Do you know where your garlic comes from? One of the most important reasons for you to learn to grow garlic is: to avoid toxic chemicals and irradiation (that inhibit sprouting and extend shelf life).*

How to Grow Garlic - 5 Step Guide to Growing Gorgeous Garlic Tutorial

Garlic … how safe is yours to eat?

A few years back I didn’t even think about the garlic I ate. But then I became interested in the story behind the food I was eating. I started to look deeper at the source of my food. Where it came from, who grew it and how. I didn’t like what I discovered!

Garlic – Did you know?

The majority of the world’s garlic is grown in China and is sprayed with chemicals and bleached white with chlorine during importation quarantine processes. Not to mention the thousands of food miles clocked up travelling long distances in storage.

But if you really want to gag on your garlic, read on! According to the CEO of the Australian Garlic Industry Association, “some garlic growers over there (China) use raw human sewage to fertilise their crops, and I don’t believe the Australian quarantine regulations are strict enough in terms of bacteria testing on imported produce.”

So you might want to think again before you reach for that perfect white bulb in your supermarket!

[Learn more and download an ‘Irradiation-free Food Guide’ at the end of this post].

In Australia, 90% of the garlic we eat is imported. Yet we have around 15 different garlic varieties available to grow that don’t need to be biofumigated with chemicals, like methyl bromide that have been banned here for domestic use.


If you want to improve your health but avoid chemicals, why not grow garlic. at home?

Garlic is SO good for us … but not when it’s treated with chemicals.


4 Reasons you should Grow Garlic


  1. For health, amazing flavour + pest management in your garden.
  2. Safe food = avoid imported garlic – it’s cheap for a reason.
  3. Save money – organic garlic averages A$35-45/kg.
  4. It’s SO easy to grow, so there’s no excuse!


“Where you find garlic, you find good health.” – Old Spanish proverb


Garlic is a bulbous perennial herb but grown as an annual. OK – it IS slow growing (avg 6-8 months). But it’s NOT a bed hog like pumpkins and doesn’t take up much ‘personal space.’ So I’m happy to dedicate about 1m2 to grow garlic to feed my family for an entire year. It’s a member of the Allium (onion) family – all space savers!


White garlic cloves. Photo: Jon Sullivan

It’s a staple ingredient in my kitchen all year round.


Tutorial: 5 Step Guide – How to Grow Garlic


When to Plant Garlic

  • You can grow garlic in all zones. For higher yields and larger cloves, the best time to plant is generally Autumn. Don’t despair though! Garlic can be planted during the year, but the size of bulbs may be smaller. (When it tastes this awesome, you need less and it saves you so much money, so who cares?)


Garlic cloves

“To grow gorgeous garlic, all you need is a little preparation and patience – the results are totally worth it.”


  • In 2011, I didn’t get the chance to plant in Autumn. So I sowed a stack of soft neck garlic I had left in my fridge on 25 August. I harvested it exactly 3 months later on 25 November. This was a wonderful discovery! Even though I had technically planted at the ‘wrong time’ of year, I found a garlic variety that grows well in my climate. In a speedy 3 month period, rather than waiting an average 6 months! So experiment in your climate zone.


Garlic hanging ready for use in my kitchen | The Micro Gardener

I harvested about 40 bulbs and have 3 left just over 4 months later. At current prices/kg, this harvest would have cost me $80+ … money back in my pocket!


  • If you live in a high rainfall area, avoid harvesting garlic in the wet season, because bulbs can rot. Time your garlic planting for a warm, dry harvest period. Also try to harvest in the correct moon cycle to increase bulb storage life. [See What to Plant When for your climate zone and use one of the calendar tools listed to help guide you.]
  • I personally use this moon calendar to sow garlic on optimum root crop days of the month. My experiences have proved beyond any doubt that sowing, fertilising and harvesting garlic and other crops according to nature’s moon cycles certainly makes a massive difference. I’ve experimented many times to see if timing really has any effect on sprouting, growth and bulb size.
  • One example was I sowed about 100 bulbs of garlic during the phase of the moon most suitable for planting root vegetables. Just two days later they were sprouting! In the same soil right next to these cloves, I sowed another 20 cloves. Just a few days later but NOT in the same moon phase. The difference was astounding. It took over a month for those 20 cloves to sprout. Even more interesting was they never caught up in size of plant or harvest yield. The only difference was timing and planting by the moon.


Moon Gardening Calendar | The Micro Gardener

I use this simple Moon Calendar to help maximise yields by planting at the optimum time of the month.


Step 1: How to Select & Prepare your Garlic


Russian or Elephant garlic with a hard inner stalk

Garlic doesn’t grow from seed but from mature bulbs separated into cloves.


  • Choosing Varieties: Soft neck varieties braid and store well. They usually produce 12-13 cloves/head but have no flower stem and suit warm climates with mild winters. One of the best varieties for our subtropical zone is ‘Glen Large’. Hard neck garlic types send up a hard, flowering stem. So these varieties are less suitable for braiding. They are milder tasting, but have a shorter shelf life. This is because they have less layers of skin around the bulb. Elephant or Russian garlic is not a true garlic (known as a bulbing leek and has a milder flavour). Select varieties that grow well in your local climate zone.


3 varieties of garlic: Purple, softneck & Russian | The Micro Gardener

I am planting several new varieties this year so I learn which do best in my climate. These will also give me different flavours and maturity times so I can stagger my harvest.


  • Where to buy: Source locally grown organic garlic from organic growers and shops, online and farmers markets.
  • Selecting cloves: If buying garlic from a store, choose your bulbs carefully. Pick the largest garlic bulbs you can find. The size of the cloves you plant will determine whether you get big or small heads when you harvest.


Garlic section - smaller vs larger cloves | The Micro Gardener

Use the smallest internal cloves (those less than 1 gram in weight) for cooking rather than planting.


  • If you’re planting garlic from bulbs you have harvested last season, save your larger ones for this year’s crop. Make sure there are no signs of disease, marks or soft spots. Quality matters! Count roughly how many cloves/bulb to determine how many bulbs you need to buy for planting.
  • How many? How much do you eat?! We eat a lot of garlic. So I plant enough to have at least one bulb every week of the year (52 + a few extras as a buffer). Each clove grows 1 bulb.
  • Plan ahead for when you want to grow garlic. Chill garlic cloves in the fridge for a few weeks before planting. This improves bulb development. You can skip this step but it helps grow bigger garlic.
  • To prevent rotting in the soil, here’s a little tip: soak your cloves in a glass jar with equal quantities of baking soda to organic liquid seaweed for 2 hours. e.g. for 8-10 cloves (1 average bulb) = 1 tblspn baking soda: 1 tblspn seaweed. Increase quantity depending on number of cloves you’re planting.


Step 2: How to Prepare your Container or Garden bed


  • Soil test with a pH tester or kit. Garlic prefers soil with a pH 6.5 – 7.0.


pH Tester - A great investment for around $10. | The Micro Gardener

If you need to raise your soil pH, consider adding dolomite or agricultural lime.


  • Likes: Full sun position; well-drained, humus-rich soil (add worm castings, homemade compost, humus, well rotted manure or blood & bone) plus a balance of nutrients (I use a complete organic fertiliser that includes rock minerals). Because garlic is a hungry root crop, the soil needs to be light and fluffy. So turn it over gently if needed and mix your fertiliser in well first.
  • Garlic LOVES mulch to prevent weeds, provide protection, maintain soil moisture and keep soil cool longer.
  • Dislikes: Too dry (when young), too wet or freezing. The colder your winter, the deeper your mulch should be. I add about 8cm here in the sub-tropics, but very cold areas could need 10-15cm.
  • Companion Planting: Garlic helps improve the health and growth of other plants including raspberries, beetroot, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, summer savoury & roses. On the flip side, never plant garlic near peas or beans. I’ve seen this in practice (even with chives and spring onions near bean plants) and they just won’t be friends so don’t waste your time and money!


Garlic & onions belong to the Allium family

Garlic is a member of the Allium family (onions, leeks, chives, shallots) so companion planting rules apply to all those family members.


  • Location: Good crop rotation practices help prevent diseases so avoid planting garlic where you’ve grown members of the Allium family in the last couple of years. If you have to reuse a pot, add fresh potting mix.


Step 3: How to Plant Garlic


  • Separate the garlic head into individual cloves just before planting: Largest cloves will be around the outside and are ideal for planting. Small inner cloves can be used for cooking.


Garlic choose best size cloves. | The Micro Gardener

Be gentle to avoid bruising the garlic – cuts and bruises can provide entry points for rot to set in.


  • Sowing: Make a hole with your finger or the handle of your trowel roughly twice the depth of the clove (about 5cm/2in) and 10cm/4in apart.


Garlic clove right side up

Plant each clove with the pointed end facing upwards.


  • Press down very firmly as you back fill with soil (to avoid the cloves being pushed out after a few days as the roots start to develop). Check at this stage and reposition them back into line!  Water in well with liquid seaweed. When the shoots are about 5cm/2in high, add mulch thickly to suppress weeds.
  • Distance between rows: 30cm/12in. Yields: 1m2/3ft2 can produce 52 garlic bulbs – one for every week of the year.
  • Container planting: Garlic grows 40-60cm/15-24in high depending on the variety and although you may not get as large bulbs in a pot, they are most definitely worth growing. As they are a long growing crop, interplant with fast growing lettuces and leafy greens around the outside. Pot depth should be at least 15cm/6in.

How to Plant Garlic in a Container


Step 4: How to Fertilise Garlic


  • The new shoots will appear and when they are about 15cm tall, it’s time to fertilise again with liquid nutrients.

Garlic growing. | The Micro Gardener

  • Every 2 weeks, I use seaweed or fish emulsion + a slurp of molasses in a watering can. Or sometimes I water in with worm juice (liquid from my worm farm) or compost tea. A sprinkle of worm castings or compost and minerals under the mulch can also help boost soil nutrition. Alternating their liquid diet seems to keep my garlic babies happy.
  • In between, water regularly (unless it rains) until the plant flowers (hard neck varieties) or about 1 month before harvest (soft neck). This allows bulbs to dry out and harden. I maintain adequate soil moisture of 40-50% by checking every so often with a moisture meter. Soil should be moist NOT wet.
  • Most importantly keep weeds at bay (garlic has a big appetite and doesn’t like competition)!


CLICK BELOW for organic fertilisers and soil conditioners

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Step 5: How to Harvest Garlic (the fun part!)


  • You have a window of opportunity to harvest. Too soon and it will look like an onion (the segments and papery wrapper will not yet be formed).


Garlic harvested too late

Too late and the cloves will grow and expand so much the outer tissue paper-like wrapper will split, which will reduce bulb quality and storage life.


  • As a guideline, harvest hard neck garlic when roughly 1/3 – 1/2 the leaves are brown and wilted. Harvest soft neck varieties when the bottom few leaves start dying off or the garlic falls over. If you’re not sure, pull out one bulb to test it is fully formed before harvesting the whole crop.


Abundant harvest of gorgeous garlic

Avoid watering before harvesting so the bulbs are dry. Nothing worse than pulling muddy bulbs!


  • Dig or gently pull up the whole plant. I don’t recommend using a garden fork or you can accidentally spear your bulb (like I did the first time!!) and watch out for earthworms that love to party around the roots.


Garlic freshly harvested from my garden.

Don’t be tempted to wash it at this stage. Dirt is GOOD! Leave it be – you can gently brush off the excess with a toothbrush after it’s cured.


  • Leave a few garlic heads in the soil rather than harvesting them all at this stage.


Garlic bulb shooting

When they start to produce little green shoots, you can plant the cloves individually for your next crop. They’ll start to grow quickly as they already have roots.


  • If you need flavour before your garlic is fully grown, you can still harvest immature garlic bulbs. They’ll look more like leeks!


How to Store Garlic

  • To cure your garlic so it stores well, hang in a dry, airy place in the shade or on racks. Dry the bulbs for a couple of weeks (up to 4 weeks or even longer as needed in cool zones).


How to Store Garlic: Dry your garlic bulbs over wire under cover

Never let the bulbs get wet or be in hot direct sun at this stage – move indoors or keep under cover.


CLICK BELOW for garlic press and storage solutions

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  • When to store garlic: Your garlic will be ready for storage when the bulb is papery and crinkled. This is one telltale sign you need to look for.


How to Store Garlic: Well cured skins will harden enough with a protective outer papery wrapper to store for 6-7 months.

Well cured skins will harden enough with a protective outer papery wrapper to store for 6-7 months.


Harvesting, Curing and Storing Garlic


  •  Hang garlic: When your garlic bulbs are fully dried, press hard. If there’s no resistance, you are ready to store the garlic.


Store garlic in a recycled onion bag. It's cheap and easy!

Store garlic in a recycled onion bag. It’s cheap and easy!


  • Haircut: If you are going to plait your garlic, leave the leaves on. Otherwise, trim the leaf tops approximately 2.5cm/1in above the bulb and snip the roots off.


How to Store Garlic: Braiding Garlic and hanging it is one option for long term storage. | The Micro Gardener

I had so much fun with this project. I prefer my garlic braids that showed a bit more plait than the bunched one and these were easier to manage because there was a little space between each bulb and it shows off the leaves as well as the garlic!


How to Braid Garlic


  • Freeze: Place individual cloves in a freezer bag or air tight container. Remove as much air as possible, seal and label with the date. Store for up to 3 months. You can freeze garlic cooked or raw to use later. Whole cloves will retain their full flavour but chopped/minced raw garlic will start to develop allicin. This active ingredient is what makes it taste hot. So releasing it will give your garlic a more mellow taste. Just use a little more in the recipe if you choose to freeze, to make up for the less potent flavour when you defrost.
  • Freeze minced garlic in an ice cube tray for convenient portions.
  • Store in a garlic keeper or open weave basket. Don’t store garlic near humidity or steam. This can reduce the storage life or your garlic bulbs.
  • You can store garlic in the fridge. However, this will reduce the flavour of your gorgeous garlic. Putting it in plastic or airtight containers can produce mouldy, rotted or sprouting garlic!


CLICK BELOW for books on how to grow and cook with garlic

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How to Grow Garlic Tips


  • Hard neck garlic varieties produce flower stems (‘scapes’) that form heads with bulbils – prune these scapes off as soon as they appear so the plant puts its energy into producing a larger garlic bulb.


Stunning garlic scape.

Use the scapes as cut flowers or chop up into bite-size pieces and substitute for onions or garlic in recipes!


  • Grow garlic under roses to deter aphids.
  • Ensure soil is moist for newly planted garlic, so roots develop. Avoid over watering and ensure good soil drainage to prevent cloves rotting.
  • If you have a problem it’s likely to be due to lack of soil preparation, management during growing, incorrect pH, choosing the wrong variety for your zone or planting at the wrong time.


I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how to grow garlic. In Part 2, ‘Amazing Uses for Garlic in Your Home & Garden I share some of the wonderful ways you can benefit from your gorgeous garlic – recipes, garden tips and for medicinal purposes. You might also enjoy Guide to Growing Spring Onions – both indoors and out!


So have you tried to grow garlic before? What have your experiences been?


Learn more*

  • According to Australian Garlic Producers, “In China, chemicals banned in Australia are still being used to grow garlic. Australia imports 95% of our garlic from China. Chinese garlic is gamma irradiated to prevent sprouting and is also sprayed with Maleic Hydrazide to extend shelf life. All imported garlic is fumigated with Methyl Bromide by AQIS on arrival in Australia.” – You decide if you want to eat garlic treated this way.
  • Australian Quarantine Inspection Services (AQIS) requirements for imported garlic “The produce is subject to mandatory (pre-shipment or on-arrival) fumigation with methyl bromide at the rate of 40g/m³ for 3 hours at 21°C.”
  • Fresher and Smellier‘ – The Age article – Explains good reasons to ask where your garlic comes from.
  • Garlic World – Traditional Worldwide Garlic Varieties for Growing and Eating. (Australia)


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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. All rights reserved.