All you need to know for growing your own garlic, and all the reasons why you SHOULD grow your own garlic.

Since garlic at the market is usually pretty cheap and available year-round, it doesn’t occur to many people to grow their own. But garlic is a seasonal crop that tastes much better when it’s truly fresh – just harvested garlic is amazing. The big plump cloves have a strong garlic pungency but are also almost juicy.

I’ve grown garlic every year for about a decade now, and, unless you are cursed with one of the various root rots or fungal diseases that seem overly fond of the allium family, garlic is very simple to grow.

Seed Garlic
You start with seed garlic. This can be certified virus-free garlic you’ve ordered from a specialty supplier, or it can be garlic you’ve saved over from the summer harvest. I advise strongly against planting supermarket garlic, which, in addition to being a boring commercial variety, is almost certainly carrying some kind of virus which can contaminate your garden soil.

I would also politely decline offers from people who want to share their garlic or other alliums with you to plant in your garden. This is of course a personal call, but my soil “caught” allium white rot after I eagerly planted someone’s grandmother’s heritage heirloom old-country shallot variety that I picked up at a seed swap.

Before Typhoid Mary Shallots: growing garlic was as easy as falling off a log. After Typhoid Mary Shallots: I have to be very careful about what beds get alliums, and usually do a back-up container planting of garlic in fresh potting mix just to ensure some garlic harvest. It sucks.

If you buy your garlic, expect it to be sold by the half and full pound. Depending on the variety you buy, one pound of garlic will yield about four to seven heads of garlic. Your purchased garlic should be certified virus-free and clean, with no signs of soft spots or decay.

Sometimes garlic shippers have to break a head into pieces to get the right weight of garlic in the package, but in general the garlic heads should be intact until just before planting. Seed garlic is expensive – if you order online or from a seed catalog and the garlic you get isn’t good enough to plant out, call and get yourself a refund. I’ve had to do it when I received half a head of soft, semi-rotten garlic

If you are planting your own garlic that you harvested the prior summer, make sure it shows no sign of disease and is firm and clean. Select the largest, healthiest looking heads to use as seed garlic – these will put out roots quickly and mature into large heads of garlic the following summer. Don’t bother planting small cloves – just eat them.

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic
There are two categories of garlic – hardneck and softneck. I prefer hardneck because they are culinarily superior. I’m particularly partial to a large-cloved, high-yielding variety called Music, but there are advantages to both types.

Hardneck Garlic - these types of garlics bolt, throwing up a central stalk called a scape in early summer. If allowed to grow, the scape will flower, taking energy from the bulb formation. This scape dries to a very hard “neck” that runs all the way down to the rootplate of the garlic bulb.
  • Hardiest of the garlics and good for cold climate gardeners.
  • Make “scapes” in early summer that are a secondary crop to harvest. Scapes should be removed for best bulb formation.
  • Typically stronger, sharper and more diverse in flavor.
  • Last 6-9 months in storage.
  • Typically form a single ring of cloves, 4-12 to a head, that tend to be larger than softneck cloves.
  • Hardnecks cannot be braided.

Softneck Garlic - The typical grocery store garlic is a softneck called California White. Softnecks do not bolt.
  • Thrive in more mind climates and tolerate warmer winters – best for maritime and southern gardeners.
  • Typically not sharp or spicy, but some softnecks are very full-flavored.
  • Superior storage compared to hardneck types, lasting 9-12 months.
  • Do not produce scapes, so softnecks can be braided nicely and require less labor to grow.
  • Faster to mature than hardnecks.
  • Typically make several rings of cloves, up to 40 cloves per head, many of which can be quite small.