Garlic is a terrific plant because it’s easy to grow and can bring out rich flavors in any dish. 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 in the following ways:
- Make sure the garlic plant gets enough sunlight.
- Don’t overwater or underwater the garlic.
- Plant them in the right seasons and in the right regions.
- Weed your garlic plants and watch for pests and disease.
- Plant your garlic in the right spot or in containers.
- Add compatible plants to your garlic soil bed.
- Avoid plants that don’t go well with garlic.
- Check your soil pH.
- Add extra nutrients through mulching and composting.
- Understand the garlic germination and growing rates.
- Harvest and store your garlic properly once it’s grown.
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 removing or thinning taller plants. Alternatively, you can install glass or white garden sculptures or mirrors to reflect sunlight towards your vegetable garden.
You can also choose a sunnier spot in your garden the next time you grow garlic. Sunlight is also crucial to warm the soil enough to prepare the garlic for growth.
Garlic needs a short period of cooler soil temperatures of around 32 to 50 °F (0 to 10 °C) to grow roots properly. During the growing season, soil temperatures between 60 and 75 °F (15.6 and 24 °C) will encourage garlic plants to sprout.
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’re 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.
Shade Covers Can Help With a Particularly Hot Season
Although garlic loves sunlight, too much can dry out the soil quickly and dehydrate your plant. 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 during hot and dry days.
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.
Since garlic cloves are typically buried 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) deep, it’s crucial to keep the top 6 inches (15 cm) of the soil hydrated. As the plants grow over 6 inches (15 cm), you must feed them 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week. That’s equal to 0.6 gal (2.3 L) of water per square foot (0.09 sqm) of the garlic patch.
Garlic seedlings like consistently moist but not soggy soil. If your soil gets too wet, the bulbs will rot and die off before they’re ready for harvest. On the other hand, if you don’t water enough, your plants won’t have the nutrients and moisture they need to grow.
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 a different soil composition than you.
While some say to always water one inch (2.5 cm) or always water once a week, I think it’s up to you to determine what works best. If your soil has poor or excessive drainage, the one-inch recommendation can dry out too quickly or too slowly.
As mentioned above, garlic does best with moist but not soggy soil. Use your moisture meter to ensure it’s moist and avoid overwatering. Stick the metal prong 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) into the soil (careful to avoid the garlic bulb) and water the plant as soon as the reading shows 3-4.
Doing this a few times can give you an idea of how quickly your soil dries out and can tailor a watering schedule that works for your garlic plants. Applying up to 4 inches (10 cm) of organic mulch like compost or grass clippings will help you stick to a watering routine even during extreme temperatures.
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.
Hardneck garlic species do best in Hardiness Zones 1-5 because they need cool weather time to develop properly. If your area has warm winters, it’s best to choose softneck garlic species.
4. Weed Your Garlic Plants and Watch for Pests and Diseases
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. Although most garlic cultivars are resistant to aphids, these plants are susceptible to some pests and diseases.
Here are some things to look out for:
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. Fungi under the Fusarium genus can also infect garlic bulbs, especially in waterlogged soils.
Root rot is caused by several fungi that grow in the wet 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).
The damage caused by bulb mites (Rhizoglyphus spp.) is usually only secondary to a fungi-infected garlic bulb. Nevertheless, they make it more difficult for the bulbs to recover from the infection. Once they have invaded the already weakened bulb, it’s only a matter of time before the plant dies.
Once diagnosed, it’s important to inspect the other plants in your garlic patch because disease and pest infestation can spread quickly.
How to Deal with Garlic Pests and Diseases
If one garlic plant shows signs of the conditions listed above, it likely means the issue has spread to the other plants in the patch. Even if the other plants appear healthy, it’s best to uproot them and avoid growing garlic in the same spot for at least three years.
You can treat the soil with fungicides or use a natural treatment like solarization. You can complement your efforts by doing crop rotation and avoid growing Allium plants in the area for a few years.
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).
You can grow your garlic in pots or raised beds with fresh, sterile soil. You can enrich the soil using high-quality compost to introduce beneficial microbes.
The pot or raised bed should be at least 8 inches (20 cm) deep. Garlic bulbs need about 4 inches (10 cm) of space above their heads so they don’t get smothered by other plants or dirt as they grow larger over time.
Each clove should also be 2-3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) apart for optimum growth. If you have larger species or want larger bulbs, space your cloves at least 6 inches (15 cm) apart.
If you have limited space or simply want a low-maintenance way to plant garlic, consider planting it in containers. This will make it easier to adjust the light exposure and avoid many soil-borne pathogens.
6. Add Compatible Plants to Your Garlic Soil Bed
You can also try adding compatible plants that will help attract beneficial insects, such as butterflies and bees, that can encourage your garlic to grow and form bulbils. In return, garlic will repel common plant pests like aphids and slugs.
Marigolds are diverse in their uses due to their attractive flowers and sweet scent. They bloom as quickly as 8-10 weeks from sowing and can be grown next to garlic plants with flower buds.
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:
- 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 and pests. Many pests, such as thrips and maggots, are attracted to onions. Once in the garden, they’ll also infest nearby bulbs like garlic.
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.
Do you know what your soil’s current pH level is? If not, 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
If your soil is lacking nutrients, till the soil and add the compost or organic fertilizer evenly into the top 6-8 inches (15-20 cm).
You can also apply mulch to help control weeds, maintain suitable soil temperatures, retain moisture, prevent soil erosion, and prevent soil compaction. Organic mulch will also decompose eventually and enrich the soil.
Garlic sown in the fall typically takes ten months before harvest. Using fast-decaying organic mulch like grass clippings and compost can provide the soil with extra nutrients your garlic plant can use.
10. Understand the Garlic Germination and Growing Rates
Different garlic species have different germination and growth requirements. In general, hardneck varieties need to be sown in late summer or early fall so they’ll have healthy roots before entering dormancy in the freezing winter.
On the other hand, softneck varieties must be sown in early spring while the soil temperature is still less than 50 °F (10 °C). This will improve your chances of harvesting average-sized garlic bulbs in the summer.
Either way, make sure your soil is prepared properly before planting those bulbs so everything goes smoothly from there on out.
Another thing to consider is that garlic can grow at different rates when started from seed or bulb.
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).
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 it 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 top of the plants. 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, and 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.
But what if 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 its 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.