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Garlic: So easy even I can grow it!

Growing Garlic

I love garlic. I just so happened to marry a woman who did not. But something magical happened during her first pregnancy. She developed a taste for all things pickled and garlicky. Since then we have been throwing garlic into almost everything we make.

Garlic is incredibly popular around the world. If you examine ingredients from various ethnic cuisines, you'll find a very common source of flavor that comes from garlic. Garlic has been bred to develop various flavor profiles. Typically, garlic flavors are described as that savory garlicky taste and also a spicey bite that many garlic varieties contain. My preference is low on the heat but high on the garlic aromatics. 

If you look at recipes or ingredients at various items on grocery store shelves, you can find garlic there in some shape or form. So why not try growing some for yourself? 

Garlic is the perfect crop for me. My style of gardening is one of neglect. Therefore, garlic is a fantastic crop because there is very little management on my part.

Types of Garlic

Garlic is grouped into two types – softneck and hardneck garlic. Most grocery stores sell softneck garlic that is grown in warmer climates. For Illinoisans considering garlic in their garden, hardneck garlic will give the best results. (And better flavor in my opinion!)

Recommended Varieties

The top-performing hardneck garlic variety in the Midwest has been Music. I grow Music every year, with reliable yields. Carpathian is another variety with notable success in Illinois. German Extra Hardy has performed well in my garden. Others have high marks in taste like Spanish Roja, but I have found to develop noticeably smaller bulbs and more failures during warm winters where they routinely get hit by random freezing events. 

Remove Scapes and Order Garlic in June

If you have garlic in the ground, now is the time of year to remove the scapes. A garlic scape is a term for the flower. The plant will send up a round stalk that will curl like a pig’s tail and has a small swollen portion near the tip. This swollen area is the future flower. Remove the scape once it starts to curl. By removing the flowering portion, the plant can focus more energy on developing a larger bulb of garlic in the soil. And yes, it makes a difference! Garlic scapes are a favorite in my house and go well in pesto or chopped up in scrambled eggs.

In a normal year, many garlic suppliers run low or sell out of stock by August. And 2020 is anything but a normal year. Now is the time to start shopping for garlic to plant in the fall. After a quick check on a few garlic suppliers, many are already running low or sold out on certain varieties. 


July is often the time of year to harvest your garlic. As summer progresses the plant will begin its bulbing process, which results in the yellowing and dieback of the vegetation. A good indicator of when to dig your garlic is when five green leaves remain. If you wait too long the thin papery bulb covering could rot in the ground.

Dig up the garlic with a potato fork. Shake off any large clumps of soil, but don’t be too picky about cleaning the dirt off just yet. Being too aggressive with cleaning the off the bulbs can damage the freshly dug garlic.


Garlic can be eaten right out of the ground, but most people will want to prepare their garlic to store and use over several months. Cure in a structure with good airflow. Leave the vegetation on to dry with the bulb. Keep the garlic out of the direct sun. I usually cure garlic on a wire mesh screen. Others, braid and hang their garlic in sheds or barns. After about three weeks, the garlic should be cured, and you can brush off the remaining soil and clip off the tops and prepare for storage. Our garlic hangs in a netted bag in our basement. You can save your largest bulbs to replant more garlic in the coming fall.

Planting Garlic

Hardneck garlic is planted late in the year, anywhere from October to early November. Break apart your largest, blemish-free, and disease-free garlic bulbs into individual cloves. Garlic can be planted 3- to 5-inches apart, with a row spacing ranging from 18- to 30-inches. Or if planting in a block, give each plant 5-inch spacing on each side.

We typically use a bulb auger to plant garlic at a depth of 1- to 2-inches. Make sure you place the clove with the growing point (narrow tip) pointed up and the basal plate going down. I have never fertilized our garlic, but a soil test is recommended to reveal possible nutrient deficiencies. Often, we will top-dress rows of freshly planted garlic with compost. Then mulch with up to 6-inches of straw to suppress weeds.

I have planted garlic in the ground, in raised beds, even in a whiskey barrel planter with success. I love to grow and eat this crop. And thankfully, now my wife does too!

And that is really all there is to garlic. To recap:

1. In June remove the scapes and order more garlic for planting in the fall

2. Harvest when the garlic begins to yellow and there are still about five green leaves remaining

3. Cure the harvested garlic in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight

4. Once cured cut off the dried tops, brush off the remaining dirt and store for use all winter

5. Plant in the fall

6. Mulch deeply with straw to keep weeds down

Am I simplifying this? Yes. Does garlic develop problems? Certainly! What crop doesn't have its share of issues. But of all the things I've grown, garlic is the one I can plant it and forget it for almost an entire year. What else can you grow with that kind of maintenance level? Not much.

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