How to Plant Fall Garlic

September 20, 2006

Here in Central Pennsylvania it’s almost time to plant the fall garlic seed that will grow into enormous cloves of delicious gourmet garlic by the middle of next summer.

Sure you can plant garlic next spring, but in most areas you’ll get healthier plants, larger cloves, and better results from a fall sowing of this cold hardy root vegetable.

The Gourmet Garlic Advantage

If you’re a garlic lover who’s been settling for store bought cloves of the same old variety of commercial garlic, you really don’t realize what you’re missing when it comes to true gourmet garlic flavor, quality, and variety. With just a little effort you can grow exotic varieties of gourmet type garlic that you will never find on the shelves at the local supermarket.

Grocers typically sell a single variety of garlic that’s all planted and grown in California for shipment across the country. In comparison there are probably hundreds of different strains of garlic with flavors ranging from mild, to spicy hot, to the searing type of blazing heat that you experience when eating horseradish.

You can grow garlic bulbs that have subtle colors, stripes, or marbled patterns on the wrappers that are very striking in appearance. Some garlic is best suited for roasting and eating as a side dish, while others lend themselves to baking and spreading onto thick slices of French bread.

Many strains of garlic are great when used raw in dishes such as guacamole or hummus. Other garlic varieties have complex, lingering flavors that are perfect for cooked dishes, soups, and stews.

Start by Selecting Good Quality Garlic Seed

Yes, there’s a whole world of exciting and unique garlic varieties waiting to be explored, but in order to take advantage of the opportunity you’ll have to grow them yourself or purchase the bulbs from specialty mail-order garlic suppliers.

You’ll find it much cheaper to plant your own garlic, and fortunately this vegetable is easy to grow, requires very little care, and is virtually untouched by insect pests. The perfect crop, even for beginner gardeners!

When growing garlic it’s important to start out by planting quality garlic seed stock that you obtain from a reputable seed supplier. Using garlic from the grocer as seed will handcuff you with limited variety and there’s a chance that the commercial garlic bulbs may have been treated with chemical agents to retard sprouting.

The purchase of garlic seed is strictly a one time initial investment that the gardener won’t incur in later growing seasons. After that original purchase of garlic seed stock you’ll be able to reserve part of the garlic that you harvest to use as seed for your future garlic plantings.

The Key to Fall Garlic Planting Success

One of the amazing characteristics of garlic is that you can plant the seed in the fall to start the growth process that will be completed the following summer. Garlic is very hardy and many varieties don’t perform at their best unless subjected to harsh winter weather conditions.

If you live and garden in a warm weather climate you may find it a bit more challenging to raise good gourmet garlic, and you may also be limited to cultivating spring plantings of the Creole varieties of garlic which are better adapted to mild growing conditions.

The timing of your fall planting is critical. Your objective is to time the fall garlic plantings so that the cloves have a few weeks to establish good root development before freezing weather conditions set in. Yet you don’t want to plant the garlic seed so early that the seed cloves have time to send up above ground leaf shoots before cold temperatures halt the plant’s growth.

If you get a little leaf growth before winter strikes don’t worry, your garlic plants will be just fine. The formation of an established root system during the fall will prepare the garlic plants for an early emergence and promote rapid growth at the first signs of the arrival of spring.

Planting Your Gourmet Garlic Seed

A good rule of thumb is to plant the garlic seed about four to six weeks before the ground is subject to freezing in your growing region. Plant the garlic in a prepared raised bed that has been loosened and had a layer of compost, mushroom soil, or an organic fertilizer incorporated into it.

Don’t separate the garlic bulbs that you’re using for seed until just before you are ready to plant them in the garden. The end of the clove with the root scar which was attached to the bottom of the garlic bulb should be facing down when planted in the ground.

I usually lay all of the seed cloves out on the surface of the raised bed to eyeball the proper spacing distances that I want, then I go back and gently press each clove into the soil. Space the seed about six inches apart and three inches deep in the growing bed.

Additional Fall Garlic Growing Tips

After the ground freezes in early winter mulch the entire garlic bed with a three or four inch layer of shredded leaves. This covering will insulate the bed over the winter, help conserve moisture, and control weed growth in the spring.

Once the garlic seed is planted and the mulch has been applied, there’s nothing more to do until it’s time for a few simple springtime garlic growing tasks that I’ll cover later.

This article has been submitted as part of the ProBlogger “How To…” Group Writing Project. In the next post I’ll share a few tips on buying gourmet garlic seed and show you how to get your hands on the best and largest of the garlic seed cloves offered to home gardeners for planting fall garlic.

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  • Great post. One question though, can you grow garlic in containers? I recently moved to an apartment (in Barcelona, Spain) with a huge rooftop terrace. I want to fill this up with as many living things as I can. Being an x-chef, I thought I would try not only herbs but any other vegetables, spices, or whatever I could find, or grow from the great produce markets we have here. From seed is best for me, since finding seeds, or plants in stores is hard. Your thoughts, ideas, comments?
    Thanks, ryan

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ryan, I recently responded to a similar question at the following link about growing shallots in containers. If you’re having trouble locating garlic and other seeds to plant you might want to consider joining the Seed Savers Organization.

  • i didn’t realize there were different types of garlic…interesting…i love garlic

  • Mmmm, now I want a garden AND some garlic ;). Our how-to is up as well if you’d like to check it out!!

  • Thanks for the tips. And here I was thinking I would have to dig up my garlic bulbs I planted earlier because they weren’t sprouting. What a releif!

  • I love garlic, but I hate preparing it. I can never do it right. My How To is up also.

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  • gordon

    Do you bend or break the garlic plant about a month before harvest? How do you know when the plants are ready to be dug up? Do you keep watering the plant up till harvest? Any advice will be appreciated.

  • Kenny Point

    Gordon, I break off the garlic scapes that are sent up from the garlic plants during early summer. You can stop watering your garlic a couple of weeks prior to harvest time.

    The plants are ready to harvest when about half of the leaves dry and turn brown. At this stage dig a plant up to check if the garlic bulb has filled out. Don’t harvest too early as the bulbs size up the most during their final weeks in the ground, but if you wait too long to harvest the garlic cloves will start to separate and split apart. So digging sample bulbs when close to maturity and physically looking at them is the best test of maturity before harvesting.

  • Nikki

    Hi, I just recently found your website & I love it! I am a social worker and a Master Gardener. I started garlic in October last fall and am barely seeing any sprouts yet- is it too early? Tell me not to freak out yet….I planted 80 and have been very excited to see signs of life.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Nikki, it all depends on what you mean when you say that you are barely seeing any garlic sprouts. If the garlic seed hasn’t shown any new growth at all this spring… then yes it is time for you to freak out! 😮 On the other hand if the garlic is growing, but very slowly, you can relax… just a little though because it should be doing better. Garlic is the first plant to start growing in my garden and sometimes makes its appearance in February. It also normally grows extremely fast. Where are you located, and what is your climate like? Are you sure the garlic bulbs were planted right side up? Have you fertilized the garlic plants at all? Do you have any idea of the nitrogen levels of your soil. If the plants are growing at all I would just fertilize them, keep them watered, and hope that they improve. If they aren’t growing then you could do a little forensics and dig one up to take a close look and see if there is anything noticeable going on under ground. Good luck!

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  • Mary

    I want to knnow what produce you should not plant in the same soil that you have planted garlic. I read something one time about certain veges that don’t do well after being planted in soil that garlic was last planted in.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Mary, the only thing that I have heard is that garlic makes a poor companion plant for beans and strawberries when planted together. I usually don’t give much thought other than to rotate my garlic bed from season to season. If anyone else has information on the subject please share.

  • Jaun Millalonco

    Excellent YouTube post ! thanks for sharing. I’ll be adding your blog to my reader.

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  • Hi!
    I just found your site and I love it! I am a manager of a community garden here in Muskegon, MI. We are interested in growing garlic, but do we have to have raised beds? The city likes to till straight through without having to go around things!
    Thanks 🙂

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Kendra, thanks! No, your garlic will grow just fine planted in rows instead of raised beds. In a community garden you may have to settle for planting your garlic seed in the spring rather than fall which isn’t ideal but will still provide a decent harvest of terrific garlic bulbs. Since you’re the manager, maybe you can convince the city to designate a portion of the community garden as a no-till zone where the gardeners can utilize raised beds and grow perennial vegetables and fruits.

  • Chris

    Hi Kenny,

    I’m in Northeast PA and have been reading your site for a few weeks now and I’m doing my garlic in about a month. My question is—am I able to plant garlic around other things, like tomato/peppers, with the plan that the larger plants will grow over the garlic or should i keep the garlic in a different location that gets more and direct sun?


  • Kenny Point

    Hi Chris, thanks for visiting the site! I would recommend planting the garlic in an area where it will get plenty of sun and grow without being shaded by other plants.

  • Julie Caple

    Love your site. Very informative and yet gets to the point quickly. I never knew there were so many varieties of garlic either. Never had much success with it because I always planted it in the spring. So am excited about trying it this fall. Thanks!

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  • Jim

    Hi Kenny,
    Great site and information. Question for you – my garlic had been sending up great shoots all spring and summer, and I received some (perhaps poor) advice to cut the shoots straight across a few inches above the ground. This has resulted in the stalk becoming dried out and looking lifeless. However just yesterday I pulled off the lifeless outer portion of the stalk and was glad to see that there was a thin new stalk growing inside of where I pulled off. Does this mean I shouldn’t be upset that my garlic is doomed? Not sure what to do (except never cut it off at the base again….). This is my first year growing garlic.

    Thanks, Jim

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jim, by shoots I’m assuming you’re referring to the plants leaves and not the garlic scapes… the leaves should not be cut back. At this point I would let them grow and watch to see if they recover enough to produce a crop for you. I might even pull one plant up now just to check the size and see what they look like below ground.

  • Regis

    Question: I have some actual “seed” heads from some of my garlic that went wild. Can I just plant these seeds at some point to get a garlic head?

  • phil k

    I have been growing garlic for several years now, planting in October and harvesting in July\Aug. I also have rotated my planting areas. Two years ago I had 5% of my crop develop some kind of root rot, I also have the same problem with some of my onions. What can I do to prevent this? I was told that I was watering them too much, but this year I did no watering to my garlic and still had a few with root rot. Any suggestions?

  • Dan

    In October I planted some cloves; they have more than taken root and green has sprouted to almost 8 inches. It is now Nov. and there are some hard freezes at night. Should the green parts be trimmed before winter – and, how far down to the earth should they be trimmed?

    Your help is appreciated,


  • Kenny Point

    Hello Dan, I wouldn’t trim the top growth from the garlic that you planted. Sounds like you put them in a little too early but they should be fine. Just mulch the plants with a layer of shredded leaves or straw if you haven’t done so already and just let them be until spring when they will resume their growth.

  • Sue

    Kenny, this is my first year of planting my garlic. I covered my seeds in the fall (Nov) with ground up leaves, now it is April, when do I remove the leaves?
    Thanks for any help..

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Sue, you didn’t mention where you are located but my garlic plants have been growing since March and you should have seen some sign of them by now. How thick was your layer of shredded leaves? They should be able to grow right through that without even removing them. If the mulch is very thick or matted it should probably be removed by the beginning of March. Take a look and see if you can find any sign of the garlic plants under the mulch because they should be growing by now.

  • can you use mulched oak leaves to cover garlic in the fall? iv’e heard you should’nt. if so why.

  • Eric Sedar

    I made an oops, I just seperated my garlic for this falls planting. I’ve seen it sold like that on some sites and thought i’d get an idea for garden size. Did I ruin this years planting?

  • Kenny Point

    Eric, it’s best to wait until just before planting to separate the garlic cloves but you should be fine, just plant them as soon as it’s appropriate for your growing region.

  • Kenny Point

    Larry, sure you can use oak leaves to mulch your garlic, I’m not aware of any problem that they would cause. I like to shred the leaves first so that they don’t get matted and make it difficult for the garlic to grow through next spring.

  • Deana

    I really need specifics…do you water at all when first planting in fall, or at all during the winter months? When do you start watering, fertilizing and how much? Anything else specific I should know for a first timer?I’m in Santa Fe, NM, zone 5a, high desert, 6550 elevation, frost dates
    Oct 15 and May 15 (which very often can be June 15).

  • Diane

    When do you harvest Fall planted garlic in northern California? I’m wondering if it will conflict with the planting of my summer garden.

  • Kenny Point

    Diane, I harvest my garlic in mid to late summer here in PA. That area will not be available for planting the spring or summer garden. The way that I organize things is to plant garlic, shallots, and potato onions together in one area of a raised bed. That way they mature about the same time and free up garden space that can then be used for planting fall vegetable crops.

  • Michelle

    I was wondering when would be a good time to plant garlic? I live in NE New York 5 miles from the Canadian border. Thank you

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Michelle, I’m guessing that October would be a good time to plant garlic in your area. I know that there are commercial garlic growers and garlic seed producers in your state, maybe you could contact one of them and get a recommended planting date from them. Good luck with your garlic!

  • Linda

    I live in north-central Ohio. I planted my garlic the first week in October. We have had a mild fall. I already have 4-inch green shoots. Should I replant or will they be all right? When should I consider replanting if a freeze doesn’t happen soon?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Linda, the ideal situation is to time your plantings so that you don’t get much top growth in the fall but the plants should be okay and I wouldn’t worry about replanting, but next year you might want to start them a little later.

  • Paul Butler

    I’m compiling black and white images to convert into sandblasting resist for a line of garden rocks with a vintage woodblock feel. Your black and white seed catalog is perfect for one category i’m trying to create for garden plant markers, could you please tell me where I might find a vintage catalog such as you have shown. Any help would be much appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Paul Butler

  • Kim C.

    I love your website! I live in Southern PA and have been searching for information regarding garlic. Your website has really helped me!

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