The How & Why Guide to Growing Garlic at Home

My garlic crop!I was feeling so proud ~ my first home-grown garlic! It's been a long row to hoe, as they say ...

MY FIRST ATTEMPT TO GROW GARLIC: THE LATE & LAME WAY I read somewhere - FarmGirl, perhaps? - that it is simple to grow garlic, just stick it in the ground and a few months later, harvest it. But thanks to perennial, ahem, garden procrastination, the garlic got into the ground late. I missed the fall planting, suddenly it was late winter, okay yes it was really early spring. (We plant nearly everything else in the spring, why not garlic?)

Standing next to the herb garden ready to plant, I wondered, Should I plant the cloves or the head? Dumb, dumb! Rather than look it up or give it any real thought or even ask a Smart Fifth Grader, I stuck the head into the ground and hoped for the best.

MY SECOND ATTEMPT TO GROW GARLIC: THE LAZY WAY Late last fall with snow about to fly, I stuck a few cloves (yes, that's right, you plant the cloves!) into a big pot on the patio, figuring that the garlic plants would provide 'winter green' (they don't) and could be harvested after the frost date to free up the pot as soon as summer annuals can be safely planted (wrong again).

WHEN TO PLANT GARLIC, THE RIGHT WAY Then I started to work with One Who Knows Her Garlic. Aha! She shared the garlic grower's calendar: in eastern Missouri (Zone 6), we plant garlic on Columbus Day (mid October), we cut off garlic 'scapes' on Memorial Day (late May), and we harvest garlic on the 4th of July - each give or take a couple of weeks, depending on Mother Nature's moods.

THE SCAPES A few weeks ago, I snipped off the scapes -- those are tall graceful curvy stems with pretty little white heads that emerge quite suddenly from the plant, you'll know when it happens! With the scapes gone, the plant will put its energy into the bulb. I also dug up a single 'head' to gauge its progress - it was small like a scallion and didn't even smell like garlic. This, I've learned, is 'green garlic' or young garlic; the garlic bulb is undeveloped and is prized in some culinary circles.

THE HARVEST With Independence Day looming, I harvested the garlic crop - and there they were, real heads of garlic with real garlic smell! I did feel so proud.

Fist-size heads of garlic from the garden of One Who Knows Her GarlicTHE REALITY And then I saw the huge heads of garlic - ones the size of a fist - that emerge from the garden of the One Who Knows Her Garlic. And they were so clean! You must wash the heads, I surmised. No! she said with horror. Just peel back the outside layer and cut off the roots.

Oh dear.

So will I plant garlic again? Sure! It was a kick. But I won't plant it in a flower pot, at least not one where I want flowers at the same time. The petunias planted in the same pot back in May haven't thrived, plus coaxing the rooted garlic out of the pot tore up the flowers' roots.

BUT WAIT Is fresh garlic treated differently than supermarket garlic? Does it deserve special treatment? I turned to the One Who Knows Her Garlic for the answer. "Most people have never tasted freshly dug garlic -- the difference is as dramatic as a freshly picked vine-ripened tomato compared to a tasteless commercial tomato. The papery garlic in the supermarket was harvested last July and kept in storage. Fresh garlic is juicy, not dry. Use fresh garlic the same as you normally do: eat it raw, cooked, roasted, minced, or whole -- fresh garlic is delicious any way it is prepared. But do know that yes, a little fresh garlic goes a long way."

SO HERE'S THE RIGHT WAY, IN SHORT, TO GROW GARLIC IN YOUR OWN GARDEN. To grow your own garlic, plant cloves in the fall, not the spring. They'll pop out of the ground in late spring. When the tall scapes appear later in the spring, snip them off right away.. A month or more later, pull a test garlic out of the dirt to see if it's ready for harvest. If it is, carefully dig up the heads. Wipe clean the heads with a paper towel (a very thin papery layer will come off), cut off the roots, store in a dry dark spot. Cook/eat as normal but use less until you understand its potency.

ME I'M OFF TO COOK With any luck, I'll have better success cooking with garlic. Roasted Garlic, perhaps?

Small heads but wonderful flavor!BUT WAIT! HOLD THE PIXEL PRESSES! So up until last night, this post was all about 'how' to grow garlic, ignoring the question of 'why'. This week, the One Who Knows Her Garlic lectured me in very polite fashion about how garlic from the jar just isn't up to snuff. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, amused since sure, I chop and mince and slice and dice my own garlic cloves for special dishes. But weeknights? The stuff from the jar is good enough. But I have to tell you people, I'm converted. I get it!! I know the difference!! I taste the difference!!! I made my every-day salad dressing last night with a clove of pink-ish garlic straight from my garden (see? even my small heads clean up really pretty!) and it was something completely totally absolutely different, not only from my jars of garlic but also from the garlic from the store. Fresh garlic is something special, worth finding a couple of square feet of dirt for your own few cloves. I'll remind us all when it's planting time again in the fall. But in the mean time, the farmers markets should be full of fresh garlic: do get some!

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I love the descriptions of the first two attempts :)
    I haven't grown garlic yet, but my mum does and K's mum does, so we've already cooked with the green young garlic couple of times. For proper bulbs, I've bought really lovely Hungarian garlic at the Central Market - so fragrant and gentle!

  2. I planted my first garlic cloves last fall, and just this week the scapes appeared. Now I know I have to cut them off, and then harvest the garlic this week. Thanks for such an informative post.

  3. Alanna, I just don't know here (thanks or a curse) now you've totally given me the bug to grow my own!
    Super informative (great link also) and wonderful post.
    Really I know I thank you! I'll be looking for the reminder date.

  4. Pille ~ Oh I was such a lame, lazy garlic gardener, for sure! Glad they amused ...

    Lydia ~ Yes, do remove the scapes ASAP. But if you harvest now, you're harvesting 'green garlic', the immature garlic. If you want 'garlic', then wait to harvest a month or more until the heads develop.

    Tanna ~ I felt just the same when FarmGirl wrote about garlic, I had to plant some! (And yes, I'll be reminding us all!)

  5. I've never tried to grow garlic, but I guess I should give it a whirl/

  6. Wow, I am mightily impressed.

  7. AnonymousJune 28, 2007

    Do you do this with garlic from the grocery store or do you need to get something special?

  8. In one of his books Nigel Slater talks about "wet" garlic (summer) and dry garlic (from early autumn through to the following year). I've only found wet garlic in the shops once and it was a real treat - sweet and mild.
    You've inspired me to grow my own this coming year!

  9. Kelly ~ A whirl, yes, there's little to lose! It's clear you can grow garlic knowing nothing and getting it mostly wrong.

    Cynthia ~ Ahhh ...

    Anonymous ~ I planted the cloves from two heads, one from the grocery store, one that's the 50th or so generation of garlic from a friend's father's garden. The father is in a nursing home now and his sons never got around to planting his garlic, he was pleased as you can imagine to hear I'd be delivering some of 'his' garlic. I have seen recommendations that you buy organic heads of garlic for planting but don't know if that's politics or good practice.

    Wendy ~ Ah yes, that's a perfect description. These cloves are so fat and wet, not juicy, exactly, but definitely wet.

  10. AnonymousJune 29, 2007

    Very informative post Alanna... I will plant some garlic this Columbus Day and hope to have some good sized home-grown heads next July!

  11. I must try growing garlic. I know the stuff I buy at farmers' market IS completely different from the supermarket variety, but I hadn't thought of growing it myself. I don't have much room but I think I could find a little spot for it.

    Your little garlics are so cute. :)

  12. Hi. I got some fresh garlic from the farmers' market and used it to make some asian plum sauce. I used 6 lbs of plums with 6 cloves of garlic and the whole thing smelled and tasted very strongly of garlic. (I ended up making it more plummy by adding a jar of plum jam.) Fresh garlic is some powerful stuff!

  13. Eat the scapes! Add to salads, stir-frys...

  14. Some friends recently gave me some freshly grown garlic: I'm still letting it dry out.

    But after seeing them, sniffing at them, then seeing this lovely post, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that come Fall, I'll be planting my cloves, too!

  15. S'kat ~ (I lost your e-mail address w a hard drive failure BTW, so write me!) Why are you letting it dry out? Just the skin because it's damp? I'd love to know more about why you (and presumably your friends) say to do this but I'll tell you, it's the 'wet' garlic that has me swooning.

  16. Good afternoon -- We have grown our garlic for last 12 years. Indeed, for those of us that grow their own garlic, we are so very blessed! Fresh garlic is pure garlic juice with beneficial properties that are priceless! hm hm hm

    I love making Putanesca sauce with fresh garlic juice! so delicious!

    Our favorite garlic is Ajo Rojo -- Creole is hard to get, big bulbs but the storing properties for this strain is great!

    Be well,


  17. I have been a fan of many of your recipes, but this is my first comment.

    I am inspired by your garlic adventures and wanted to read more. Your hyperlinks to "One Who Knows Her Garlic" (under WHEN TO PLANT GARLIC, as well as BUT WAIT) appear to point to a page that has moved. Might it be possible to help find where the pages have moved to, if they are still accessible through the archives, etc.?

    Please keep doing precisely what you do, because I, among many, love to read what you post! I'm not a vegetarian (I know, I know...) but love my vegetable dishes, especially ones found on A Veggie Venture!

  18. Hi Drew ~ Thanks so much for de-lurking, especially to let me know that about the link issue. I've fixed it in the post now, for others, but the new link is Harvesting Garlic.

    [lecture] A lesson to all site owners: never let content go stale. You just don't know who's linked to you. If you must change the page-URL structure, change each and every post that's changed, pointing to the new page. Honestly? It's better to break the link entirely - so visitors will get a 404 error - because then, those of us who subscribe to services which tell us when broken links appear on our sites will KNOW and get the chance to fix it. [/end of lecture]

  19. Hi, it's my first time planting garlic this year, and so far I have nice green leaves growing at a steady rate. But the top parts of each leaf are curling. I don't know if this is normal or is something wrong with my plants? Thank you very much :)

  20. Hi Rei ~ Are you in a climate where the leaves of your new plants are getting frost-bitten? Here in Missouri, the leaves actually disappear during the coldest of the winter, then re-emerge from the ground in the spring. My sense is (from my first two lame attempts to grow garlic) is that garlic just wants to grow and doesn't need tending or fussing. So put another log on the fire, spring will be here soon enough! :-)

  21. Hi,

    I just planted a bunch of cloves from regular garlic and from some elephant garlic bulbs. They are growing like wildfire. At what height do I cut the stalks so that the bulb grows bigger?

    Thank you.


  22. Hi Jerome ~ You don't cut off the stalks (the greens, that is) but once the scapes emerge, THESE you cut off and THESE are what help the bulbs develop. Please know - garlic is usually planted in the fall and allowed to be somewhat dormant through the winter, then harvested in mid summer. So how your garlic will turn out, I have no idea. Good luck, let me know!

  23. I didn't cut off the scapes (will do next year), and tonight I noticed that they were standing tall almost straight up and turning their flowers towards the sky instead of their normal daytime appearance of being somewhat slumped over.

    Do you have any idea why they stand up tall at night?

  24. Hi Nick,

    I forwarded your question to Anne Cori, my friend I call She Who Knows Garlic. Here's her response:

    "I've never left the scapes on to see how they turn. I don't know what he means by "slumped over"...when I've missed cutting some scapes, they always seem upright, with a stiff stem. So, sorry, I don't have an answer.

    "Jerome [an earlier commenter] is planting elephant garlic. Please tell people that elephant garlic is not garlic, but a variety of leek.

    "Your readers should know that grocery store garlic is soft-neck, but gardeners usually grown the hard-neck variety."

    Hope this helps!

  25. I have scapes!! Is it weird to have them just a month or so after planting? They're sturdy green shoots about 2 inches tall. It's been unseasonably warm in New England this November

  26. Anonymous ~ I think you have shoots, not scapes. The shoots come up first, so with your warm weather, yes, I bet your cloves have sprouted. But you should be okay, leave them as is, let them die back in the cold when it comes.

  27. OOOOOOHHHHHH! Now I get it! if you let the scapes grow you get garlic on a stem, which is the seeds, but, If you cut the scapes right off than the garlic grows underground! Boy, I feel dumb after thirty something years of trying to grow it, with no success. Thanks for your help!

  28. The scapes are good eating too! I love to cut them in 1/2" pieces and toss in with jasmine rice. So good!

  29. What if you live in Florida, zone 10, can you plant n grow garlic?

  30. Hello Florida Anonymous ~ Sorry, I have no experience with growing anything in Florida, let alone garlic. But why not give it a try? I'd plant in October, then watch for the scapes beginning in February or so, then gauge from there. Good luck, let me know how it goes, nothing much to lose by trying, is there?!

  31. I am so excited!! I found your blog and on Columbus Day I planted some garlic. I looked last week and I have shoots!! Now, I don't cut those until May, correct?

  32. Kristine ~ You have shoots, yahoo! In Missouri we don’t even get shoots until spring so you must be in a warmer climate? If so, then I’d say let them get tall before snipping them off, then wait a month before checking a head to see how it’s developed. Good luck, let me know!

  33. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    Having problems... my garlic does not send up a shoot, it is producing the scape about 3-4 inches above the bulb near ground level, inside the stems. As it grows it splits open the stem. Any thoughts on what is causing this?


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna