Homegrown Garlic Makes for Effortless Seed Saving

November 2, 2008

One of the great things about raising shallots, multiplier onions, and gourmet garlic is that it’s so easy to produce your own seed stock for future plantings. The subject of garlic seed saving was raised in a recent comment and inquiry from Cynthia:

“I had such a good crop of Fireball garlic last year that I used some of the best cloves for planting last week. Hope that it works. Have others saved their own bulbs or are you buying new ones every year?”

Saving the Best of Your Garlic Harvest for Seed Stock

It doesn’t get any simpler in terms of seed saving than to sort through your garlic harvest and select the largest and best looking bulbs to become the seed stock for future garlic generations. But it does sometimes require a bit of discipline to resist cannibalizing those prized garlic bulbs that must be set aside and reserved for seed!

While most gardeners want to use super sized bulbs for planting stock, some argue that the medium sized bulbs are just as good and maybe even a better choice for planting. I’m OK with using either as seed stock, but reject any dwarfed cloves from the seed quality bulbs and send them off to become salsa or guacamole instead of seed.

One caution when saving garlic seed is to ensure that all of the garlic bulbs designated as seed stock come from healthy plants that grew free of any sign of disease. Plant viruses are common in the garlic world and infected bulbs are perfectly fine for eating, but are best avoided when it comes to selecting your garlic seed.

Diagnosing, Managing, and Controlling Garlic Viruses

That’s easier said than done because the signs of disease aren’t always obvious and can be easily overlooked. Garlic viruses sometimes make themselves known by the appearance of stunted plants, misshapen leaves, and poor growth in the field.

Other times diseased crops may be revealed by slightly yellowed or discolored leaves, smaller sized bulbs at harvest, or garlic that stores poorly. While the presence of a virus in the garlic seed won’t automatically doom your crop, if you have doubts about the health of the seed I would recommend starting your next planting with good quality seed stock obtained from a reputable garlic seed supplier.

I’m obsessive about rotating my garlic beds so that the crop doesn’t grow in the same spot more often than once every four or five years. You needn’t worry over the following concerns that Josh expressed regarding crossing though: “If I plant potato onions next to gourmet garlic is there any threat of the two crossing to make some sort of hybrid plant?”

Other Considerations for Saving and Maintaining Garlic Seed

There’s no pollination necessary in the sex life or reproduction of garlic, so there’s no risk of garlic crossing with nearby shallots or potato onions. In fact you don’t even have to worry about different varieties of garlic crossing with each other in the garden, and no separation or isolation is required to save and maintain pure seed stock.

As far as using garlic from the supermarket for seed, I always advise against it with good reason. First, the seed may have been treated to discourage it from sprouting, but more importantly obtaining specialty seed affords the opportunity to explore and experience the wide assortment of flavors and types of gourmet garlic varieties rather than settle for the single softneck variety that is likely to be stocked by your local grocer.

After harvesting and curing garlic I store the bulbs indoors until it’s time to replant them in the fall. Keep them in a cool, dry, location, but never refrigerate garlic. Also, you shouldn’t remove the wrappers or separate the cloves until just before you are ready to plant the garlic seed out into the garden.

Custom Crafted Gourmet Garlic Strains from Your Garden

Saving garlic for seed is an easy way to multiply and propagate your gourmet garlic crop while eliminating the expense of purchasing garlic seed every year. I admit that I frequently purchase a portion of my garlic seed stock anyway, just to try out some new and different gourmet garlic varieties that are out there.

Saving your own seed also has the advantages of enabling you to develop superior garlic strains; as the garlic will become better acclimated to the specific climate and growing conditions present in your own backyard.

Even if you haven’t saved a single seed before, there’s little downside to reserving the best of your garlic harvest to use as the seed for next season’s crop of gourmet garlic!

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Hey there. I just wanted to say thank you for all the comprehensive garlic posts – I just put in my first bed of garlic (I got ours from Hood River Garlic), and after using a few of the smaller cloves for eating I am even more excited; this ain’t your grocery store garlic! Thanks again.


  • Josh

    Hey kenny, another good post 🙂 The multiplier onions I planted are sprouting up greens pretty aggressively already right now. Do you cut them off or let them go all winter long until you harvest them?

  • Cynthia


    I don’t have multiplier onions, but do have a nice patch of Egyptian or Walking onions. For a couple weeks now I have enjoyed harvesting the greens that shoot up when the summer tips fall over and sprout. A real touch of spring. They will also be one of the first things to come up in the spring and during the summer I use some of the top cloves like garlic for cooking. This is a real sweet plant.

  • Kenny Point

    You’re welcome Heather, thanks for stopping by and commenting, this garlic is much different than the ordinary store variety. Thanks Josh, I just leave the fall top growth alone but I don’t think that it would do any harm to harvest them for green onions as Cynthia suggested.

  • Thanks so much for this informative post about garlic. I’ve got my perennials situated (garden is only 3 years old) so I’m now expanding into more herbs.

    Defining Your Home Garden
    Chapel Hill, NC

  • Thank you very much for the information I really appreciate it!! I found this useful site for Gardening Seeds

  • Ann

    great article, thank you.

    A new one at garlic, how long to harvest garlic after its seedhead pops open?
    A week or two?

    Dad passed away and I now have 20,000 garlic to harvest, want and need to do it right, to save seeds and still have good garlic.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ann, my condolences regarding your dad. I always remove the garlic scapes so I don’t have any type of seedheads on my plants. A good way to judge when your garlic is ready to harvest is by watching the leaves dry and turn brown. You should harvest the garlic when just over half of the leaves have died. You can also dig a couple of the bulbs to see if the look good and are ready to harvest.

  • Barbara

    I love your articles about garlic and the other garden plants. So helpful to someone who was away from gardening for many years and wants to get back to growing my own food.
    I live in mom’s old house. She had a lot of single bulb “elephant garlic” planted around the house in her flower beds. I started harvesting it for her several years before she passed. We always harvest in the spring here in Louisiana. I always just took the tiny “seed cloves” that were around the large bulbs of garlic and just pushed them in the ground in various spots and they grow for the next year. Think I will get some bulbs of “regular” type garlic and start a bed this fall. I do still plant some by my roses and between the tomatoes.

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks for checking out the garlic articles Barbara. Garlic is one of my favorite crops for the home garden along with leafy greens like kale. I grow a few bulbs of Elephant Garlic along with lots of hard neck garlic varieties, multiplier onions, and shallots. I remember my mom planting garlic in with her roses also to help deter insect pests.

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