How to Plant Garlic in the Fall
Garlic has stolen my heart as an organic gardener, because it is hands down one of the easiest and most reliable crops that I’ve grown so far.
For some reason, I initially had this idea that garlic was only for experienced gardeners and would be a challenging crop to grow. I’ve had quite the opposite experience, finding it to be a simple and rewarding crop and now I can’t imagine going a season without growing it!
Fall is the best time to plant garlic. It goes in just as you’re clearing out the rest of the garden. There it will rest until the very earliest opportunity for growth in the spring, when it will begin to sprout up as the winter weather recedes, even before you’re in the mood to pull on those rubber boots and try to work the ground.
I now start each year with the best heads of garlic saved from the previous summer. The first year that I grew garlic, I bought a 1 lb package from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (it wasn’t this variety, but same size/price). It was a bit pricey at almost $20, but it has easily paid for itself since. That 1 lb grows a LOT of organic garlic and now I just save seed every year from my harvest.
If you are in a pinch and want to try planting garlic before it’s too late this season, but can’t get your hands on any seed garlic, I would just try using a package of organic garlic or some from the local farmer’s market. I’ve since added to my garlic with some that I purchased at a fall fair from a local farmer and it grew just fine.
How to Plant Your Garlic
I started by tilling up the strip that I wanted to use for planting. Meanwhile, I got my older kiddos to start gathering up fallen leaves for me. They thought it was fun; I thought it was nice of them to make my job easier!
Once the ground is ready (or you can do this job in advance, inside if you like), open up your garlic heads and carefully separate all of the individual cloves.
You can see that I plant my garlic in incredibly straight rows. Or something like that. Let’s say I had some assistance from my little helpers!
As long as they are fairly straight, it really doesn’t matter. I make the rows approximately 6-10 inches apart, which seems to be a good distance to not crowd the garlic when it’s tall and full in the summer and leaves a nice, easy strip for hoeing between the rows.
I just use the tip of my hoe to drag a long, thin furrow in the ground to make the planting easier.
Place each individual clove into the row, about 4-6 inches apart.
Make sure that you put the flat bottom into the ground (the end part that you would cut off before mincing garlic for cooking), leaving the pointier end sticking up.
Use the extra dirt on either side of the furrow to cover over the cloves, patting it down gently.
Hopefully your little helpers will have gathered enough leaves for you by this point, and you can cover the ground thoroughly with fallen leaves as you can see in the very top picture. I don’t usually feel like I have enough leaves, but where I live, we don’t have a lot of hard frosts and so my garlic is always just fine.
If you live somewhere that is particularly cold during the winter, then you will want a nice, thick layer of leaves (maybe half a foot thick) and you could cover it with a bit of hay to weight it down and make sure they don’t blow off. In the early spring, just remove excess covering if it hasn’t decomposed enough for the garlic to poke straight through it.
Notice that I am not fertilizing it at this point. The reason is that I don’t really want to encourage much growth until the spring.
Once spring arrives, I will give it a bit of natural fertilizer of some sort once it’s come up a few inches, and then once it is nice and tall a couple months later, I will give it another feeding. But for now, leave it hungry. It might pain you, but it’s the right thing to do.
That’s it, for now…
Sit back all winter, and dream of how good it will taste in the summer! And oh, does it taste good. I never want to go back to buying grocery store garlic again and that is part of what makes me get out there in the chilly fall weather and plant it each year!
I planted garlic on a whim a few weeks ago in a raised landscaping bed that surrounds our front porch. I wasn’t patient enough to order ‘seed’, so I just plunked in some organic garlic that I bought at the grocery store! Well, we had a good week of Indian Summer last week, and wouldn’t you know? There are green sprouts poking up through the dirt! I hope the span of warm weather doesn’t hurt them.
@Valerie, I planted mine a bit too early last fall and I had green sprouts come up. They were still fine!
i can’t wait to try this!
Great post! I do grow garlic although we have terrible 2 to 1 clay soils that are really suitable for perennial pastures but not garden crops. Because our soil is so bad I mostly get “onion” garlic (heads that don’t clove) although I’ve been able to grow incredible garlic in other parts of the country. However, I’ve been working on this garden soil for almost 5 years and it is much improved. This might be the year the garlic grows and cloves! Since I’ve had problems in the past I only bought a small amount of garlic (about 4 heads) to plant this fall. But if the soil is now ready to give me some good garlic then next year I’m going to plant a ton. We go through 4 heads a week easily and sometimes we go through 7. It would be very satisfying to grow all the garlic we need for the year!
So we do not water it at all?
I live in a small space with no yard so I container garden through the summer. I’m going to try this ina deep container and see what happens. Thanks for sharing!
I planted my garlic last week. This past summer we harvested 28 heads of garlic, this year I put in 49 seeds for next summer’s harvest. I have also found garlic to be such a rewarding crop and we use so much of it we have saved greatly over the past several months. I bought my original seed garlic from a local farm and had no problems with it. One thing to keep in mind is to use the tiny seeds for cooking instead of planting them as they will produce a tiny head of garlic.
A joyous Thanksgiving to you and your family!
I wanted to plant it this fall (first time it would have been) but didn’t as it was simply too much for me this year with everything going on. I had an order and cancelled it. I would have had to do it September since we get our first hard freeze late September on average.
I hope to do it next year. This is some great info for then, so thank you!
I’ve also wanted to tell you I’ve been eating raw garlic for the antibioitc properties. I’ve been trying to stomach it. I recently read in an old magazine (actually called Keeper of the Home its a Mennonite magazine from the states that I get- its very good) about eating raw garlic with a piece of apple, or mincing into carrot or tomato juice. I don’t do the juice but I found eating it with a slice of apple really really works for me (and I don’t like eating raw garlic at ALL). Just thought I’d pass on that info since I know its been discussed before about eating it raw and how to do it.
@Nola, Good tip on the garlic! We haven’t tried that, but I bet it would help!
My neighbor passed on some garlic starts to me years ago and I have very lazily been grown garlic ever since. It really is so easy to grow! I have always planted mine early in the spring. (Did I mention that I am lazy? I don’t like the wet, cold Fall weather.)
I would also encourage everyone that it isn’t absolutely necessary to use seed garlic. I had organic garlic that started sprouting, so I just threw that into the ground. It works great! Basically any good quality organic garlic can be turned into seed garlic.
Maybe I will brave the weather and actually go plant some garlic this fall… 🙂
@Tanya, Where I live, planting in the fall is sometimes more pleasant than planting in the early spring. We get a LOT of rain. It’s actually been rainy this fall, too, but I planted this on a rare beautiful, sunny day!
We just moved into our first “real” house (not a townhome) with a yard in late summer and never got around to planning a garden. I wish I would have known this a month ago! We got our first snowstorm last weekend with over a foot of snow that looks like it might be staying. The ground was not yet frozen when it snowed, so I may still have hope if this magically melts 🙂
Can I still plant garlic in the spring?
@Sheri, Yes, you can still plant it in the spring. It just gets more of a headstart in the fall and then it’s one less thing to do early in the spring. 🙂
Just plant it early as you would greens, peas, or anything that goes into the ground as soon as it’s workable.
I think I’m going to try this. We have really rocky soil and haven’t done landscaping yet, so I’m stuck with container gardening for now. I have several XL Rubbermaids that I garden in. Worked great for bell peppers this summer. I’m anxious to try something new so I’ll try filling one with garlic and see what happens!
My favorite way to take raw garlic is in ginger tea with lemon juice and honey. I don’t eat the actual garlic this way, but rather crush and chop it in half and add it to the tea while steeping. The compounds still seem to be quite effective this way, without being overwhelming. Kicks colds in the butt too!
I planted garlic for the first time this fall and it was so exciting for me! I just took a head of grocery store garlic and planted each clove. I planted two weeks ago and already have shoots coming up (it’s still fairly warm here in NC)…does that mean my crop is doomed?
@Kelly, Nope, probably not doomed. 🙂 Mine has done that before and survived. But, if you usually get quite cold winters than I would make sure that it’s well covered before the cold really hits.
What would you suggest for planting in Florida…other than summer, we don’t have predictable seasons here. It could be freezing one week and warm again the next. Will this “confuse” the growth pattern of the Garlic? We are getting ready to move and I’m so excited that we will ahve a back yard where I can try this.
@Nola…have you tried crushing the garlic and taking w/ honey? I put the garlic in a spoonful of honey and swallow it down quick (as if I’m taking a vile tasting cough syrup) and then I’m done. And if you use local honey, then it will also help w/ allergies. Don’t heat it though…heating honey will cancel out those benefits.
@Amanda Goldman, Yes I realize about the honey, its just that my body can’t tolerate honey very well (I have health issues). So the apple thing really works well for me. But thank you!
I second Amanda’s question. How do you grow garlic in FL when you technically don’t have “winter?” I’m planning on doing some raised beds, and with the amount of garlic we go through every month it was on the top of my list of things to plant.
@The Happy Housewife, I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think that you would put it in during your cooler season, and then leave it until you hit your warmer season (although it might be ready before that). It would be more like growing garlic from spring-summer in a cooler climate, I would imagine (because it doesn’t necessarily have to go through truly cold weather, it’s just a good way to plant it).
New here! 🙂
How and where do you store your garlic once it’s been harvested, and how long does it keep?
@Dellaina, In my last home, I stored my garlic in a rubbermaid container, that I drilled holes into for airflow. I made loose layers with newspaper to keep it dry but still allow for air flow. Kept in my garage, it was fine from July until around April/May of the next year. By the time it starts to warm up, you could consider bringing what’s left into the fridge to keep it until summer.
In our current house, I don’t have the use of a garage, so instead I have it stored in a bin in my second fridge, which I got this year for the purpose of preserving foods. Ultimately I would like to have some sort of root cellar, but for us right now that isn’t a possibility, so this works instead.
If your garlic starts sending out shoots before the cold really hits, just trim them off and cook with them! They are called garlic scapes. You can also cut them up and store them in the freezer if there are too many to use at once. Nice mild garlic flavor 🙂
@Colleen, I didn’t know you could do that! I love learning practical new things. 🙂
@ Colleen, thank you! I planted some garlic a month or so ago, and it already has shoots over a foot long [I live in FL, so it hasn’t really been cold much yet]! I wasn’t sure what to do about that, but now I know!
I planted the garlic last fall, but had to cover the leaves with pieces of tin because they just kept blowing off. I recently removed the tin, and there are white, sickly, starts coming up several inches long. So, do I just leave them alone? And how do I know when they’re ready to harvest?
@Kim, I would leave them at this point. What makes them look sickly? Are they frail or bent over?
Mine are just a couple inches high, mostly white (not green), but that’s normal. I leave them until they’re a bit higher (maybe in April?) and then I’ll fertilize, and leave them along again until they need weeding.
They are bent over. The ones that weren’t covered are green, but the ones that were are bent over and white. I’m just leaving them to see if they straighten up and get healthier. How do you know when to harvest them?
@Kim Gray, You won’t harvest them until true summertime, usually around July, but it depends on where you live. If they do ok, you’ll know because they’ll actually get quite tall (like 1-2 ft tall), these big stalks that eventually grow a bulb on the end shortly before you harvest them.
Your directions for planting garlic are delightful. Your young helpers are going to carry forward this fantastic fall planting tradition. What a heritage for the next generation.
I love this idea! We live in an apartment in a cold climate, and are hoping to move in the spring (lots of conditions, I know!), so I’m wondering what you think of a few modifications:
1. I’m thinking of a smaller harvest in a box that we can move with us (i.e. diaper-size box)
2. Could I use newspaper instead of leaves?
3. Could I keep it inside (perhaps the cooler basement) during the frigid months? Or just grow it inside?
I live at 9000 feet and all I have is plenty of pine needles. Can I use those to cover them or are they too acidic? thanks for the great info! S
As a novice, I just planted garlic yesterday (November 3). I was unsure if I should remove the outter skin so I planted some cloves with it, others without it. Should I weed the garden before the ground freezes? I read garlic doesn’t compete well with weeds and although the garden isn’t ‘full’ of them, there are some weeds left over from summer. Should I anticipate only the garlic planted with outtter skins to grow?