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Allium sativum, Amaryllidaceae family

An impressive garlic harvest at summer solstice

Garlic originated somewhere between the Middle East and Central Asia, thousands of years ago. Now it’s found in cuisine worldwide, although it is not as widespread as onions. In fact, 80% of the world’s garlic is grown in China.

It’s closely related to onions, leeks, chives etc., and has many close relatives in wild or non-cultivated forms. Wild garlic, also called ramsons or wood garlic, is Allium ursinum. When I planted garlic in my Newmarket garden in 1983, my father was horrified because he assumed it was wild garlic!

Wild garlic likes shady and moist conditions, and is often found near riverbanks. It has pretty white flowers, similar to garlic chives (Allium tuberosa). The leaves make fantastic pesto.

Ornamental garlic, also called Tulbhagia and ‘society garlic’, is in the same Amaryllidaceae family. It originated in South Africa and decorates gardens in temperate climates. The purple flowers in early summer are best cut off and composted once flowering finishes, because they can become a prolific weed if you allow them to drop their seeds.

Garlic withstands cold temperatures well; 19th March under a blanket of snow – these plants were unaffected
Checking for maturity in early June – peeling a slightly immature, yet edible and tasty garlic
A harvest of elephant garlic on the right, and normal garlic on the left

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest, sown/planted in September and harvested in June: 260
  • Sown/planted in January, harvested early to mid-July: 180
  • Best climate is cool to warm, not too wet, and there must be frost in winter to enable bulbs to differentiate into cloves.

Why grow them

My customers tell me that Homeacres garlic is often more pungent than the garlic of commerce. A little goes a long way, and raw garlic is excellent for the health.

Garlic stores so easily. From just one sowing, and one resulting harvest, you can enjoy it for almost the whole year.

The sulphurous compounds, which give such a potent flavour, are probably a defence mechanism used by the plants to prevent them from being eaten. This is why crushed garlic can be a useful pest deterrent, against slugs for example.

When I show garlic on social media, the posts attract many comments and questions. People are keen to grow it, not least because:

  • It’s easy to grow and store.
  • You don’t need much to bring fantastic flavour and health into your life.
  • You can grow a worthwhile amount in containers.
  • Your harvest is your seed for planting a few months later!
Early April – at six months old, these garlic plants are on the small side
Another crop of garlic in early April, looking okay overall, but a few plants are showing yellow leaves and weak stems
1st June – these immature Early Purple garlic plants are showing strong growth, although there’s too much rust on the leaves

Pattern of growth

There are small variations according to the two main types.

The two types of garlic

Hardnecks make slightly smaller bulbs than softnecks, with larger and fewer cloves in each one. The cloves are easier to peel than those of softnecks.

Harvest is two to three weeks later than that of softnecks, and they can store until early spring.

Hardneck garlic grows a flower stem by mid-spring, and if you leave it to grow it will flower beautifully by early summer. The stem is also called a scape, and is delicious when harvested as a tender stem, before the flower bud on top has swollen much.

  • To eat scapes, just snap off the main length of stems in mid-spring when still tender. They are tasty roasted or sautéed. The plants then continue to grow without any flower stem, resulting in slightly larger bulbs.
Early October – softneck on the left and hardneck on the right

Softnecks make mostly larger bulbs, and with more differentiation into cloves of variable size.

They mature in early summer mostly and store for up to 11 months, depending on the variety and storage location.

Softnecks never make a flower stem.

By 10th May, the garlic is showing strong growth compared to growth shown in the photo above
The same bed of garlic after we pulled half of it on 11th June, before the second harvest on 13th June; this was originally planted in September
One hour after harvest on 13th June – you can see that the roots have been left on and cleaned

A variation

A third type is not garlic! It’s often called ‘elephant garlic’ and is a way to impress your friends. It’s actually a leek in bulb form (Allium ampeloprasum) and tastes excellent when roasted. The cloves are four to five times heavier than even the larger softneck varieties.

  • The flavour is mild, not pungent, and the texture is creamy.
  • Harvest in mid rather than early summer.

Plant in early autumn, from the large cloves of your harvest. You can also plant small ‘bulbils’, see the photo below, which adds a year to the harvest. Bulbils grow into cloves in year one, thence to bulbs in year two. Elephant garlic makes a flower stem, just like hardneck garlic. You can harvest it in late spring as a scape.

Three stages of elephant garlic – mature bulb, one solve of a mature bulb, and a bulbil that was attached to a clove
Planting a clove of full-size elephant garlic using a dibber
Mid-June – see how elephant garlic leaves look like leeks; see also onions, sorrel, parsnips, carrots and artichokes


  • Flavour-wise, I like Solent Wight (softneck) which, along with Mersley Wight, stores really well. It grows smaller bulbs than, say Provence Wight.
  • For an early harvest, even in late May, try Early Purple Wight. Eat it before the end of autumn, because it sprouts in storage by early winter.
  • A good hardneck for cool climates is Doocot, which originated in Canada and grows especially well in cold conditions (supplier – Really Garlicky Co.).
  • From your harvest of bulbs, keep the largest ones for seed. Separate these into cloves to re-plant each autumn.

What to expect

First leaves can appear any time from autumn to late winter, depending on the variety.

  • Don’t worry if you don’t see any leaves until even late winter. Your plants will be developing lots of roots before leaves appear. During spring you will be amazed at the speed of growth.

If, by mid-spring you are not impressed by strong, dark green leaves, you could top dress the bed with some more compost, for moisture retention as much as nutrients.

Garlic really goes for it in the spring, and any extra compost applied in April will also help the growth of your succession planting, for example beetroot after the garlic harvest.

The soil

I don’t mention soil a lot in these lessons because I assume you are no dig. It makes garlic and all vegetable so easy to grow – see the comparison photos below from Inverness in North Scotland, latitude 58° North. If you are dig and till, you will need to do extra cultivation and, above all, weeding.

NO DIG garlic in Inverness, growing in no dig beds on 26th May, after being planted in December; this shows how hardy the plants are
DIG In late May – this garlic was planted in October after rotavating manure into the soil
30th May – my polytunnel garlic is bigger than the plants growing outside; on the right I’ve mulched tomato plants with miscanthus and seaweed

If your soil is heavy and drains slowly, beds slightly raised with compost make a difference. They do not need to be more than 7 cm/3 in high, nor do they need wooden sides, as I show in the photos below.

Flooding around my newly planted no dig garlic bed in November, at Lower Farm my previous garden
The same garlic bed is now much drier in April, with no digging or soil tillage

Suitable for containers/shade?

Both are possible, so you can grow garlic in a pot in the shade. Or in the sun!

  • Use a medium-sized container, say 30 cm/12 in wide – this will be able to grow six plants.
  • Garlic makes efficient use of precious container space, because part of its growth is during winter.
  • After, or even before the harvest, you can transplant, say, beetroot, kale and salad
sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Your ground is clear once you have harvested garlic and pulled any weeds. If you used a trowel to lift bulbs, making the surface lumpy and uneven, best walk on the bed to firm the soil down, then rake lightly to level.

Dibbing holes straight after the garlic harvest – it’s hard work in the dry soil
In high summer, straight after the garlic harvest, we have transplanted broccoli and kale into the no dig dry soil, and watered in just around the roots of each transplant
Ten weeks later on 7th September – strong growth from the brassicas, with chicory and leeks on the right

Follow with

Good plantings to follow garlic include almost any brassicas. Also beetroot, carrots, dwarf French beans, chard and radicchio, to name just a few possibilities. I often sow carrots or transplant beetroot between rows of garlic.

  • There is no need to apply any feeds or compost before making these new plantings.
  • You may also have been able to set them between garlic, as much as four weeks before its harvest.
2nd October, and the second plantings are thriving after we harvested the garlic in late June
Succession planting – with the first and second crops on 6th July; we had transplanted the beetroot 16 days earlier