Garlic is a terrific plant to grow–just about everyone could use a little more garlic in their lives. You can mince, dice, dry, roast, or give it away to friends once it fully grows and becomes harvestable. However, if your garlic isn’t growing like you originally expected, you may be looking for solutions.
You can encourage garlic to grow by ensuring it gets the proper sunlight, water, and soil pH. It also helps to remove weeds around your garlic to maximize its nutrient uptake. Some gardeners help their garlic grow by ensuring they have the right garlic type for the region and planting them properly.
In the rest of this article, I’ll go over how to encourage your garlic to grow with tried-and-true tips and tricks from skilled gardeners. First, though, let’s talk about realistic expectations for garlic growth so you can be sure you’re not asking too much of your tiny garlic plants. To encourage growth, ensure your garlic plant gets everything it needs and implement a few of the tricks below.
1. Make Sure The Garlic Plant Gets Enough Sunlight
Garlic plants can be finicky, and they take a lot longer to grow than things like chives or basil. Just because we don’t bite into it like a carrot or apple doesn’t mean it will grow as quickly as our “seasoning” plant crops.
Garlic needs at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, so if your garden isn’t getting enough sun, consider adding some lighting fixtures or moving the plants closer to the house to get more light during the day.
Additionally, garlic needs a cooler temperature of around 32 to 50 °F (0 to 10 °C) to grow properly. If your garlic is getting plenty of sunlight but overheating, it may affect how quickly it grows.
Test Your Garden for Sunlight With a Sun Meter
One tip for ensuring your plant is getting enough sunlight is using a sun meter. It can be easily purchased in your local gardening store or a home goods store. You will simply set them where you grow your garlic and check to see what type of sun they are getting–partial, direct, full, and so on.
If you find that your garlic isn’t getting the required six hours of sunlight, take note for next season. If it’s getting too much, you can consider adding some shade to provide the plants some respite from the intense mid-day sun.
Shades Can Help With a Particularly Hot Season
As long as your garlic gets the direct sunlight it needs, it’s okay to give it a little shade to control the temperature. I’d suggest letting your garlic get sun when it’s cooler out, such as in the early morning or late afternoon, and then adding a shade atop it during the hotter hours of the day if you’re having a warm season.
2. Don’t Overwater or Underwater The Garlic
Watering is one of those things that can make or break your garlic crop. Watering too much can cause soil compaction, flooding, and root rot. Especially for bulbed garlic plants, this can mean no growth is on the horizon.
As a good rule of thumb, know that garlic needs about an inch (2.54 cm) of water a week. However, if you don’t water enough, your plants won’t have the nutrients they need to grow.
Garlic, in particular, needs tons of water when it’s a bulb or germinating. Afterward, you can count on the same moisture needs as your other plants. Garlic likes moist but not soggy soil. It needs emphasizing that if your soil gets too wet, the bulbs will rot and die off before they’re ready for harvest.
Water each plant once per week during dry spells (when there hasn’t been any rain for several days) and pay attention to the moisture on the top layer of the soil.
A Moisture Meter Can Help You Determine When It’s Time To Water
One tip I have for always correctly watering your plants is to invest in a reliable moisture meter. If you read my articles, you may be tired of hearing about moisture meters by now. Still, it’s advice I give every new gardener. Sticking a moisture meter in the soil and seeing how moist your garden soil is can help you decide when to water your plants.
We all live in different regions with different soil qualities and sunlight levels. Even your neighbor across the street may experience more or less shade depending on foliage or have different soil composition than you. While some say to always water one inch (2.54 cm) or always water once a week, I think it’s up to you to determine what works best.
As mentioned above, garlic does best with moist but not soggy soil. Use your moisture meter to ensure it’s moist and avoid overwatering.
3. Plant Them in the Right Seasons and in the Right Regions
When planting garlic, it’s important to know that the right season is critical. Garlic is a hardy plant that can be planted in either spring or fall, but it needs to be planted in one or the other because it prefers cooler weather.
If you choose the latter, the best time to plant your garlic bulbs is in the late summer or early fall, as they need time to develop roots before winter sets in.
Garlic does best in Hardiness Zones 1-5 because they need that cool weather time to develop properly. There are many types of garlic. Some varieties do better than others in warmer weather, so do your research before planting.
4. Weed Your Garlic Plants and Watch for Pests and Disease
If you think your garlic needs some encouragement to grow, make sure you’ve checked for all possible causes of the plants not growing. Weeds, pests, and illnesses can be detrimental to the growth of your garlic plants.
Weeds are a major problem for garlic plants. Garlic is a crop that needs a lot of water and nutrients, which means it competes with weeds for these resources. Weeds also spread diseases that can harm your garlic plants or make them taste bitter. To avoid this, you will want to keep your garden weeded regularly.
You can pull the weeds with your hands or use some gardening tools to dig out the roots and prevent a recurrence. However, be careful when using sharp tools to dig the weeds’ roots as you might damage the garlic bulbs underground.
Another thing to consider is that many pests and diseases may harm your garlic plant if you don’t take care of it. Here are some things to look out for:
- Aphids: These greenish-black bugs suck sap from the leaves and stems of the plant, causing them to become yellow or brown. They can also transmit viruses to the plant.
- Fungal disease: The most common fungal disease is called Botrytis (also known as gray mold). It looks like white cotton on the leaves, stems, flowers, and bulbs. This disease can kill the plant if left untreated!
- Root rot: This is caused by several fungi that grow in the soil around the plant’s roots. The symptoms include wilting leaves, stunted growth, and brown spots on roots or crowns (where they emerge from the soil).
Keep an eye out for these problems and address them immediately if found.
5. Plant Your Garlic in the Right Spot or in Containers
Planting your garlic in the right spot can encourage it to grow. While it may be too late for this season, keep this in mind for next season (or mark this off your list of “reasons my garlic isn’t growing” if you have considered everything on this list).
Garlic needs about 6 inches (15 cm) of space above their heads so they don’t get smothered by other plants or dirt as they grow larger over time. It means that if planted in rows only 2-3 inches (5 to 8 cm) apart instead of wider spacing between rows, then each bulb will be smaller overall since there isn’t enough room between them all. Keep this in mind so you can find a more suitable location to grow your garlic in the following year.
If you have limited space or simply want a low-maintenance way to plant garlic, consider planting it in containers. There are many ways to grow garlic in containers: indoors, outdoors, in greenhouses (cold-frame style), and even on balconies or fire escapes.
6. Add Compatible Plants to Your Garlic Soil Bed
You can also try adding compatible plants that will help attract beneficial insects, such as the butterfly and beetle larvae that can encourage your garlic to grow. The right plants can also protect the garlic from disease.
For example, basil and parsley are great herbs to plant with garlic because they complement its flavor, act as a natural repellent against pests like aphids, and provide shade in hot weather.
Marigolds are diverse in their uses. They can be planted around the perimeter of your garlic bed to repel pests or planted among your cloves (as long as there isn’t another variety nearby) for their attractive flowers and sweet scent!
7. Avoid Plants That Don’t Go Well With Garlic
To grow your garlic to its highest potential, you may also need to avoid some non-compatible plants planted in the same area or bed. Again, this may be a tip for next season if you’ve already planted your garlic bulbs.
However, if your garlic is super important, you may consider removing the following plants from the bed.
- Mint is not helpful because it repels ladybugs who eat aphids.
- Avoid planting garlic near strawberries since they’ll invade the soil space where your bulbs will grow and crowd them out of nutrients they need to grow well. Strawberries also attract pests because of their sweetness.
- Garlic doesn’t like to be planted near onions because of their similar growing habits. If you plant onion seeds too close to your garlic seeds, the onions may take over all of your garden bed space, leaving no room for your prized garlic bulbs!
8. Check Your Soil pH
Your soil pH is an essential part of a garlic plant’s healthy growth, too, though you may not think about it much. The ideal pH for growing garlic is 6.0 to 7.0. A lower number indicates more acidic soil, while a higher number indicates more alkaline soil.
Suppose you don’t know what your soil’s current pH level is. In that case, you can perform a simple test at home using a common purchase of an inexpensive testing kit from your local garden center or hardware store.
If your garden soil’s pH appears unsuitable for your garlic, you might as well consider growing the plant in containers where it can be easier to control the soil quality. Amending your garden soil to reach the ideal pH level can take a long time and cost a lot of money to maintain.
9. Add Extra Nutrients Through Mulching and Composting
The healthiest garlic is grown in rich soil, so preparing the bed before planting is important. Turn over the soil, remove rocks and debris, and add organic matter like compost or aged manure. If your soil is lacking nutrients, add fertilizer and avoid tilling. A layer of mulch will help keep weeds at bay, moisten the ground, and retain heat during cold weather.
Mulch helps to control weeds, retain moisture, prevent soil erosion, prevent soil compaction and suppress fungal growth. So it is recommended to use a mulch to cover your garlic plants. But make sure that the material used for mulching does not have any harmful effects on the garlic bulbs.
To learn more about preparing the soil for growing garlic, you can check out this article: How To Prepare the Soil for Growing Garlic (7 Steps)
10. Understand the Garlic Germination and Growing Rates
Garlic is a cool-season crop, which means it grows best at relatively low temperatures. If you live in a warm climate, choose hard-neck varieties to encourage longer storage life. Additionally, garlic is a bulb crop, meaning that the entire plant dies back each winter and then comes back in the spring from its bulb (or cloves), not from seeds.
The most important thing to remember about growing garlic is that it’s not a quick process. If you want your garlic to be ready for harvest in just one season, you need to start early in the year and plant multiple cloves so they can grow together.
If you have more patience and don’t mind waiting for two years until your plants are ready for harvest, it won’t matter when you start! Make sure your soil is prepared properly before planting those bulbs, so everything goes smoothly from there on out.
Garlic takes about 3 months to mature, so start planting it in early spring or late summer so you will have plenty of time before winter sets in! Bulbs will go dormant in the winter if you plant them late in the fall season, which means they’ll begin to shoot back up on their own in the spring.
Growing Garlic from Seed vs. Bulbs
Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but it’s important to harvest it at the right time. In fact, though you can grow garlic from seed, that’s not recommended as it takes a lot longer to mature (and then another few months before you get any usable bulbs). Plus, there are so many types of garlic, and they all have different growing periods!
Instead, you can buy ‘seed stock’ or just regular dried garlic cloves grown specifically for replanting purposes. That way, you don’t have to guess when your crop will be ready because they’ve already been prepared for transplantation into your soil mix.
11. Harvest and Store Your Garlic Properly Once It’s Grown
Once your garlic grows at a satisfying rate, you will need to properly harvest and store them so all your hard work doesn’t go to waste.
The best way to tell if your garlic is ready to harvest is by looking at the tops of the plant. When most of the leaves have fallen over and look like they might be dead, the garlic is ready for harvesting.
You can dig into the soil with your fingers, feel around for bulbs that have formed, then gently pull them up by hand (or with garden gloves). If they don’t come up easily, leave them in place and wait another week or two before trying again.
You want them to be firm but not rock hard at this point. They won’t be ready to harvest if they’re too soft or too firm.
If you have a lot of garlic and want to keep it from going soft while pulling, try using a trowel or garden fork instead of your hands. Using such tools will minimize bruising and breakage.
Storage Tip for Garlic Bulbs
Your garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. A root cellar is ideal because it maintains the best temperature and humidity levels for your garlic.
However, suppose you don’t have access to a root cellar. In that case, you can store your garlic in your garage or basement—just make sure it’s not sitting out in the open with no protection from light, heat, or moisture.
You can also store your garlic in mesh bags or mesh containers on shelves in a dry basement or garage area where plenty of airflow and sunlight can’t reach any part of it.
Garlic takes longer than most plants to grow, and their requirements can be hard to tend to. As long as you’ve planted your garlic in the right season for your region and are tending to its basic needs, your garlic should do well and grow in its own time. Alternatively, you can boost your garlic’s growth with some good gardening practices and by adding complementary plants.