Many of us find garlic to be a fairly straightforward plant to grow, however, some gardeners do run into some difficulty due in part to there being multiple stages during its life cycle where it can be harvested. By understanding the growth stages of garlic, you can optimize your yield and have a great crop that you’ll be able to use in all of those delicious meals. In this article, I will go over the garlic growing stages and also provide some guidance on when the best time is to harvest your garlic crop.
Table of Contents
Garlic growing stages
In general, the time it takes from sowing to harvesting takes anywhere between 5-10 months (although this can differ depending on the variety you grow and where you live). Let’s have a look at the breakdown below:
- Green or Spring Garlic
- Young Bulbs.
- Mature Bulbs
- Flowering Stage
Essentially, garlic starts its life as the bulb that you harvest from the crop before. Usually, they are dried, cured, and stored over the winter. The bulbs hold the cloves inside that we need to grow more garlic. There are two types of garlic, Hardneck, and Softneck. The main difference is that Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk called a scape. Softneck varieties don’t produce a scape.
Hardneck Garlic Variety
This variety of garlic takes a little longer to mature in comparison to the Softneck garlic. They also don’t do as well in warm climates and prefer cooler weather. Hardneck garlic is best planted in late fall so it can overwinter and be ready for harvesting come spring/early summer the following year. Hardnecks produce scapes that are fantastic in salads or stir-fried for a taste of the bulbs that you will harvest later.
Softneck Garlic Variety
This variety of garlic tends to grow and mature a lot faster in comparison to that the Hardneck variety. usually, this type of garlic performs better in climates that are warmer as well. The warmer the climate, the higher the chance that you will have a successful crop of garlic. Softneck garlic is best planted in early fall. This gives the plant enough time to establish itself before the hotter weather sets in.
Stage 1: Germination (1-2 months)
So, let’s break this down. On average, each garlic bulb contains 6 to 15 cloves- which act as the seeds to grow more garlic. If given the correct sunlight, temperature and nutrients, one clove can grow into an entirely new bulb of multiple cloves.
Try not to look at garlic cloves like seeds in the usual sense. Garlic is a plant that has been refined and cultivated by farmers over the last 3500- 4000 years and, over time, these plants have improved in flavor but struggled to produce seeds that grow into new plants. Varieties of garlic that still produce flowers tend to die off before they can create any seeds… This leaves us in a bit of a predicament.
Now, depending on which variety of garlic you have chosen, the seeds can be sown in fall or spring. If you opted to grow your garlic in the fall then this kind of growth activity happens in the root system, which gives the garlic cloves a strong foundation to make it through the winter months.
With Hardneck varieties, they need colder periods which essentially allows the clothes to split into other separate clothes. The good thing about this, nature will do all of the hard work for you when it comes to planting these kinds of varieties in the fall.
Softneck on the other hand doesn’t need as much of a vernalization process to help them grow. This is the process where plants experience a period of cold weather (usually around 0°C or 32°F) which helps to trigger their flowering process.
Stage 2: Green or Spring Garlic (7 months)
Once we get past the germination phase we then enter the green or spring garlic phase which usually occurs after about the seven-month mark. Once you get to this point you will notice that your garlic plant has grown quite a bit and will now have long green leaves. You can actually harvest the plant at this point where it can be pulled right out of the ground.
If you end up doing this, you will notice that the cloves haven’t fully matured and thus won’t resemble the usual shape of a garlic clove. Because spring garlic is so fresh and has not had time to develop a dried skin, it doesn’t store well. Thus, it should be eaten or frozen within a week of harvesting.
Green garlic is a great seasoning to use in stocks and soups. To prepare, cut off the roots and dark green leaves. Use only the bulb, the white part of shoot, and pale greens.
Stage 3: Scapes (7-8 months)
3 to 4 weeks after the green or spring garlic phase of your garlic planting process – scapes will appear. Scapes are quite easy to distinguish because of their length and how they have a distinct curl. If you were to leave the scapes of your garlic plant to their own devices they would eventually flower and produce what is known as “bulbils“.
While some gardeners love to grow bulbils others prefer to trim the scapes. And why did I do this? Leaving the scapes encourages the garlic plant to direct its energy toward the seed-producing process which ultimately produces flowers. In short, if you allow the scapes of your garlic plant to grow you run the risk of developing small bulbs and cloves.
Stage 4: Young Bulbs (8 months)
At the eight-month mark, you will notice that your garlic plant is now producing a small bulb. This is the point where you can start to harvest what is known as “young garlic“. Young garlic is essentially garlic that has not had time to mature and has a nice juicy flavor. Young garlic heads are usually covered in a moist leathery skin that would eventually become the papery outer layers of a mature garlic bulb.
I would recommend eating young bulbs within a week or chopping them and freezing them. To harvest young garlic simply pull the entire plant out of the ground. Once you have done this cut off the roots and leave about 2 inches above the bulb.
Stage 5: Mature Bulbs (9 months)
After nine months your garlic plant should have produced a mature bulb. A mature garlic bulb is usually about 3\4 of the size of a tennis ball. To know if your garlic is ready to harvest you can simply check the bottom of the largest leaves. If they have started to dry and turn brown then it’s time to harvest
If you want to store your garlic for an extended period of time then you will need to let the bulbs cure for two weeks after harvesting. Curing essentially allows the outer layers of your garlic bulbs to dry and form a protective barrier around the cloves
To cure your garlic, start by trimming off the roots and leaving about an inch or two of stems above the bulb. Next, find a cool and dry place to hang your garlic. I like to use an old pair of pantyhose for this. Simply cut off the toe area of the pantyhose and put a few garlic bulbs in each leg. Hang your pantyhose in a cool dark place and allow the garlic to cure for two weeks.
Stage 6: Flowering Stage (10 months)
The final stage of the garlic planting process is the flowering stage. This usually occurs around the 10-month mark and signals the end of the growing cycle. At this point, your garlic plant will produce a long stalk that bears a small white flower
Once your garlic plant flowers you can harvest the bulbils that form at the base of the flower. Bulbils are essentially mini cloves that can be planted to produce new garlic plants. I like to use bulbils in stir-fries or soups because they have a nice garlicky flavor.
I hope you now have more of an understanding of the garlic growing stages. Let’s summarise everything we have learned below:
- It usually takes garlic a total of 10 months to grow from seed to harvestable plant
- The growing stages are: germination, green or spring garlic scapes, young bulbs, mature bulbs, and then finally, the flowering stage
- There are two common types of garlic – Hardneck and Softneck
People Also Ask
How long does garlic take to grow?
Garlic takes a total of 10 months to grow from seed to harvestable plant. The growing stages are: germination, green or spring garlic scapes, young bulbs, mature bulbs, and then finally, the flowering stage.
How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?
To know if your garlic is ready to harvest you can simply check the bottom of the largest leaves. If they have started to dry and turn brown/ yellow then it’s time to harvest. You don’t want to leave the bulbs in the ground for too long otherwise they will open and let soil in – which can promote rotting.
Does garlic need a lot of water?
Garlic plants require between half an inch to one inch of water per week. They are quite drought-tolerant, so you don’t need to worry too much about watering them. Just make sure that the soil is always moist but not waterlogged.
Does garlic need fertilizer?
Garlic plants don’t require a lot of fertilizer. In fact, too much fertilizer can actually do more harm than good because it can encourage the growth of foliage at the expense of the bulb. I would recommend using a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer once a month during the growing season.