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Growing Garlic – When to Plant and Why

When do you plant your garlic? Do you plant at that time out of habit only or is it habit with a good reason behind it?

Past 3 Years

I usually plant garlic on October 20. This can be a good date or a bad date depending on the weather and other variables.

  • Three years ago,  I had about 6 to 8 inches of tender top growth before winter. The winter was what we had come to think of as a “normal” cold and although the tops took some freeze damage and turned brown, I still had a nice harvest.
  • Two years ago the winter was brutal. (Not what we in Virginia have been use to.) I lost all the garlic top growth to the severe cold. It’s said that when garlic is frozen back to the ground (even two times), it can still regrow and be fine although the yield might be lower. Mine did not regrow and I lost all but a few bulbs.
  • Last year after planting on October 20 garlic obtained top growth of about 6 inches before the freeze set in. Again the winter was brutal. Although the garlic’s leaves turned brown from the cold, I still had a decent harvest. I may possibly have had larger bulbs had the top growth not been damaged.

Changing My Planting Date

This year I decided to make the most of my time and effort by planting my garlic a bit later: sometime the first week in November. The time in your area might be different since the idea is to plant soon enough to get good root growth before your ground freezes, but not a lot (if any) top growth.

Roots will continue to grow as long as the soil is not frozen. Tops grow when temperatures are above 40ºF.

Need a More Specific Guideline to Determine Your Planting Date?

You might want to use the guideline mentioned in Pam Dawling’s book Sustainable Market Farming:
Plant when the soil temperature taken at 9AM at 4 inches deep is 50º F.
She also notes that Texas A&M says to plant when it’s less than 85ºF at 2 inches deep.

Want to Know if Your Garlic Has Put Down Roots Before the Freeze?

My friend and reader, Jack in New Jersey, (who grows a LOT of garlic) wanted to know.
In the early winter of this year he told me via email what he did to find out:

I purposely planted my Garlic a few weeks late again, trying to avoid too much fall growth. I was quite satisfied after carefully digging down to inspect a few cloves, the huge anchor roots have pulled the cloves down another 2+” deeper and although they haven’t sprouted thru the soil, they’re ready to.  I suspect the next few warm days we get should put them (cause them to grow) into the mulch zone.  In 2012, they grew 6″ before going dormant and I had a bit of frost damage to the tips.”

If you’re growing a lot of varieties it would be interesting to check each variety and see if there is a difference in root growth.

Final Thoughts

Have you chosen a planting date that will give you the best chance for a bigger and better harvest?  You still have time to think it over.

Related Posts:
Growing Garlic – Is Yours Large Enough For You?

Garlic – Observations from the 2015 Harvest

Growing Garlic – A Good Reason to Grow Your Own

All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Right Reserved.

19 comments to Growing Garlic – When to Plant and Why

  • Jim Schmerschneider

    Theresa,
    just a note to say thanks again for doing what you do…your gardening updates are like a welcomed letter from a distant relative or a long lost friend. I’ve been veg gardening for 40 years and I continue to use your site as a great reference! With everything else you are dealing with you still find time to share your expertise and provide valuable guidance like this to others. Good to see that you are challenging your own gardening habits (garlic planting time)as you have stressed to all of us…..think outside the box! This has added another level of enjoyment to my gardening methods and in many ways increased my love of gardening as well as stretched my mind from habit to planned techniques…absolutely love it 🙂

  • Don Rutherford

    Theresa

    Thanks for this post

    This is the first year I am planting garlic and want to plant it later to not have top growth this Fall, but want a good start for spring, because here in Michigan, it usually gets colder and I don’t want to lose the tops or bulbs.

    I’m thinking of planting some cloves outside the garden as a deterrent to critters.

  • Sandra

    Theresa, What’s your (and/or Jack’s) opinion of just increasing the mulch on the top to avoid frost damage? Then adding more mulch as needed to protect the tops until growth stops?
    My planting date is usually around Oct. 15th. because it is one of my children’s birthdays and so I don’t forget to do it. Habit, not forethought.

    I’m also interested in what you guys with more experience do to prepare the soil. Some years, I put shredded leaves as a first layer of mulch on top a little before I plant the garlic, but I’m curious as to what if anything (cover crops in advance, etc. ) you or Jack do?
    Always learning.

  • Toni Brock

    Good morning Theresa! Thank you for this garlic post. Last year I planted my garlic (7 varieties) on September 17 here in NW Oregon. I harvested between May 17 and June 17. Most was of great size. A couple of heads needed harvesting earlier as the skins opened. I am late getting it in the ground this year so we will see what later planting brings.

  • Theresa

    Jim, your comment was very meaningful. Thank you so much for taking the time to express your feelings about what I do.

    Don, good luck with your garlic this year! Let me know how you do.

    Sandra, in my opinion mulch is absolutely necessary when planting garlic. But mulch does not prevent frost damage to leaves that are up several inches or more. Leaves are one of the best things for your soil and that includes the garlic beds. Any cover crop that precedes the garlic is also excellent.

    Even though you are further north than I am, your garden is “warmer” than mine. I assume that is because of where you are positioned to the Bay. That makes me think that you could definitely postpone your planting date until at the very least Nov. 1 if not a week or so after that.

    Toni, I had not realized that you had planted 7 varieties! Way to go!!! Tell us your favorites when you have time. I’ll have more posts in the future on harvesting garlic and how to possibly avoid harvesting too late.

    Theresa

  • I have always planted the first week of November. While I have never lost anything to frost, I have found that the harder winters yield smaller bulbs. I keep increasing the amount of elephant garlic we are planting and am now at about half elephant and half Italian soft neck. I unintentionally planted a bunch of hard neck last year – did not care for them as much and am not even sure why. Habit, I suppose!

  • Theresa,
    I saw your post and thought I would mention we have a “Garlic Growing Guide” on our website that your readers might find helpful. We do a couple of pre-planting steps to insure a healthy clove. We soak the cloves in fish emulsion and then we sanitize them. The guide explains in detail. Here is a link http://www.getgarlic.com/how-to-grow-garlic

    By the way, If any of your readers are still looking for seed garlic… we planted a lot of Northern White Porcelain last year, so we have a 14% off sale going on that variety. The bulbs are big and beautiful and we have a bunch! So Here is the link. http://www.getgarlic.com/product/porcelain-seed-garlic

    If you mention Tending My Garden with the order it will make me smile and I will be sure to put some extra garlic in the package.

    Thank you Theresa for providing a place for people to talk about what they have going in their garden.

    Troy

  • Theresa

    Kate, I bet you enjoy the elephant garlic because it’s so large. I was surprised to learn that you don’t like the hardneck. I love the hardneck and oddly enough it’s because of its beauty and that nice little “handle” that makes it easy to work with. 🙂

    Troy, I sure hope folks will see that nice offer for extra garlic just for mentioning Tending My Garden! That is so nice!

    Glad you brought up your guide to growing garlic. I want to mention that I think your recommendation for planting 3 to 4 inches deep might be for Northern gardeners. Here in Virginia I plant 1 inch deep with excellent results. See pictures in my post http://tendingmygarden.com/growing-garlic-yours-large-enough-for-you/.

    Appreciate your joining the conversation Troy and especially appreciate the special offer to TMG readers to get extra garlic just for mentioning TendingMyGarden.
    Theresa

  • Steve

    Theresa,
    The last two years I have planted garlic in the first two weeks of October, both years I had at least 6 inches of top growth. This and putting garlic on the south side of the house I am pretty sure doomed the garlic both years. Too much freezing and thawing and the result was a hand full of weak looking garlic bulbs instead of dozens of bulbs. I had been suspicious of the southern exposure but not fully convinced till now. I also grew potatoes planted on that side in Sept. but the winter did not seem to harm them (no green leaf above the ground).
    Thanks for the post
    Steve

  • Jack

    Great post Theresa! Following a recommended planting date sure would simplify things if we could all count on Mother Nature to be consistent from year-year.
    We’re not that far (as the crow flies) from each other and I clearly recall the weather you were speaking of. The past 2 winters have been downright cold too with many days at/below zero, whereas years ago I can remember getting away with no more than a sweatshirt all winter long.

    Ive been planting my garlic crop late the past few years. What I’ve found out since, was that neither the cold or the fact that the ground would freeze solid (more than 12″ deep) were ever an issue as long as the clove shoots were still underground or top growth is limited and well under mulch

    There’s nothing wimpy about garlic, but back in either 10′ or 11′, I planted my cloves and bulbils out on my recommended planting date of Oct 15. That year, the temps stayed well above normal thru most of December and everything popped thru the mulch very early. As I recall, I wound up with approx 4-6″ of top growth before it went dormant. January and February brought in several weeks of very cold/bitter weather and despite the 4-5″ (shredded leaf/straw mix) of mulch in place, all 23 varieties took it on the chin.

    Rather than the fast normal spring growth, they slowly mended themselves and eventually bounced back but the setback affected the entire crop as bulb sizes were noticeably smaller. That’s when I decided to ignore the “recommended” planting date and take a more long range forecast/gut feeling approach.

    I truly believe there’s much more to gain on the back side (spring) with a late planting, provided the cloves or bulbils have ample time to throw down some good anchor roots before dormancy sets in. Last year I timed my planting perfectly, as they went dormant just after breaking through the soil. I’m aiming for early/mid November this year too.

  • Theresa

    Hey Jack. Thanks for taking time to put up the details. Adds a lot to the post!
    Theresa

  • Laverne Ljunggren

    What can I use to keep potatoes from scabbing?

  • Theresa

    Laverne, I hope you read the post I recommended when last I answered you on the Lime post. (http://tendingmygarden.com/organic-gardening-lime-do-you-need-it/)
    I gave 7 things that gardeners can do to cut down on scab.
    As I mentioned in the post, the bacteria that causes it lives in the soil. As with any problem in the garden, continually improving your soil will help.
    Although I like planting my potatoes about 6 inches deep, many years I’ve planted on top of the soil and then covered with thick mulch (which I do no matter how deep or shallow they are planted). That strategy might help cut down on the amount of scab your potatoes will have since they will be forming on top of the ground rather than in the ground.

    I think you might be looking for “what ‘product’ you can use to keep potatoes from scabbing” If so, that’s not how I solve garden problems and thus, I don’t have that type of answer for you.
    Theresa

  • I just talked to a nice lady in Northern CA who is in zone 10a. She is wondering when to plant garlic. I am just wondering if you or someone who is reading your blog has some good information?

    Thank You!

    Troy

  • Theresa

    Hi Troy,
    I don’t know if I have readers in zone 10A that subscribe to comments, but if any do, they’ll be glad to help I’m sure.
    If this lady ha lived in that area for a while — she’s got to know about how long she has until freezing sets in.
    General advice usually dictates planting 6 to 8 weeks before frost. I know our weather patterns enough that I don’t usually follow that. I
    plant in October even though the first frost or freeze is probable.

    It stays nice enough for roots to develop even through November. And sometimes December.
    Hope that will help this Northern CA lady some.
    Theresa

  • Saina Hadden

    Hi Theresa, I am the lady that Troy mentioned. Our weather is generally warm enough that we do not really get any frost in our area (or at least not every year and if it sets it will last a day or two only and be in January/February) and that is what is prompting my question as I do not know from what point to count 6-8 weeks. Any help is appreciated! Thank you.

  • Theresa

    Hi Saina,
    Your best answer would come from someone in your zone who has grown garlic since they would be more familiar with your weather patterns and how garlic performs in your area.

    I looked up your planting zone and see that your coldest temps are only 30 to 40º F. Your first potential frost date is Dec. 15.

    It would seem to me that you could plant in mid October and be fine. Another idea is to experiment a bit and plant some now, some October 15 and some Nov. 1 and see what happens. I think all those planting dates would be ok for you.

    Your temps are so mild you’d probably be ok no matter when you planted, although I think garlic enjoys some cold weather. Based on that, any of those dates I gave would be fine.

    Let me know how you do.
    Theresa

  • Saina Hadden

    Thank you, Theresa. I will try that.

  • Theresa

    You are very welcome Saina.
    Theresa

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