing garlic in raised beds means that your heavy soil won’t be a problem – just put the raised bed on top and fill it with fertile, free-draining topsoil. Find out how to make a raised vegetable bed.
Grow in a cold greenhouse
Use the border in a cold greenhouse, for example by popping them in between winter salads. Garlic is a good companion crop so the leaves of your salads should stay healthier. Discover more companion planting combinations.
Start off under cover
Start off in small pots under cover, then transplant to the main veg plot in spring, when the soil isn’t so wet and heavy. Pop the cloves into 10cm pots of multi-purpose compost and place in a greenhouse or cold frame, or in a sheltered spot outside. Transplant to the veg plot in March or April, before the shoots are 10cm high.
Grow in large containers
Plant in large containers outdoors, in multipurpose compost. You can use any pot that’s at least 15cm wide and deep. Sow three cloves in a 15cm wide pot, six in a 30cm one. Freed from April when you see strong 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.
Choose the right variety
Softneck garlic stores well and grows best in areas where the winter isn’t too severe. Hardneck garlic is the one to choose if you live in a colder region. It makes fewer, larger cloves, and doesn’t store as well.
Garlic is a hungry and thirsty crop, so add a mulch of organic matter or high-nitrogen feed after planting; on sandy soil, do both. Water during dry weather between April and early June, and harvest before the leaves go yellow, usually between late June and mid-July. Use a trowel to loosen the bulbs, cut off the roots and leave in a warm, dry place to cure.
Garlic varieties to try
- ‘Caulk White’ (hardneck) – a new variety with spicy flavour. It grows well across the UK, coping with temperatures down to -20°C
- ‘Doocot’ (softneck) – has an intense sweet flavour and easy to peel cloves that are ideal for roasting. Thrives in cold, wet, Scottish winters
‘Solent White’ (softneck) – forms medium sized, snow-white bulbs that are not too pungent. Good to eat raw and will stores well for months
- ‘Red Duke’ (hardneck) – a hard, durable garlic from Eastern Europe, with strong flavour and scent and purple-skinned cloves