When Is Garlic Ready to Harvest?

Learn what signs to look for to harvest garlic at the right time.
Curing Garlic

Curing Garlic

A beautiful garlic harvest starts with knowing when to dig bulbs.

Photo by: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo by Julie A. Martens

A beautiful garlic harvest starts with knowing when to dig bulbs.

Do you know how to tell when garlic is ready to harvest? Even professional garlic growers say it’s a skill to be honed. Harvest too soon, and bulbs won’t be fully formed. Harvest too late, and bulbs will be splitting open, with cloves starting to separate from one another. Digging at the wrong time means garlic won’t store well into winter. The secret to harvesting at the right time depends on two things: knowing the signs to look for and understanding how garlic grows.

As garlic plants grow, each bulb produces a flowering stem, which is also called a scape. Scapes are easy to spot—they curl around as they grow. If allowed to open, the buds would reveal a typical onion-type bloom (like ornamental alliums). Most garlic gardeners cut scapes to yield larger, healthier bulbs that store longer.

Scapes bring wonderful garlic flavor to the kitchen. Sautee them with young summer squash, add them to summer marinades or whip up a feisty garlic pesto. Young scapes are tender; older ones become woody and tough to chew. Scapes provide an important clue on the road to your garlic harvest. On average, garlic is ready to harvest roughly three full weeks (21 days) from when you harvest the bulk of the scapes.

Cutting scapes also signals the time to stop watering. Give plants one more deep watering after you cut the last scapes, and then let soil start drying down. When it’s time to harvest, it’s better if soil is dry.

Most garlic plants produce from six to nine leaves. Each of these leaves extends down the stem and wraps around the bulb, forming part of the papery layers that cover and protect cloves. When the lower two or three leaves turn yellow or brown, bulbs are ready to harvest. If you wait too long beyond this point, your bulbs won’t have as many protective layers around cloves, which means they won’t store well.

At the same time, the remaining leaves will probably be showing yellow or brown tips. When about one-third of the plant’s seven to nine leaves—including the lowermost ones, which may be fully brown—are showing signs of yellow and brown, that means the plants are reducing how much moisture and nutrients they’re shifting from roots to shoots. That’s a clue that leaf growth is drawing to a close and bulbs are ready to harvest.

Fat stems make it tempting to grab and pull garlic from the ground, like an onion. Do not do this. Instead, first loosen soil with a garden fork, and gently pull bulbs from soil. Some professional garlic growers recommend using a small spade to avoid accidentally spearing bulbs. Don’t clean soil from bulbs until they’re cured.

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