Guide to Growing Garlic

Garlic is versatile and known for spicing up a wealth of recipes, making it a must-have crop in any vegetable garden.

Garlic Bulbs Can Be White or Purple Skinned

Garlic Bulbs Can Be White or Purple Skinned

Marked by its paper like skin, there are over 300 varieties of garlic. One of the most common varieties is American garlic, with white, papery skin and strong flavor. Italian and Mexican garlic have a pinkish purple skin and slightly milder flavor.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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A member of the onion family, garlic is highly valued for its culinary qualities and extremely easy to grow. Although it takes time to mature, it grows through winter, takes up little space, and is good in pots.

How to Grow

Garlic needs warmth to ripen and grows best in a sunny site with rich, moist, well-drained soil. Ideally, plant in fall or early winter; spring-planted garlic will produce smaller bulbs because they have less time to mature. Separate the bulb into cloves, and push the largest ones (discarding any tiny ones) into the soil with the points upward; the tips should be just below the surface. Allow 4 inches (10 cm) between cloves, and space rows 8 inches (20 cm) apart. Keep the area around the plants free of weeds and the soil moist, particularly in dry conditions. Check regularly to make sure birds have not pulled out the cloves; if so, push them back into the soil.

Garlic is ready to lift when the leaves turn yellow and wilt. Using a hand fork, lift the bulbs, and lay them out to dry in the sun, ideally on wire mesh to allow good airflow. If the weather is wet, dry them indoors on trays, or hang them up in braids. Once dried, garlic can then be stored in braids or nets, somewhere cool and well ventilated. If you prefer, harvest garlic while the stems are still green. This “wet” garlic has a milder flavor and should be used quickly because it will not store. 

Varieties to Try 

Supermarket garlic can be unreliable. Bulbs supplied by nurseries are virus-free and are bred to suit local conditions. Culinary bulbs are grown in warmer regions and won't tolerate cool growing conditions. Try these varieties: 

  • ‘Arno’
  • ‘Californian Late’
  • ‘Cristo’
  • ‘Early Wight’
  • ‘Germidour’
  • ‘Early Purple Wight’
  • ‘Solent Wight’
  • ‘Spanish Roja’

Watch Out for These Diseases 

Onion white rot causes foliage to wilt and bulbs to become moldy and rotten. It affects all members of the onion family, including garlic.

Garlic can also be plagued by rust, leaving orange patches on leaves, which wither and die, and weakening the crop. Avoid planting in damp, shaded areas. There is no chemical control; remove infected material, and improve airflow.

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