Tips for Growing Garlic

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Northern Gardener.

Fall is the best time for garlic planting, though you will not reap the benefits of your efforts until next summer, when you are enjoying fresh pesto, quiches and other garlic-filled dishes. Growing garlic is easy and fun. Plant the garlic cloves outside in October so roots can develop before the ground freezes, and then look for foliage early next spring.

garlic for plantingPlanting and Growing Garlic

  • Garlic loves full sun and well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
  • Find bulbs at a local nursery (see our list of partner nurseries). Do not plant cloves from grocery-store garlic. The garlic varieties sold in stores may not be hardy in northern gardens. Some garlic bulbs may also have have been treated with preservatives to extend their shelf-life in stores.
  • Break apart the bulb to separate individual cloves, leaving the paper husk on each clove.
  • Plant cloves 2 to 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Choose the biggest, healthiest cloves since they will turn into larger, healthier bulbs next summer.
  • After garlic planting, cover bulbs with a thick layer of straw during winter and remove the straw in the spring when threat of frost has passed.
  • In the spring, cut off any flower shoots because they will decrease bulb size.

Harvest and Storage

When the foliage begins to yellow at the top and fall over, it’s time to harvest, This usually happens in late June to August. Harvest a test bulb to make sure the cloves are plump and the bulbs are covered in a thick, dry paper. You will know it’s too early to harvest if the paper wrapping is thin and disintegrates. If you wait too long, bulbs can split apart. Instead of pulling bulbs, gently dig them up and brush off soil. Avoid bruising the bulbs.  Let bulbs dry in a cool, shady spot with good air flow for two weeks—for best air circulation, you can hang them upside down in bunches of four to six bulbs. When the roots and paper husk are dry, the bulbs are ready to be stored. Remove the tops and roots and store in a cool, dark, dry spot (not in a moist basement or refrigerator).

Save a few of your biggest, healthiest bulbs for planting next fall.


  1. Courtney Tchida on October 2, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Those flower shoots are called scapes and they are delicious like garlic flavored green beans. Make sure you eat those too, they can be minced up and used like garlic in any recipe.

  2. Caitiumom on October 5, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    Can you plant in raised garden beds or only in the ground. I would guess ground only because of winter.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on October 5, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      Hmmm. Not sure. If you did plant in raised beds, you’d want to put some insulation (strawbales, etc) around the beds.

  3. Beth A Wiemken on October 7, 2020 at 9:55 pm

    I am a 14 yr experienced garlic grower and won Blue and Red ribbons at the MN State Fair. Site prep is most important one yr in advance. Plant 3″ deep and space 4-10″ apart depending on the variety in full sun, well drained loam type soil. I plant in raised beds and also in the ground…mulch with straw as straw is hollow and has insulation properties. You can also apply chopped up leaves…make sure to rake the mulch to the side in the spring to allow soil drying for the garlic …rake the mulch back onto the garlic to preserve moisture during hot months…….clip those scapes once they curl once .saute in olive oil until crisp…I hope this helps Beth Wiemken master gardener…winner 29 ribbons for vegetables at the MN State Fair…

    • Mary Lahr Schier on October 7, 2020 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks, Beth! Those are great tips.

    • Robert J Horsnell on August 8, 2022 at 7:00 pm

      I hope you can help.

      When to plant Elephant Garlic in Lake Elmo, MN

      I just read the following page, but it does not talk about Elephant Garlic specifically. My guess is that is because it is really an Onion. Can anyone direct me to more specific info?

      I spoke with Irean from Burbee this morning and she basically read their website description of when to plant Garlic and to me, and told me to plant Hard neck garlic because of the Cold climate.
      Other sites I have looked at, read to plant Elephant Garlic in the fall. looking for some clarification. Thank you

  4. Larry Jones on October 14, 2020 at 12:44 am

    I just received some Garlic seed. ( not bulbs or cloves) When to plant fall or spring?

  5. Katie Cross on October 21, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Does anyone know of a local – metro area to southern MN – source that still has garlic for planting?

    Thank you!

Leave a Comment