Garlic is an essential part of many people’s cooking and it’s very easy to grow. Why not give it a try? Using your own ingredients feels so good as you cook your way through the year!

The key to success

Choose a sunny spot and well-drained soil. If your summers tend to be wet you can always grow it on mounds/ridges or in a greenhouse (see below).

Essential background

A bulb (or head) of garlic is made up of a number of segments called cloves. A clove is surrounded by its own papery wrapper, and it can be separated from the rest.

garlic

Cloves, each in their own papery wrapper, make up a bulb or head of garlic. Sarah Buchanan

There are three types of garlic:

  • hardneck which produces a flower stem
  • softneck which doesn’t produce a flower stem and stores for longer
  • elephant garlic which is actually a variant of leek and produces enormous heads up to about 15cm/6in across.

Plant garlic bought from garden centres or specialist suppliers as this will be disease-free and suitable for growing conditions in this country. Don’t plant garlic from supermarkets.

You could try varieties such as 'Early Wight', 'Purple Wight', 'Solent Wight', 'Arno', 'Germidour', and 'Cristo'. Or 'Marco' as in our image below.

garlic

Variety 'Marco', bought from a garden centre. Sarah Buchanan

Garlic needs a period of low temperatures for the bulbs to divide into cloves so planting it in the autumn (any time up to Christmas) is the best time. If you miss planting in autumn you can also plant in the early spring.

Planting

  • Prepare the soil by digging in plenty of organic matter such as compost, well rotted manure or recycled green waste. This will also provide nutrients. Improve the drainage of heavy soils by digging in grit as well. Weed thoroughly and rake the ground level.
  • Gently break the bulb into individual cloves ready for planting. It’s OK to leave the paper skins on.
  • Carefully push the clove into the soil, pointy end up and flat basal plate – where the roots will grow – down. Do this gently so you don't damage the clove or basal plate where disease and rot could enter. If in doubt, mark out a shallow trench and use that. Plant the cloves so that the tip is just below the surface, 10cm (4in) apart in the row and rows 30cm (12in) apart.
  • Birds and animals may occasionally pull up the cloves, so check from time to time and gently push them back into the soil.

Growing

  • Keep garlic well watered during dry weather to make sure the cloves swell. This also helps to ensure a longer storage life.
  • As the garlic begins to grow, continue to weed carefully around the plants.

Harvesting

  • Harvest the garlic when the leaves begin to turn yellow and die. That will be from June onwards, depending on variety.
  • Use a fork to loosen the soil around the plants and lift the bulbs carefully.
  • Leave them on the surface or spread them out on netting, trays or a concrete path to dry thoroughly.
  • When you’re sure they are dry, plait them or hang them in bunches or net bags in a cool and ventilated place.
super food. Garlic

Grow your own garlic - as good as this string for sale! Photo thanks to Peter Trimming, Geograph

For more advice, consult the RHS.

Troubleshooting: cold areas

  1. Cover with cloches (a cut-off plastic bottle will do the job) if a frost is threatened.
  2. Plant individual cloves in seed modules or small pots of multi-purpose compost. Water well and grow them on in a cool greenhouse or cold frame before planting out in the garden in March or April.

Troubleshooting: wet areas

  1. Try growing garlic on mounds or ridges of soil about 10-15cm (4-6in) high and 20cm (8in) wide at the base. Make sure there is good drainage by digging in grit and bulky organic matter.
  2. Try growing garlic in a greenhouse or cold frame all the way through to harvesting. Plant in seed modules or small pots as in (2) above, and then repot into larger pots in spring. Keep well watered to make sure the cloves swell.

Look forward to sticky honey garlic chicken thighs or really good Greek moussaka made with your very own garlic next summer!