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A How-to Guide for Growing Great Hardneck Garlic

If you’ve never tried growing garlic, autumn is your chance to get started.  It’s one of the last plants we sow in the fall, and the first to appear in early spring. Hardneck varieties are easy to grow and have a more robust flavor than softneck varieties. For most growers, October and December are the best times to sow a garlic crop, or 3-4 weeks after the first frost date. Check your gardening zone for your frost dates. 

Once you know your gardening zone, you can select the best type of garlic to plant for your climate. Different types of garlic do better in cold climates, while others thrive in warm climates. Hardneck garlic is a hardy variety that is a successful crop for many new garlic gardeners. After you’ve grown your garlic once, you will never want to return to the grocery store for garlic. 

What is Seed Garlic? 

Seed garlic is a whole bulb of garlic whose individual cloves will be used to grow a garlic crop. Each clove on the garlic bulb can be planted to grow a new bulb. The bulb size is determined by how big each clove is and the larger bulbs of garlic are reserved for planting garlic plants. 

Can you plant a garlic bulb from the store?

Most likely your local grocery store is carrying sonftneck variety of garlic or elephant garlic (these have very large bulbs and smaller cloves). Softneck and elephant garlics do not have as wide a growing range as hardneck varieties of garlic. However, hardneck and softneck types are the same species with just a few different qualities. Other than not having as rigid of a neck, softneck garlic also has more thin papery skin covering the cloves. Hardneck types also have larger cloves while softneck have a mild garlic flavor. 

Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic; What’s the Difference?

Hardneck Garlic:

  • Thrives in colder climates and overwintering (zones 1-5, but can be grown in almost every zone with proper attention)
  • Produces bigger bulbs with fewer large cloves 5-8 cloves per bulb.
  • Produces a long flower stem called “garlic scape” that can be harvested and used for pesto! Delicious! 
  • Has a more robust “garlicky” flavor.
  • Stores for 4-6 months after harvesting. 

Softeneck Garlic:

  • Grows well in warmer climates, with mild winters. Not cold hardy (zones 6-12)
  • Produces varied sizes of cloves within one bulb of garlic. 
  • Milder universal garlic flavor. 
  • Stores for up to 12-15 months are often the garlic found in a grocery store and produced on a mass scale. 

When to Plant Hardneck Garlic

Timing is everything when it comes to planting garlic, especially hardneck varieties that have a long and slow growth season. The best planting time for hardneck garlic is in the fall or autumn between October and December. Garlic requires 8-9 months of growing time before harvesting. 

​For warmer climates, vernalize the garlic.

Before sowing cloves into the earth, gardeners with warmer climates need to vernalize their hardneck garlic first by placing whole garlic bulbs in a paper bag and keeping them in the refrigerator for 6-12 weeks (softneck garlic does not need to be vernalized). Keep the bulbs away from fruits and veggies to avoid early growth and flavor transfers. Those who live in colder climates, do not need to vernalize the garlic before planting, wait for the first frost date. 

Tips for Successful Fall Garlic Planting:

Mulch: Garlic needs a layer of insulation to keep the planted cloves warm during the fall planting. Use fallen leaves or garden straw. 

Fertilizer: Before planting, work 5-10-10, fish meal, or bone meal into the soil surface just below the level where the garlic clove will rest after planting. In the spring, add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to enhance the growth of the bulbs. This will ensure healthy and fertile soil for the garlic. 

How to Plant Hardneck Garlic in the Fall: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step One: Where to Plant

Select a location for the garlic bed. Garlic must be planted in full sun (or direct sunlight) or where it will get 6-8 hours of sunlight.  

Do NOT plant hardneck garlic in containers!

Hardneck garlic requires insulation in the cold months to keep the germinated roots from freezing. Containers do not provide enough warmth during the colder months. 

Step two: Compost

Amend the soil of the garden bed with nitrogen-rich compost. Amending the soil adds in nutrients needed to grow healthy and disease-free plants. 

Begin by removing any leftover plant material like roots, stems, leaves, and weeds. 

Circulate the soil with a rake or hand rake. This will create loose soil and make it easier for the garlic bulbs to set their roots into the ground. 

Next, fold in the fresh compost. Use your hands to mix in 8 gallons of compost for every 25 square feet of the garden bed. 

Step Three: Digging the Holes

Planting garlic can commence after the first frost. 

Consider the garden space and dig holes in rows so each garlic plant will be 4-6 inches apart. 

Dig each hole to about 4 inches deep. 

Garlic makes an excellent companion plant for a vegetable garden, as its pungent aroma wards off pests and aids in reducing disease problems. 

Step Four: Fertilize

Garlic is a heavy feeder; they need abundant nutrients to set roots and grow strong bulbs. 

Add a tablespoon of fertilizer to each hole before planting the clove. 

We prefer Dr. Earth’s Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Fertilizer.

Step 5: Prepare the Cloves

Divide a bulb into cloves on the day of or the day before planting. 

Be careful not to remove the delicate exterior paper. 

Discard the neck of the garlic. 

Step 6: Planting the Cloves With the Pointy Side Up

Only plant large or medium-sized cloves, discarding the smallest and any damaged cloves. Place the garlic cloves with the pointed ends facing up, one in each hole. Double check the spacing of the cloves. Giving the cloves the proper spacing of 4-6 inches will allow for bigger bulbs. 

It’s important to which end of the garlic clove is placed into the earth. 

Plant the cloves closer together for smaller bulbs. 

Step 7: Cover the Cloves with Mulch

Cover the newly planted cloves with 4-6 inches of soil with your hands or a garden fork. Keep the soil fluffy and light. 

 Add dead leaves, mulch, or straw. The mulch will warm and insulate the cloves as they acclimate to the soil temperature. 

Provide frequent watering, but avoid overwatering the cloves. 

​Once the cloves are planted, you can forget about your garlic all through winter. The garlic will grow and set up its root system during the fall and early winter, and the first shoots will appear in late winter and early spring. 

How to Care for Garlic in the Spring & Summer 

Garlic will begin to emerge in early spring as temperatures begin to increase. Once the leaves are visible from the topsoil, it’s time to fertilize the garlic again using any form of nitrogen-rich fertilizer or worm tea. We like to use Sea Magic Kelp Fertilizer. 

While the garlic is growing, leave the mulch intact until you’re ready to harvest the garlic in late July. 

How often to fertilize Garlic in the Spring

​Garlic is a heavy feeder, meaning it often benefits from additional fertilizing. It can also be detrimental to over-fertilize garlic too.

Keep an eye on the garlic plants, and if the leaves start to yellow early to mid-spring, adding some additional fertilizer might be a good idea. 

However, we have often skipped spring fertilizing and had no issues growing large and robust bulbs. 

The Bonus of Garlic Scapes with Hardneck Garlic

Garlic scapes are green shoots that form in the late spring; removing the scapes is important for larger and more flavorful bulbs. 

In cooler climates, garlic will grow ten leaves; in warmer climates, it will grow up to 12 before the garlic scapes begin to form. Garlic scapes are part of the garlic stalk where the garlic flower forms. Remove the garlic scape once its stem reaches 4″ to 6″ in length. Some scapes will curl and resemble a long green bean but have a unique garlic flavor. Cutting the scapes ensures the garlic bulb’s healthiest and most flavorful growth. Failure to remove the scape will result in smaller and less flavorful bulbs. Use the scapes to make pesto or a delicious dip or spread. Once the scapes form, discontinue fertilizing. 

Cut the scapes at the base of the long stem where the stem meets the first leaf set. Cutting the scape closer to the flower bulb will continue to send energy through the scape and may result in a smaller bulb. The same goes for if the scape is not removed at all. Leaving the scape intact will result in a beautiful garlic flower; however, the bubble and garlic cloves will be much smaller. 

Harvest Time

Usually, in the first two to three weeks of July, it’s harvest time! 

There’s much debate over the best time to harvest garlic; however, a good rule of thumb that most garlic farmers follow is when ⅓ or ½ of the leaves on the garlic stock have yellowed, it’s time to harvest. Garlic also needs 8-9 months to grow and counting backward from the planting date is another way to select a time to harvest. 

​At least 5-8 leaves closest to the soil should be browned before harvesting the garlic. 

Tips for Successfully Harvesting Hardneck Garlic:

 1. Dig Up Only One Bulb First: Before digging up all the bulbs, dig up only a few and examine their size and the condition of their bulb wrappers (the thin papery covering that encases the cloves–like an onion skin). Pull up one of the bulbs and slice it in half to be 100% certain your garlic is ready for harvest. Inside, you should see fully developed cloves and the cloves slightly pulling away from the stem.

2. Gently Dig Up: Use your hands to coax the garlic out gently. Use a shovel or pitchfork to work the soil around the garlic bulbs delicately. Avoid any direct contact with the tool and the bulb to avoid damaging the garlic. Pull the bulb out of the ground and dust off the soil from the roots and bulbs. The bulbs bruise easily at this stage, so take extra care of how the bulbs are handled. 

3. Hang in a Well Ventilated location: Remove the bulbs from the sun and set them out on large drying wracks in a cool, well-ventilated area. 

Curing Hardneck Garlic For Maximum Flavor

The process of growing delicious garlic is long but well worth it. Garlic is tasty and ready to eat the moment it’sit’s harvested; however, if you allow it time to cure, it will grow into its well-known flavor. After harvesting:

  1. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to dust off and remaining soil on the garlic. 
  2. Gather bundles of 8-10 plants and tie them loosely together.
  3. Hang the plants to dry in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area where they will be protected from the elements for 5-10 days, or until the garlic is completely dry.
  4. Consider using fans to blow on the garlic in humid areas to combat mold development.

The curing process is complete when no moisture is present in the garlic stem. To check, cut the stem of one plant 1″ above the bulb and put the cut end to touch your dry lip. If any moisture remains, continue the drying and curing process. 

When the garlic is thoroughly dried and cured, prepare it for storing by trimming the roots ¼” and the stem to 1″. Pack the garlic bulbs into a well-ventilated container and store them in a cool, dry, dark place. 

Well-cured and stored garlic will keep for 4-6 months. 

Now you’re ready to embark on your garlic-growing journey. 

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  1. This is a wonderful and comprehensive guide to grow garlic! Very helpful! Thank you for putting all this information in one place!

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