If you're wondering how to grow garlic yourself, then you've come to the right place. Garlic is a staple ingredient and livens up so many dishes, from classic roast lamb to our fave simple pasta dish, spaghetti aglio e olio. And the great news is, it's so simple to grow that you'll soon be wondering why you've been paying for it for so many years!
Garlic will grow best in a sunny spot, in well-fertilised, free-draining soil. Before planting, add a general purpose fertiliser to your soil for your best chance of success.
Often first-time garlic growers can feel a bit disappointed with the size of their home-grown cloves. Spring plantings don’t have as much time in the ground to bulk up, so if you can graduate to starting crops off in autumn, you’ll have a much better chance of creating decent bulbs. The extra growing time encourages a more extensive root system to form, which in turn gives more foliage to fuel large heads.
Here's how to plant garlic, when to harvest it and how to store all those bulbs you're going to grow! There's plenty more advice in our grow your own hub, including how to grow potatoes.
How to grow garlic
1. First you'll need to spread a general purpose fertiliser through your soil.
2. Next, split your planting bulb into individual cloves. You'll usually get about 10 cloves from a bulb.
3. Plant the cloves, pointy side up, into soil about 3-5cm deep. Most varieties need planting in October. You can either plant them straight in the ground, or plant in a pot and keep them in a greenhouse or inside on a window ledge, to avoid frost damage.
4. If you've kept them insider over winter, move outside in March and place cloves at least 15cm apart, with rows about 30cm apart.
5. Water occasionally during dry weather. Do not water for a month before harvesting, as this will help the cloves to ripen.
6. Most garlic will be ready in the summer. See below for a full guide to knowing when it's ready.
Top tips for growing garlic
1. It’s especially important to plant autumn garlic on free-draining soils to avoid winter waterlogging. Use raised beds on heavy plots.
2. Only break whole heads into individual cloves just before planting, taking care not to damage the basal plate or bruise the flesh.
3. The largest cloves have potential to produce the biggest yields, so plant these as a priority, using up smaller ones as spares.
4. Use a trowel to plant the cloves, rather than pressing them into the earth. Position each one around 5cm deep, perhaps more on lighter soils.
5. Add a standard top dressing of dried poultry pellets in mid February or early March, to further help boost bulb size.
Different types of garlic
There are two types of garlic: softnecks and hardnecks. Even though hardnecks are generally hardier, you can plant both softneck and hardneck varieties in autumn, depending on your preference. Autumn varieties have a greater winter chill period than spring ones. Generally, softnecks have a milder flavour and, not producing a flower spike, they store for longer. For maximum individual clove size, though, hardnecks are your best bet (softnecks produce more numerous, smaller cloves). Remember to remove the flower spike in spring, if growing hardneck garlics – if left on to develop fully this can reduce yields by 20 per cent.
How long does it take to grow garlic?
Garlic is known as an overwintering vegetable because most varieties – as the name suggests – are planted around October and are ready to harvest in the summer, usually around July. However, there are some bulbs, like these from Waitrose Garden, which you plant in March and are ready as quickly as August.
The telltale signs to look for are when the leaves begin to yellow and wither.
Garlic bulbs will last for a couple of months if you store them in a cool, dry place.
Where to buy garlic bulbs
Not sure of the best place to buy garlic bulbs? Most garden centres will have them but you can also order them online. Take a look above for the best prices on garlic bulbs today. We rate these retailers:
3 top garlic crops to plant in autumn
Try one planting one of these top crops in your garden this autumn
This hardneck variety will bulk up quickly to produce a harvest of white-skinned bulbs in May or early June. It produces flower spikes or ‘scapes’ for gourmet foodies. Being a hardneck variety its storage potential is reduced.View Deal
This well known softneck variety was given an RHS AGM way back in 2004. The storage life is impressive, with plants producing bulbs that are predominantly white with attractive purple streaks. A pleasant mild flavour.View Deal
Elephant garlic is actually a type of bulbing leek. The cloves are mild-tasting and impressively sized. Plant them in autumn to give yourself the best chance of growing absolute monster cloves – well over a kilo in weight isn’t unheard of!View Deal
Uses of garlic and storage options
If you don't use garlic in your cooking already, you're missing a treat! It's a great way to add depth of flavour to everything from curries and stews to pasta dishes. In fact, we can't think of many savoury dishes that wouldn't benefit from the addition of some garlic.
Cloves of garlic will keep for a couple of months in a cool, dry place. If you have too much garlic to use in that timespan, then you can roast whole bulbs, squeeze out the cooked cloves and freeze in ice cube trays. Alternatively peel raw cloves and blitz in your food processor with a bit of water, then freeze. You can cook either from frozen.
Common problems with growing garlic
Garlic plants can easily be swamped by weeds once they're planted outside, so consider planting through black plastic sheeting to keep weeds at bay.
Birds are the biggest threat to garlic plants. Pigeons are especially partial to a garlic clove, so the RHS recommends using horticultural fleece, which goes over your plants, to deter them. It also means you don't have to buy a scarecrow!
If you notice the leaves of your garlic plants withering in dry weather, it may be a sign of onion white rot, which causes the bulbs and roots to develop white fluffy mould.
Bright orange spots on your leaves could be a sign of a fungal disease called leek rust. Unfortunately, once you have either disease, there's nothing you can do to save the plants and the soil may remain contaminated for many years, so avoid it by making sure your plants aren't overcrowded.