The humble garlic has grown significantly in popularity over the last few decades to become a fundamental staple ingredient in kitchens up and down the UK. Prior to this, it was seen as something foreign or exotic to our plates, and palates, but now it is so popular there’s even a National Garlic Day – April 19th! Garlic is widely used as an herb or a spice to add something extra to a dish, but garlic is botanically a vegetable. Specifically, it’s a vegetable that’s part of the allium family, which means that it’s related to onions, shallots and leeks. Unlike its relations, you most certainly wouldn’t eat a garlic raw though. Indeed, garlic is a pungent yet versatile vegetable that spices up many recipes from sauces, to soups, to roasts and more, even in some desserts.
Garlic is typically crushed, spread, roasted, blended, or chopped to add to dishes. It’s also extremely popular with new and experienced gardeners alike, great also for families with young kids, because it’s really easy to grow in the UK, and an exceedingly small space can still produce a decent yield, whether you have an allotment or just want your own fresh garden-grown supply. It primarily just needs good tending and a warm sunny site. Garlic also generally keeps well which means anything unused can be stored away for several months. This guide is specifically for those who wish to grow garlic in the ground at home or another suitable spot. We’ll cover everything you need to do to from preparation through to harvest and storage.
If you want to grow garlic in pots or containers at home, we have covered that in a different guide here. Ready to begin? Let’s get into it.
Why Grow Garlic at Home?
As mentioned, garlic is an unbelievably versatile vegetable that has grown in popularity to become a staple ingredient in meals up and down the UK. Growing your own means you will have a fresh supply nearby when you need them for your dishes. Growing your own garlic is quite easy too, even for the newest beginners, so if you are introducing yourself to grow-your-own with garlic, rest assured you have chosen well. Then there’s the freshness, taste and variety you can achieve at home that is lost from the mass-grown store-bought garlic. Supermarket garlic is sold as fresh, but it’s actually not because it has already been dried.
What’s also great is knowing garlic is remarkably good for us in a balanced diet. It is jam-packed with B and C vitamins, manganese, selenium, iron, copper and potassium. When crushed or chopped, garlic produces an enzyme called allicin, which has been found to reduce inflammation and give antioxidant benefits. All that goodness goes to our hearts, joints, brains, helps with digestion, colds and flus, muscle aches, and more. We think you’ll agree it packs quite a punch for its size, and we do not just mean the pungent aroma! And let’s not forget the bragging rights for growing your own veg. That trumps all surely.
What Variety of Garlic Should You Grow?
Before you plant, consider the type or types of garlic you want to grow. Yes, there are more varieties of garlic for you to choose from than the uniformly shaped, homogenous ones you’ll find at every supermarket. Would you like to grow for size? Or how about flavour? Maybe you want longevity mostly? Perhaps you want a really bountiful cropper? Or do you have a specific meal use case in mind? Whatever variety you choose you’ll generally follow the same process of growing so don’t worry about having to drastically alter the plan.
Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varities will produce garlic plus an edible flower stem as they grow – also named a ‘scape – which can be chopped up for use in salads. They’re a good choice if you want a little more use from the crop. Softneck garlic varieties don’t produce the scape. However, a positive characteristic here is that the bulbs can generally be stored for longer than hardneck varities. Softnecks generally mature quicker too.
So, there are some pros and cons to consider between both types, not huge ones by any means, but it pays to be aware of them. Since garlic is quite easy to grow, requiring little actual space, why not grow both types to keep your options open? Something to keep in mind is garlic will always be grown from bulbs, as it is quite hard to produce viable seed for use at home. So, you’ll be buying bulbs from a good garden centre. Whatever variety you choose to grow just be sure of their specific type, when to sow, when to harvest, and any individual needs or characteristics they may have.
Varieties of Garlic to Grow at Home
If you’re a newbie, you’d be forgiven for thinking all garlic varieties are like the ones you find in supermarkets. Our shops are not known for offering diversity across vegetables. Whether it be onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots – most if not all veg – you get one or two choices and that’s it. It’s about commercial efficiency and longevity at the expense of choice and freshness, and that’s fair enough. But with just a relatively small amount of effort you can open your horizons to lots of different varieties that will be fresher, that are better for you, will taste better, and ultimately works out cheaper in the long run.
Red Duke Garlic (hardneck)
It has a lovely purple striped appearance and produces large cloves. It is one of the strongest flavours of garlic around and is a good storer.
Solent Wight (softneck)
This garlic comes from the Isle of Wight and is well suited to the UK climate. It’s got a great balance of flavour – medium to strong – and also keeps well so you can store and enjoy months later.
Don’t Plant Supermarket Garlic
Don’t bother with trying to plant garlic cloves from a supermarket. It’s not worth the effort. Supermarket garlic are generally cultivated in different parts of the world where the climate is completely different. Additionally, while they are treated as they grow, they are not held to as strict standards garlic specifically for planting is, and so may carry diseases that do not affect humans but are those that garlic are susceptible to. Always buy certified disease free, from any good garden centre. The same goes for any starting seeds, vegetables or plants.
Choosing Hardneck or Softneck
There’s no major concern if you choose either, or both types of garlic, to grow in your garden. The only thing you need to be aware of is your planting and growing timeframe, which may be different depending on the type of garlic you choose. More on that next.
General Growing/Harvesting Timescale for Garlic
It’s worth pointing out again that garlic is typically always grown from bulbs, because producing viable seed for use at home or allotments is quite difficult. When you go to buy, just remember this to avoid any confusion. So, when it comes to planting your garlic in the UK generally you can generally plant from autumn to spring, say late October/November in the autumn to late March/April. They are best planted in the autumn as this will produce a better crop. Top tip: experienced garlic growers always plant before Christmas for the best results both in size of bulbs and in cropping. Keep an eye out for whether the bulbs are being sold for autumn or spring planting, as it may affect your results if you plant an autumn bulb in the spring and vice versa.
Generally, garlic will be ready for harvest sometime from May to September/early October. This holds true for garlic planted in the autumn too, though you might find it comes to harvest a lot earlier in the season vs spring planted varieties. Please note though that some varieties will crop sooner so just be aware of the specific growing timeline of your chosen garlic variety. Weather and growing conditions will also be factors to consider. Likewise, if you have a greenhouse, then you will likely be able to plant sooner, and achieve a faster harvest. Consider all the factors and get a good idea of your plan ahead of time.
How to Start Growing Garlic
Now you know some more about garlic you’re ready to get started growing your own at home. It pays to know what to do in advance so read through our guide, get up to speed, and then when you’re ready to go, get started! Remember, you’ll be starting off from garlic bulbs, hardneck or softneck (maybe both), and either certified autumn or spring bulbs.
Growing Garlic from Bulbs
Unlike other vegetables that may be grown from seed, garlic isn’t typically grown this way because it’s hard to produce viable seeds for use at home. So, this cuts out a lot of preparatory work developing seedlings and means you simply buy the bulb variety you want, when they are available from a good garden centre. You may wish to prepare your site ahead of time though, details coming next.
Preparing the Ground & Soil
Next comes preparing your site in the garden at home. Garlic will grow best in a warm, sunny spot, that’s full sun, with fertile and well-draining soil. Choose a suitable area that matches. Also, if planting in autumn you need to ensure that throughout winter the site does not get too wet as this will increase the changes of rot and disease. A good tip mention here if you are not growing for the first time is to reduce the chances of disease, avoid growing garlic in the same plot as past vegetables, or other alliums like onions, because for more than two years running because anything untoward such as previous pests and diseases can linger.
When a suitable site has been chosen, start to prepare the soil by digging thoroughly and deeply, loosening it well, and, digging in a lot of good vegetable compost and a little fertiliser at the same time. Be sure to remove any stones, boulders and especially weeds you encounter as these will compete for nutrients. To give you an idea of how large your area will have to be, you will plant each garlic clove 10cm apart in rows, and each row in turn should be about 30cm apart from one another. This will help in removing weeds later as well as giving your garlic enough room to grow. So, consider how many cloves you have or wish to grow, and this will tell you how large your planting area should roughly be.
Sowing and Planting Garlic Cloves
When your soil is prepared and the time is right to sow your garlic cloves (depending on the type you have) carefully start removing the cloves from your bulbs and push them into the soil, about two to three inches deep, ensuring the pointed end points upwards. Remember, each clove is to be 10cm apart and each row (if you have rows) about 30cm apart. Gently cover with soil a little over the top of them and water in well being careful not to over-water.
You’ll be more than pleased to know that garlic isn’t a demanding plant by any means. It doesn’t need a lot of watering or feeding. In fact, you only need to really water it a little during long dry spells. But that’s about it. Stop watering when you see the leaves turning yellow. The main thing to keep on top are weeds. The garlic plant isn’t very large, so it doesn’t create a lot of shade, and that in turn means it can be quickly smothered by fast growing weeds nearby. Keep an eye and dig them out as they appear.
If you see any bulbs that have been uprooted for whatever reason, don’t worry, this can be rectified easily by pushing them back into the soil. With hardneck varieties, you may see them start to flower, but pick these before they fully form so the plant focuses only on growing the garlic. Continue to keep an eye on your garlic until it’s time to harvest.
Harvesting your Garlic
As mentioned earlier, when to harvest your garlic will depend on your chosen onion variety, weather and growing conditions. Generally, though, autumn-sown garlic may be ready around June, and spring-sown garlic around the end of July/August onwards. You’ll know when it’s the right time to harvest because the leaves will droop and turn yellow to brown when they’ve stopped growing. At this point they should be big enough to harvest and use immediately if you like. To harvest, gently loosen the soil, a fork is best, and then lift the garlic from the soil. Watch out for cutting the bulbs with your fork as this will reduce their storage longevity or render them unable to be stored at all.
Next, gently brush off dirt and then allow the garlic time to dry out somewhere for two to three days, left out on a tray in the sun somewhere. Any remaining dirt should be brushed off again.
Storing your Garlic
Once the garlic has been dried, separate the garlic you will use from those you will store. You can store them loose in a string sack, in a cool, dry and dark place. Alternatively, you can opt for a traditional way of keeping them together by plaiting the foliage to make a string of bulbs. Grown well and stored correctly, they should last for months. Any damaged bulbs should be discarded. Remember, softneck varieties generally store better than hardneck varieties, so plan to use these ones first if you have grown any.
Common Problems to be Aware Of
Like any vegetable garlic can suffer from some problems, but with the right preparation, care and attention you will have minimal issues. Here’s a run through of what to know and watch out for though:
But garlic isn’t a leek you are saying rather confusedly. We know, it’s just because leeks are from the same family and this is the name for the fungal disease that causes bright yellow spots on the leaves. It exacerbated by wet spells. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done once there. If it’s mild, the garlic won’t be harmed. If it’s bad and all over the leaves then remove the garlic and dispose. Good spacing when planting will ensure it doesn’t spread amongst the other garlic plants. Be sure not to grow garlic, leeks or onions in the same spot for three years following.
Onion White Rot
Similar to above with the naming convention. This is visible in the form of a dense white fungal growth around the roots and base of the bulb. Unfortunately, there is no cure or remedy, and the only real option is to dig up all traces then destroy them by burning. This site should not be planted on again.
By far the most annoying problem are birds. They will happily eat your seedlings, buds, leaves, the entire thing. Prevent them from getting to your crop by simply covering with suitable bird netting.
Your Very Own Home-Grown Garlic
Easy! Garlic is such an easy to grow, versatile vegetable, that’s really good for you. With its versatility, we’re sure you’ll find plenty of uses for the abundant crop you’ll be growing at home following our guide. Whatever your aim, we hope you’ll give it a go growing your own.
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