Garlic grows extremely well in the UK climate, making it a relatively easy and hassle-free crop that can be used in a range of tasty and aromatic European and Asian dishes. You can plant garlic in autumn or spring, although the varieties planted in autumn are often more successful and tend to produce bigger bulbs.
Expect to see between 12 to 20 cloves appear on a bulb and even smaller planting cloves provide a good return at harvest.
For best results, always choose to grow a variety of garlic that’s adapted for our climate. Don’t be tempted to plant garlic bought from a supermarket because these are for eating only and are not certified as disease free, unlike ours, and won’t grow in our climate.
Home-grown garlic bulbs can be used fresh, as well as appropriately dried and stored for later use.
You can harvest autumn-planted bulbs from as early as May (spring-planted bulbs take a month or so longer to mature) and these young bulbs, known as ‘green’ or ‘wet’, are used fresh. Mature bulbs can be harvested around July to August. At this time of year, the foliage above the soil surface will have started to turn yellow, which is the cue to begin harvesting. The mature bulbs can be eaten fresh or they can be dried out and stored.
The soil should already be weeded before planting – only careful hand weeding can be done after planting because weeding with tools is likely to harm the bulbs.
Growing garlic in the autumn
Some varieties of garlic are best planted as sets in autumn to be harvested in early to mid-summer the following year. Garlic benefits from having time to chill, which planting between October to December will provide.
How to plant garlic in the autumn
- Choose a sunny site and soil that is well drained. Incorporating bulky compost into the soil before planting will increase fertility and nutrient levels, as well as improve the soil texture to make it drain better but at the same time adequately moisture-retentive.
- If the soil conditions are wet in autumn, plant single cloves in modules and grow in a conservatory, greenhouse, cold frame or window sill until conditions improve in late winter or early spring.
- Garlic does not thrive in acidic soils so adding lime is advisable to raise the pH and create a more alkaline soil.
- Plant cloves of garlic 6inches (15cm) apart and about 2-3inches (5-7cm) deep. If you’re planting in more than one row, keep around 12inches (30cm) between the rows.
- Plant cloves a little shallower in clay soils, but if the soil is nicely worked and well-textured, plant them at 2-4inches (5-10cm) apart.
- Consider growing under black polythene, which suppresses emerging weeds. Ridding weeds by hoeing later in the season may damage the bulb heads under the surface of the soil. Garlic does not fair well when it’s overshadowed by weeds.
- Covering the crop with a horticultural fleece or netting is always a top tip. Birds, especially pigeons, like to peck at seedlings and a protective mesh is more effective than a scare grow-like device.
How to feed autumn planted garlic
What to feed garlic depends on the soil preparation prior to planting.
If you worked the soil in winter adding bulky manure to raise the nutrient levels and improve the soil texture, feed a balanced fertiliser at 25g per square meter (1 oz per square yard) just before planting and dig in.
However, if you are planting in clayey or un-worked soil, it pays to add a balanced fertiliser at a rate of 50-75g per square meter (2-3 oz per square yard).
How to water autumn planted garlic
Adding bulky manure prior to planting improves the moisture-holding capacity of the soil and reduces the need to water. At planting, give an initial good watering to the crop. Over the winter do not water and in the spring start to increase watering gradually but aim water solely to the soil reducing water splashing onto the foliage. Garlic leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases which favour wet leaves.
When the foliage starts to die down and wither in spring, stop watering altogether.
Temperature for autumn planted garlic
Ensure a sunny and, if possible, sheltered site to grow this garlic.
Harvesting and storing autumn planted garlic
Harvest from early to mid-summer when you notice the leaves yellowing and withering.
Carefully lift the bulbs with a border fork to prevent damage. Dry the bulbs in a light, well-aired environment such as a greenhouse, shed or garage with open windows and vents.
Usually a period of around two weeks drying is needed in warm weather, with a month’s drying in duller and wetter summers. Garlic bulbs can be dried on the ground if conditions are good. Check that the bulbs ‘rustle’ and you’ll know that they are fully dried and ready to be stored in a cool spot for future use. If possible, keep stored garlic at a temperature of around 41-50F (5-10°C).
‘Top sets’ can sometimes appear on the plant’s stalk, cause by variances in spring conditions.
Harvest, dry and store these in the same way.
Best varieties of autumn planting garlic
The best varieties to plant in the autumn include:
- Garlic ‘Early Purple Wight’
- Garlic ‘Provence Wight’
Growing spring planting garlic
Some varieties of garlic, including Solent Wight and Lautrec Wight, are best planted as sets in the spring to be harvested in late summer into early autumn. This means you’ll get delicious garlic bulbs for Mediterranean and Asian cooking dishes right through the winter!
How to plant and feed spring planted garlic
The same method for planting and feeding garlic in spring should be followed with autumn planting.
Watering spring planted garlic
Improve the moisture-holding ability of your soil by adding bulky manure before planting. This also cuts back on the need to water in spring and summer. Only in dry spells should you give growing garlic plants a good watering every two weeks and aim water at the soil to reduce foliage splashing. Garlic leaves are prone to fungal diseases, which like wet leaves. When the foliage appears to wither and slow in growth, stop watering altogether.
Temperature for spring planted garlic
Sunny and slightly sheltered spots are the best conditions for growing garlic.
Harvesting and storing spring planted garlic
Harvest spring-planted garlic from mid-summer to early autumn when you can see the leaves starting to yellow. Lift the bulbs carefully with a fork to prevent damage to the delicate plants below the surface.
Typically you can expect between 12 to 20 cloves from each.
Spring-planted garlic bulbs also need to be well dried in a light and airy environment like a greenhouse, conservatory or shed. In warm weather, two weeks should see the bulbs dry out but around a month may be needed in milder summers and cool autumns. When they are dry and the bulbs make a crisp rustling sound when you handle them, store in a cool spot ready for use in the kitchen over winter.
Best varieties of spring planting garlic
The best varieties to plant in the spring include:
- Garlic ‘Early Picardy Wight’
- Garlic ‘Lautrec Wight’
Garlic cloves are white, pink and purple and range from strong flavour, such as Picardy Wight, to the mild flavours of the Elephant Garlic variety.
You may hear garlic described as ‘softneck’ and ‘hardneck’. This refers to the rigidity of the neck of the central stalk.
Chances are that if you usually buy garlic from the supermarket it will be a softneck. Softneck garlic is the easiest to grow, it produces plenty of cloves and stores well.
Hardneck generally produces fewer but larger cloves. It is still easy to grow but doesn’t store as long as softneck varieties, which is something to consider if you want a good stock of crop to utilise over a season. Despite this, many garlic lovers believe that hardneck varieties have the best flavour.