Early spring at the last sign of frost is the perfect time to get your spring garlic in the ground. We use a lot of garlic here, and having fresh, organic garlic year-round is an important ingredient.
From pizzas to side dishes to garlic bread and dips, this root vegetable is hard to pass up. It’s also a significant cost savings if you can grow and harvest your own. So, each spring and fall, we plant a little extra. Here’s how to get your Spring garlic planted for a fall harvest.
Can Garlic Be Planted in the Early Spring?
Here’s the deal – garlic is usually planted in the fall.
However, if you missed the boat – whether because you couldn’t buy cloves to plant in time or you just got too busy this fall (or perhaps you JUST decided you want some garlic this year), you don’t have to worry. You can also plant garlic in the early spring!
In most cases, it just means that the clove will only form a large single bulb with no cloves around it. It will be smaller than if you planted it in the fall, but the taste will be more or less this game – you don’t have to worry about not getting a crop in time.
You can grow garlic for these small bulbs when you plant it in the spring, or you can grow it for a crop of “green garlic” or garlic tops.
So is spring too late to plant garlic? No – not at all! Your crop just might be different from what you’re used to seeing with a fall-planted crop.
Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
When planting spring garlic (or really, garlic of any kind), it’s helpful to know the difference between hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck tends to be best for northern gardens, as it is very tolerant of the cold. These plants produce a central stem, or scape, that you can snap off in the early summer to produce leather bulbs (for fall planted crops, anyway).
Softneck garlic is often grown in southern regions since it isn’t as cold hardy. When you plant spring garlic, it will almost always be softneck garlic. Softneck garlic is also some of the best for long term storage, since bulbs that are stored properly can last up to nine months!
First, Prepare the Garlic for Planting
Garlic requires cold temperature storage prior to planting for the best results. In most cases, seasoned garlic aficionados make sure to get cloves in the ground by late fall so they have time to winter over.
But if you missed your window, you have two options – store the garlic in a root cellar, or store it in the fridge before planting.
Taking the time to acclimate the bulbs will encourage growth through the top and green sprouts will emerge from each clove in the bulb. If you don’t have a root cellar or space in your fridge, try a countertop zeer pot and check on the cloves every week or so until you see the sprouts.
Break a Garlic bulb apart (the whole thing) and put the cloves inside a big mason jar with equal parts of baking soda and liquid seaweed (I opt for around 1 TB). Leave the cloves in the jar for at least 2 hours prior to planting. This is necessary as it does an amazing job at preventing bacterial and fungal growth!
This process is sometimes referred to as cold vernalization. If you don’t want to go through the steps of seasoning your garlic this way, you can always just buy bulbs that have already gone through the process.
Many nurseries and seed suppliers sell vernalized garlic, also known as Spring Bulbs. If you can, get these bulbs, since they’ll be best for spring planting.
Often, this kind of “seed” is a softneck garlic that doesn’t require as much cold exposure, either because it’s already been exposed or because of its genetics. It can often be planted immediately. Don’t use grocery store garlic, as these bulbs are often treated to prevent sprouting and can also carry diseases or pests.
Plant as soon as the weather is warm enough to work with the soil. You can even plant directly on frozen ground and top with compost, if necessary, to get a jumpstart on the growing season.
Before you plant, fertilize the soil. If you’re using compost, that will work, or you can use a fertilizer designed specifically for bulb-forming crops.
If you had a garlic cluster that went to seed last year, or if you got a bundle from your local nursery, you should be able to direct-sow your starts. These smaller versions are easy to drop in place.
If some of your garlic went to seed last fall, you’ll start to see small clusters come up. You can pull the clusters and separate the starts to get full bulbs by fall. If you leave them as clusters, they will remain small and choke each-other out.
Instead, take a moment to pull them from the ground by setting a spade a few inches back and prying the root ball up. Then you can rinse off the dirt and get ready to separate the stars.
To separate, take the cluster and rinse it thoroughly or immerse it in water. Using your fingers and a gentle touch, separate the roots from each other and lift apart the bulbs one at a time.
Put them in a container with water to keep the roots wet. If they are tightly bound, use extra water and keep in mind you may have to sacrifice one or two to release the bundle. They should separate easier once you get started.
Next, Prepare the Soil
Garlic grows best in well drained soil — not sand! Make sure that your space is free of weeds and rocks, then dig 3-4″ down. Place the cloves into the spaces about 8″ apart. This will ensure that you do not have anything TOO close together! When placing the cloves in the soil be sure that the root end (flat part) is pointed DOWN and the other end UP!
Garlic grows best in well-drained soil such as sandy loam — but not sand! An ideal pH should be between 6.0 and 7.5 and nitrogen-rich soil will aid in growth and flavor. There are various methods to neutralize your soil and amend it with fertilizers.
Avoid planting garlic in a spot that you recently used for garlic or other plants in the onion (allium) family. This can make your bulbs more susceptible to disease. Also, avoid planting locations where water might collect around the roots.
In general, the best patch for garlic is an area where you’ve had other plants fix nitrogen into the soil. Cover crops like peas, beans, legumes and clover are examples of a few nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
If you haven’t planted a cover crop, you can add high-nitrogen fertilizer or take green grass clippings to jumpstart the soil and add a bit of nitrogen quickly.
When ready to plant, make sure your space is free of weeds and rocks, then dig a small hole for each clove about 3-4″ down, or trench a solid row. Place a single clove into each space or along the row about 8″ apart. This will ensure that the bulbs don’t fight for nutrients by being too close together!
If they are clustered too near to each other, the bulb growth will be stunted. When placing the cloves in the soil be sure that the root end (flat part) is pointed DOWN and the other end UP!
Once your garlic starts to sprout, you just keep it watered and wait! After a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see green shoots coming out of the bed and you know that it’s growing!
There are a few steps you should take to keep your plants healthy, however.
Sunlight and Temperature
Garlic needs at least six to eight hours of sunlight in order to grow healthy. It is sensitive to day length changes – not having enough days of increasing day length can affect the formation of cloves. That’s why planting garlic late in the spring often results in poorly formed rounds.
Warm temperatures, on the other hand, can increase the rate of bulb formation. Therefore, you should try to plant by early May in cooler locations and no later than March in warmer ones (like the southern United States).
The location should be protected from the wind and be able to receive enough morning sunlight to warm up quickly each day.
Make sure your garlic has consistent moisture during the entire growing season. Even just a week of dry or irregular conditions can cause the bulbs to be stunted, resulting in a poor harvest.
For loamy soils, your garlic plants should receive about an inch of water per week. For fast-draining sandy soils, two inches is ideal.
Weed your garlic beds often – a too-weedy bed is the quickest way to kill your garlic plants!
A great way to suppress weeds around your garlic is to mulch. Mulch will not only reduce weed pressure but it will retain moisture and protein the garlic bulbs from temperatures wings. A good mulch is one such as straw, grass clippings, or compost.
Mulch is especially beneficial when it comes to protecting garlic from temperature swings. Although this is admittedly more important when you’re trying to protect against the freeze and thaw cycle that occurs with fall planted garlic, it’s important with spring-planted cloves, too. You never know when unpredictable freezing and thawing might occur!
Once the garlic sprouts, you can fertilize every two weeks. Use an all-purpose fertilizer that’s designed specifically for plants such as garlic. A high nitrogen fertilizer very early in he’s origin is also a good idea.
Garlic grows well alongside other crops, where it helps to repel the vast majority of insect pests with its strong aroma.
Consider planting garlic near:
- ☑ Fruit trees
- ☑ Spinach
- ☑ Kale
- ☑ Beets
- ☑ Carrots
- ☑ Potatoes
- ☑ Eggplants
- ☑ Peppers
- ☑ Tomatoes
- ☑ Cauliflower
- ☑ Dill
- ☑ Kohlrabi
- ☑ Roses
- ☑ Marigolds
- ☑ Geraniums
- ☑ Broccoli
There aren’t many plants you shouldn’t grow near your spring garlic, but asparagus, beans, sage, parsley, and peas are a few to keep away. Their growth can be stunted by the garlic.
Similarly, you should avoid growing garlic near any other plant in the allium family (like onions or chives) since they can be prone to similar pests and disease problems.
Pests and Diseases
Spring garlic is prone to the same pests and diseases that you will find with fall garlic.
Basal rot is the most common disease. This causes the leaves to die back and yellow. White rot is another disease that presents similar symptoms to basal rot, but it progresses more quickly
Other diseases to watch out for (most of which are fungal in nature) include penicillium decay, botrytis rot, and downy mildew.
For the most part, these diseases can be prevented by growing resistant bulb varieties. Proper watering that is even and regular can prevent the diseases, as can ensuring adequate space for air circulation between each plant. If you notice these kinds of disease, remove the infected plants as soon as you can.
Garlic’s strong odor makes it resistant to most insect pests. However, you will need to watch out for bulb mites, leafminers, nematodes, onion maggots, and thrips.
Consider planting garlic with companion plants to reduce the attractiveness of a large field of garlic to pests. Rotating crops is hugely important when it comes to preventing pests and diseases.
Often, soaking seed cloves in hot water prior to planting can decrease the chance of pest infestation by killing mites and eggs, too. Just be careful to not do this for too long, as too-hot temperatures (those over 132 degrees) can damage clove tissue and make germination impossible.
There are predatory insects and various insecticidal sprays you can use to treat these pests, too.
Growing Spring Garlic in a Raised Bed or Containers
Growing garlic in a raised bed isn’t just an option – it’s recommended!
There are several benefits to doing this. One is that it will help you easily see and remember where you planted your garlic. Since it takes so long to mature, this is a huge benefit. You can’t rely on memory alone!
Raised beds can also help the ground warm up faster in the spring while preventing the soil from becoming too wet or soggy during wet spring weather.
If you’re planting in raised beds, the same planting tips apply.
You can also grow garlic in containers, but there are few things to keep in mind. One is that garlic is prone to fungal diseases, so you need to use well-draining potting soil (not regular garden soil) in the container.
Your container should be at least 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. There should be adequate drainage holes in the bottom. After following these same tips above for planting your garlic, put the container in a location that receives bright sunlight for at least six to eight hours a day.
Water and fertilize regularly, keeping in mind that container-grown plants tend to dry out more quickly (and leach nutrients faster) than those grown in the ground.
Harvesting Spring Garlic
One of the most challenging parts of growing garlic is the wait. This isn’t the fastest maturing crop you can grow, and while the final product is worth it, boy – is it ever hard to be patient!
In the meantime, you can cut some green garlic chives and use them for seasoning in cooking, or fresh in salads.
Harvesting garlic is a guessing game until you’ve done it a time or two. In general, the shoots will show signs of dying back from the tips. They’ll go from a rich green to a light tan and begin to curl back. Once the shoots have dried up, the garlic will be ready for harvesting.
This can vary depending on the type of garlic you are growing – hardneck garlic, for instance, will be ready for harvest once the escape starts to curl.
Otherwise, you can harvest when there are five green leaves remaining from the top. When you’re close to harvest time, it’s important that you hold off on watering for a couple weeks. This will let the bulbs cure in the ground.
Often, you’ll know that garlic is ready to be harvested when the leaves turn brown. This is a good indication that the gloves are ready!
Waiting too long may cause your cloves to go to seed. Pulling the cloves too early may result in a smaller-than-anticipated spice. If you are unsure when to pull the garlic, you can expose the ground around each clove and turn them to the sun to dry out, but be sure to pull your cloves before fall or they will begin to mold.
To cure your garlic, lay them out to dry for two to three weeks in a shady spot with good air circulation. Once the roots feel dry and brittle, you can rub them off along with any loose dirt.
Don’t wash the bulbs or get them wet – you also need to avoid breaking the cloves apart. This can cause them to rot more quickly.
To store our garlic, tie the leaves in bundles or bunches or just cut the stem a few inches above the bulb. You can store the loose bulbs on screens or hang them in a cool, airy location. Check the bulbs often and remove any that are starting to show signs of spoilage.
After you’ve had some success this year, be sure to set a clove or two aside and replant in fall. This will save you some work next spring and will act as an indication of when the soil is ripe for planting next year.
How to Use Spring Garlic
Spring garlic is undeniably delicious – but it might not be exactly like the fall garlic you’re used to eating.
It tends to be a bit fresher and more mild tasting – almost nutty in its flavor profile. It can be used in all kinds of dishes but is particularly popular in Asian cuisine.
Of course, you can always use spring garlic as a milder substitute for garlic in a recipe. One stalk will be equivalent to one clove. You can also use spring garlic as a substitute for chives, scallions, or leeks. Since it’s not as strong as fall garlic, it is often easier to incorporate into recipes.
Now that you know how to grow, harvest, and use spring garlic, there’s no time to waste. Even if you missed out on planting garlic this fall, there’s still plenty of time to get a crop in the ground before conditions heat up this summer – so hop to it!
updated August 10th 2021 by Rebekah Pierce
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.