Grow Garlic To Use All Year

Lots of people grow tomatoes. There’s something special about a tomato fresh from the garden – fully ripened on the vine, still warm from the sun.

But not many people take those tomatoes the step further and make them into tomatoes sauce, diced tomatoes and other things to eat for the rest of the year. It’s just too much work for something easily and cheaply bought in a can from the grocery store.

Garlic is easy

Not as many people grow garlic. No one I know brings a salt shaker to the garden to snack on garlic.

But garlic is extremely easy to grow AND to store. You can easily grow enough garlic to last you from one year to the next in 10 square feet or less in your yard. You can even plant it among your decorative plantings – no need to create a garden bed if you haven’t started a garden yet.

Storing garlic only requires a cool dry dark place – like a basket in your basement. Are you ready to try?

Choose Your Garlic

One of the fun things about growing your own vegetables is the huge variety of types available. This is truly the case for garlic. There are two classifications of garlic – hardneck and softneck. They are both easy to grow and store! You decide what you want to grow!


Hardneck varieties send up a tall flower stalk mid summer. Although the top of this stalk (scape) is usually removed by the gardener, the base remains. This stalk is the ‘hard neck’. A single round of cloves forms in a circular pattern around the central stalk. Hardneck varieties survive harsher winters, peel easier, have larger cloves and are generally more flavorful. They don’t store quite as long as softneck varieties – only 4-6 months. I roast and freeze some cloveslate winter to ensure I always have my own garlic. Only hard necks produce scapes, which I puree and freeze for a fresh green garlic addition to garlic bread or stirfries.


Softneck varieties do not send up the flower stalk. This means the neck is just leaves, making it perfect for braiding. Softneck varieties have more but smaller cloves in each head, and store 9-12 months.

Where to find garlic to grow

There are ALL kinds of garlic! I grow a hardneck variety call Music. I am happy with the one variety, but if you are a garlic snob you might want to plant several varieties, maybe even some hardneck and some softneck.

It is important to use garlic that is intended for planting. Garlic in the supermarket has been treated so it will not sprout in the store…or the garden. Ask a friend who gardens for a head, or buy it from a garden supply store.

Each clove of garlic produces a whole head!

Bottom of each head has the beginnings og roots that will grow a whole new head of garlic.

This can be a once in a life time purchase. You can plant next fall’s crop from the heads you harvest this summer. I bought my garlic in 2009 and have replanted cloves from the biggest heads each fall. I now have garlic that is fully acclimated to my climate and grows wonderful full heads each year.


Don’t overthink it. The entire garlic plant is already stored in the bulb – just like daffodils, tulips and other bulbs!


Plant garlic around the time of the first frost. You want the cloves to build up some roots before the ground freezes but not spend too much energy creating leaves. October is the time of year in my garden (Zone 6) to plant garlic.

Putting it in the ground

  • Divide your heads of garlic into individual cloves.
  • Dig a hole or trench deep enough that the top of each cloves is about 1 inch deep.
  • Plant with the pointy tip up. This should make sense if you looked at the heads as you divided them into cloves.
  • Cover with dirt. Cover with mulch as well if you can, but it’s not vital. It will mostly be helpful for next year’s weed control.
  • Go enjoy your winter.
The top of the cloves is pointy, the roots are on the bottom.


At some point in the winter or early spring the garlic will sprout. Don’t worry if there’s still snow and freezing weather to come, the garlic will survive. If it can ward off vampires, even a bitter winter won’t kill it.

early spring garlic sprouts
Late winter/early spring brings hardy garlic sprouts

Keep it weeded

Since garlic is one of the first things up, it almost always gets a good spring weeding because I just love being out in the garden. As the spring and summer progresses try your best to keep on top of weeds. I have not always been the best at this, so don’t worry if you fall behind. The heads might not grow as large, but it won’t die

Mulch it

I use clippings from the first grass cutting to mulch lots of my garden, especially the garlic. This will keep the weeds down and keep the soil moist. I hardly ever water any of my garden, but especially my garden. Part of why I can get away with little to no watering is that I mulch, mulch, mulch!

early June garlic growing well despite weeds

Scapes (Hardneck Varieties only)

If you’ve planted a hardneck garlic like mine it will form a scape in June. This is a seed stalk that emerges as a curling green shoot. If left on the plant it will eventually straighten out and produce a bunch of tiny garlic bulbs. It’s interesting to look at, but it sucks size out of your garlic cloves. So remove them by snapping, cutting or just plain yaking tham out as soon as you see them. You can leave one if you want to see what happens, but I usually miss one without trying every year.

Scape Harvest

Don’t toss those scapes on the compost pile. Scapes are food too! Fresh scapes can be chopped up and added to summer veggies. They have a mild garlic flavor and a great bright green color. I have also pickled the scapes, but mostly I just puree them in my food processor and freeze the puree in an ice cube tray. When it is frozen I pop it out of the tray and into big freezer bags. I can then use these puree chunks in stirfries or for some amazing garlic bread.




Garlic is ready to be harvested when the 3 to 4 lowest leaves have turned brown. This is usually in August. Just take a close look at the base of your garlic plants and you will see that the bottom leaves have shriveled and dies. Pull a garlic plant out (you might have to loosen the soil) and check to see if the covering on the bulb is white and papery. It’s not going to be super papery like in the grocery store, it’s in the ground where it’s damp, but it will look like the head of garlic. The best clue to harvest readiness is those 3-4 bottom leaves being dead.


If you’ve got clay soil like me you will have to use a graden fork to loosen the soil a little to pull the gralic up. Pull the garlic up, leaves and all. Knock off the worst of the dirt. Keep the leaves on!

We harvested garlic by the tractor bucket back on the farm…


If you are planning to store your garlic over the winter you will need to cure it. Place the garlic plants, leaves and all, in a warm dry, dark place for two weeks. I just spread it on the floor of our shed, or put it in an open bucket (not stuffed in too tight as it needs air circulation). Some people hang it from the rafters. You can get creative – but be aware that it will smell fairly strong the first week.


When the garlic has finished curing, the leaves will be dry and the skin over the heads will definitely be papery. It’s time to prepare it for storage. Cut the tops and the roots off with some old scissors or pruners. There will be alot of dirt, so don’t use your best pruners. Brush off the outermost dirty paper skin over the head. You want to remove as much dirt as possible as dirt will attract and hold moisture and cause mold.

Store in a cool dry dark place like your basement in a bin or basket that will allow air circulation. Store it somewhere convenient so you remember to check on it and USE it!

Use it

After setting some heads aside to plant next year’s crop in a month or so (don’t forget!), use your garlic. Your garlic is ready right at the time to use it in pickles, sauces and other canning projects if you are so inclined. I usually peel a bunch of cloves in late winter (it will be a little easier to peel after a couple months in storage), roast them on a cookie sheet with olive oil and freeze them It is then so easy to drop a couple cloves in a soup or stew. The majority of my garlic sits all winter in my basement ready to be used whenever I need it.

Expand Your Harvest

Growing your own food is as local as you can get. Once you’ve grown garlic and stored it and used it all year round you will want to see what else to can try (winter squash!).

Consider what else you can grow and store without the hassle of canning or freezing. winter squash and onions store well right along with the garlic. If you have a cool damp place you can also store apples and root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and celeriac.

Soon you will have some your own homegrown food stored for winter without the hassle of canning or freezing.

Vegetable gardening isn't rocket sceince...Heck, people have been grwoing their own vegetables for thousands of years. - Charles Nardozzi

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