How to grow garlic – an easy beginner’s guide
- By: Ashley Saunders
- May 2020
As one of the oldest food flavourings, Garlic is a type of bulbous plant that part of family of lilies. There’s more than 450 garlic varieties and most are easy to grow. So, it’s worth trying to grow garlic!
Garlic is both a herb and vegetable, which has been used throughout recorded history for both medicinal and culinary purposes. It contains Vitamins B, Vitamins C, fibre and various amino acids.
Many have used garlic to fight the common cold, regulate blood pressure and to lower cholesterol.
Whether you’re starting or expanding your vegetable patch, it’s worth trying to grow garlic! Growing your vegetables is a superb way to cut your food miles and help live a greener life.
Interesting garlic facts!
Garlic has been used throughout recorded history for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
The Egyptians were the first ancient civilization that incorporated garlic into their diet.
During WWII, garlic was given the nickname “Russian Penicillin”.
Garlic is considered to be both a vegetable and a herb!
Despite its Asian origins, the word garlic is derived from Anglo-Saxon Speech.
You can use garlic to make glue.
When selecting a suitable place to grow garlic in your veg patch, bear in mind that garlic prefers full sun with well-drained, light soil. If you have heavy clay soil, then it’s worth growing garlic on a ridge of soil.
If you grew garlic or any other plant from the allium family last season, you’ll want to find a new spot within your plot. It’s a good idea to practice crop rotation and never use the spot to grow alliums two years in a row.
As garlic bulbs don’t tolerate water-logging, you’ll want to add plenty of organic matter such as compost or manure before planting and allow it time to rot into the soil.
Garlic cultivars are split into two main groups – hardneck and softneck. The RHS recommends growing the following varieties:
A group of cultivars selected from Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon originating from climates with colder winters. Varieties include:
‘Chesnok Wight’: Good cropper, early summer maturing cultivar, skin and cloves with deep purple veining, strong flavour.
‘Lautrec Wight’: Maturing in early summer, suitable for both autumn and early spring planting, does not perform well on heavier soils and cold areas. Considered to be one of the best-flavoured cultivars.
‘Red Sicilian’: Early summer maturing, spicy flavour, good for roasting.
These (Allium sativum) generally produces smaller, more tightly-packet cloves. Varieties include:
‘Early Wight’: Can be harvested from the end of May from autumn planting, best used soon after harvest as it is not good for storage.
‘Solent Wight’: Late summer maturing, very good for storage.
‘Germidour’: Late maturing, purple-skinned cloves.
‘Purple Heritage Moldovan’ or ‘Purple Moldovan’: Late maturing, heirloom cultivar, producing large purple cloves.
As a fairly low-maintenance plant, you can grow garlic in the ground or containers. Most varieties can be planted outdoor in either spring or autumn. Many gardeners believe for the best results, you should plant before Christmas!
You can’t grow garlic from seed at home as it’s very difficult to produce viable seeds. That said, you can grow garlic from bulbs which are sold according to whether they are suitable for planting in spring or autumn. So bear this in mind when buying bulbs.
Don’t buy bulbs from a supermarket as they may not be suitable, instead buy from a gardening centre or nursery.
Start by splitting the bulb into individual cloves. Then plant each clove around 2 cm below the soil with the pointed end facing up. Leave around 10 to 15 cm between each clove.
If you’re planting a few rows, space them around 30 cm apart as this will give them plenty of space to fully develop.
Can I plant garlic in containers?
If you don’t have a veg patch or space in your garden, then you can still grow garlic. Use containers that are 20cm in diameter and 30 cm depth as this allows them plenty of room to develop strong roots.
With your container, you’ll want to fill it with multi-purpose compost and if possible, mix in some onion fertiliser. Split each bulb into cloves and plant each clove around 2 cm under the compost, leaving a generous gap between the container’s edge.
If you plan to grow a few bulbs in a single container then ensure they are spaced at a distance of 10 to 15 cm. Finally, you need to water regularly to keep the compost moist.
How to nurture garlic
What makes growing garlic ideal for beginners is it’s not a demanding plant. As long as you water and weed regularly you should end up with a good crop.
If you plant garlic in autumn, it’ll be ready for harvesting in June and July. Spring-planted garlic should be ready shortly after. Garlic is ready to be harvest when leaves start to wither and turn yellow.
Using a trowel, loosen the soil around the bulbs and gently scoop them out. When removing garlic bulbs from the ground be careful not to cut them as this will reduce the amount of time you’re able to store them.
It’s best to avoid leaving the bulbs in the ground for too long after the leaves have started to wither as they are likely to re-spout and may even rot when stored.
How to store fresh garlic
If you correctly store Garlic, it can last for months. Ideally, you’d keep the bulb whole as garlic’s useable life begins to decrease once it’s broken into individual cloves. A broken bulb should keep for 3 to 10 days.
The best conditions to store garlic is at room temperature in a dry, dark place. You can store garlic in an open paper bag or a wire-mesh basket. If it’s exposed to too much light or moisture, then mould could start to grow.
Avoid storing whole garlic bulbs in the fridge as it will begin to sprout within days. That said you can eat sprouted garlic, however, it can sometimes have a slightly better taste.
You can store peeled or chopped garlic in the fridge but you’ll want to store it in an airtight container and consume within a few days.
Common pests and problems
Whether you’re growing garlic, runner beans or herbs, you’ll have to take steps to manage pests and diseases. Here are the most common issues to look for when you grow garlic.
Slugs and snails
Both will feed on young bulbs and you’ll notice their slime trails on the soil and leaves! Thankfully, you can easily control slugs and snails by numerous methods including sawdust, eggshell barriers and copper tape.
They love to dig up young bulbs to eat. Thankfully, you can deter birds by covering your bulbs with netting or horticultural fleece after planting.
This fungal disease appears as rusty-coloured spots on the leaves. Sadly, there’s no cure for rust other than practising crop rotation.
Garlic can also be affected by white rot, which decays the roots and eventually the bulb. Again your only option is crop rotation.