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How to Grow Garlic

Garlic adds wonderful flavour to so many great recipes. The great news is you can grow it in your backyard! Learn the ins and outs of growing your own in the Peace Region.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of garlic worldwide, but only some of them can be grown well in Canada. Of those varieties, they can be grouped into two types, hardneck and softneck.

Hardneck varieties bolt during early summer, producing a flower stalk called a scape. You should remove these scapes to maximize the size of your bulb at harvest.

Softneck varieties do not generally produce any scapes.

Garlic with curly scape

Planting Garlic

Garlic can be planted in fall or spring, but in colder climates fall planting will ensure cloves are given plenty of time to mature and form full heads with many cloves.

When planting in the fall your goal is to plant early enough to have the cloves develop a large root system, while at the same time planting late enough that the garlic doesn’t sprout and show green top growth above the soil. So anywhere from mid-September to October. Plant at least 4-6 weeks before the soil freezes.

Nurseryland tub of bone meal plant food

Plant by hand and push into well-draining soil with clove tip pointed upwards and their flat bottoms pointed down, add a dusting of Bone Meal to the hole and cover with soil, and water well. Plant 3-4 inches deep and space the cloves 6-8 inches apart. 

After the temperatures outside in the fall are consistently below 0 C mulch for extra winter protection.

Garlic plants growing in a fenced garden

Growing Garlic

Garlic are heavy feeders and grow very well in fertile soils. Apply a water soluble (fertilizer that dissolves in water) fertilizer every two weeks. The Bone Meal used when planting will have been used up by early summer so at the growing stage apply Bone Meal again to the base of the plant. During the growing season garlic does prefer a moderate amount of moisture. Mulch garlic to keep weeds down and retain moisture.

Freshly picked garlic bulbs

Harvesting and Curing Garlic

Note: watering should be stopped a few weeks prior to harvest.

Use leaves to indicate when it is time to harvest. Typically, green leaves start to die from the bottom up. When the bottom 3 or 4 leaves are dead and the top 5 or 6 are still green, it’s time to lift the bulbs. Also check if the cloves are still tight together, this is a good indicator they are ready. Choose a dry day for harvesting.

Garlic hanging to cure

Once harvested, garlic must be cured for optimal storage. Lay on mesh racks or tie in bundles to hang to dry in a shady spot. Garlic should be dry somewhere between 2-3 weeks, you can cut the garlic stems to check if any  green remains in the center of the stalk.  If there is no green, it is ready for storage.  Stored in a cool dry location garlic can last up to 6 months.  Double check that they are all intact with no cuts or scrapes, if they have been cut or scraped the garlic typically will not store well.  It is still good to eat, keep these in your kitchen to use up first.  Now repeat the whole process again to ensure another garlic crop for the next year.  Start weeding and top up bed with a good compost soil (Sea Soil) and or manure.   Plant your new crop, keeping in mind you want to plant 4-6 weeks before the soil is frozen. 

Garlic curing in a basket

Garlic is a wonderful flavor to so many recipes. Use it in soups, in salad dressings, grill it, roast it, add it to roast beef or make your own garlic mashed potatoes, yum! You can also can it, dry and then grind it.

Did you know you could eat the scapes as well?  To cook the scapes, just steam them for a few minutes, or lightly fry or gill them with a bit of sesame oil. Young ones are tender and delicious, milder taste than the clove, like shallots and chives.  If you have too many scapes, try pickling them.

Here’s a list of garlic varieties that grow well in the North (mainly hardneck varieties):

  • Russian Purple
  • Russian Red
  • Spanish Roja
  • Siberian
  • Metechi
  • Mexican Purple
  • Legacy
  • Duganski
  • German White
  • German Red
  • Bogatyr
  • Regular White (softneck)