A garlic-lover’s guide to growing garlic

As I start to see the leaves change color and the forecast look cooler, my excitement starts ramping up for all things fall related: harvest markets, apple picking, leaf peepin’, and even getting back into the garden to put it to rest for the season! For me, that list includes planting my garlic!

Where do I want to plant? And How much Garlic will I need?

This is the fourth year of planting garlic in our gardens. Year one, we started out planting 20 cloves, or “seeds”, in a single strip down the side of our garden. That yielded 20 bulbs, which was NOT ENOUGH for our garlic loving souls. Shortly after that first year, a friend told me that if I eat around 2 cloves per day, we need to produce about 700 cloves per year, or around 70-90 bulbs. We had our work cut out for us!


This year, at our new house, we finally had the space and time to do it. We dug out a 600-square foot garden and turned the sod from that into a long garden bed up on a little hill, on which we planted squash and pumpkins during the regular growing season. We decided this would be the best spot to grow our garlic this fall, since it’s best to rotate heavy feeding crops with light feeding crops. (Garlic is a light feeding crop; pumpkins & squash are heavy feeding.)

This bed is 28 feet (336 inches) long by 2.5 feet wide. We decided to plant each clove 6 inches apart down the rows and make the rows each 8 inches apart which gave us 3 rows total. So, to calculate how many cloves:

(Row length in inches ÷ clove spacing in inches) X number of rows

336” ÷ 6”= 56 cloves X 3 rows = 168 cloves

Depending on how much space you have, you can space the cloves between 4” and 8”apart. Some people prefer closer clove spacing and larger space between rows and vice versa. It all depends on how much space you have and how much garlic you want to plant but try to get at least 4” inches between each seed for optimum bulb growth.

What type of Garlic do I want to plant?

There are Hardneck and Softneck garlics. Softneck generally has many smaller cloves and does not create a garlic scape in the spring. When you see braided garlic, it will most likely be softneck. Hardneck Garlic has fewer cloves but they are larger. Hardneck varieties create an edible scape in the spring. (Check out our article from last spring highlighting garlic scapes!)

Once you choose which variety you would like to plant, you can buy the seed from a reputable distributor, or what I love to do is head to my local CO-OP and purchase locally grown organic garlic!

It’s fun to see all the different varieties that are available—and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, check local farmers markets. I got a nice mixture of different hardneck varieties!

What other materials am I going to need?

Once you figure out where you are going to plant and how much garlic you need, you’ll want to amend the soil properly. Here are the materials that we are using:

  • Green Mountain Compost’s Complete Compost – We added a cubic yard of compost in the spring to this same bed, and we’ll add a few more inches this fall. That rich, organic matter really helps the soil help your plants!
  • 5-3-4 Pro Grow from North Country Organics – We’re only adding a light amount to the area because adding too much nitrogen could induce growth more than we want before winter comes. (Topdressing come spring may also be a good idea).
  • 1 Bale of Straw for insulation during winter months.

And don’t forget to gather your tools! Tilling the area will require a hoe, a rake, a trowel, a measuring tape or some way to measure plant spacing (I use a board), gloves (I prefer no gloves), and water both for yourself during the work and for the seeds once they are planted.

Planting Time

  1. Gather the seed. If it comes in the full bulb form, break apart, but keep as much husk or shell around the outside as you can.
    A bunch of garlic cloves in a bowl
  2. Pick the spot you would like to plant. We chose our old squash bed. We used landscaper cloth to keep weeds away. We rolled it up to use at a later date.
  3. Till up the existing soil.
  4. Add Complete Compost.
    Woman adds compost to long row of soil.
  5. Sprinkle with organic fertilizer.
  6. Mix the compost and fertilizer in with the pre-existing tilled soil.
  7. Space out seed holes.
  8. Plant the garlic 3 inches down with the pointed side up.
    Hand reaching out to plant garlic bulbs next to spacing board.
  9. Cover the seeds with the nicely amended soil and add a generous amount of mulch for insulation during the winter.
  10. Finally, water the bed (you can do this before mulching too, especially if it has been a very dry season).

I only had time to plant a portion of the entire bed so far, but I’m giving myself until October 15th to plant the rest.

When to harvest

It can take up to 6 months for the bulbs to develop a strong root system, so be patient! Garlic scapes will be ready to harvest around mid-June (we wrote all about harvesting and cooking garlic scapes here). The cloves will be ready in late July to early August.

Of course, if you miss planting garlic in the fall, don’t worry! You can follow the same steps to plant garlic in spring. They just won’t be quite as flavorful.

P.S. Don’t forget the mouthwash! (Love, your friends and coworkers.)


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