Growing garlic in the home garden delivers a lot of benefits. As a fairly expensive food item, it’s a crop that is good value to grow at home. Also, garlic grows during that awkward time from fall through to spring, making it a great rotation crop for summer produce.
Garlic germinates from cloves or bulbils, producing green leaves in its first growth stage. In spring, green stems called ‘scapes’ are produced, which will eventually flower & produce bulbils. The bulb continues to mature until, after 6-8 months, the leaves begin to yellow & it’s ready to harvest.
This article provides an overview of the various growing stages of garlic, how long it takes to mature, and how to know when to harvest.
Garlic growing stages
Garlic is a bulbous plant, in the same family as onions, leeks and chives.
Germinated garlic first produces green leaves, known as ‘spring garlic’. At this stage, the young bulb beneath the soil is still immature & small. Garlic then produces scapes, while below ground the bulb matures to its full size. If the plant is left, the scape then flowers & produces bulbils.
Garlic comes as hardneck or softneck varieties, with hardnecks tolerant to the cold and with generally more complex flavors.
Garlic is best known for its edible cloves, but you can also eat the green, curly stems that appear in spring.
Softneck varieties do not produce scapes.
Scapes can be used in cooking, with a similar flavor to spring onions.
The green stems are known as ‘scapes’ and they have a pointed bud at their end.
If the scapes are left to grow, they produce small bulbils, which are like miniature cloves.
Garlic is germinated from a clove or a bulbil.
In its first growing phase, garlic produces green leaves whilst the bulb beneath the soil is still immature.
The plant then begins to produce scapes.
Scapes are usually cut to encourage the plant’s energy to focus on the bulb instead of flowering.
In the final stage, the garlic bulb matures to its full size.
If the scapes are left on the plant, they will flower and produce bulbils.
Garlic life cycle
Garlic is typically planted in the fall.
Softneck garlic can be planted in the spring, but it will take about a month longer than fall planted garlic to mature.
Garlic can be grown from cloves or bulbils, but will grow much faster from cloves.
Garlic is grown from cloves planted in fall. The clove germinates, develops a root system & produces green leaves. Cold weather stalls leaf growth & triggers the bulbs to grow as individual cloves. In spring, the bulb matures & the plant produces stems called ‘scapes’ which then set tiny bulbils.
Cloves planted in fall germinate, develop a root system and produce a few green leaves before the temperature gets too cold.
The cold weather causes leaf growth to stop and encourages the growth of individual cloves in the bulb.
Without a cold phase, garlic bulbs tend to grow as one big clove with an inferior texture and flavor.
In spring, the bulb begins to mature and the plant produces scapes.
In late spring and early summer, the scapes flower and then produce bulbils.
How long does garlic take to grow?
Garlic cloves planted in the fall take around 6-9 months to mature.
Softneck garlic varieties can also be planted in the spring and take an extra month to mature.
The length of time it takes for garlic to grow depends on how it was sown, when it was sown and the variety. Most garlic can be harvested after about 8 months, with some early varieties maturing after 6 months. Softneck garlic sown in spring takes an extra month to mature.
Garlic grown from bulbils takes much longer than cloves–possibly multiple seasons–and sometimes doesn’t germinate at all.
For the keen cook, you can harvest fresh cloves that have a much stronger taste than store-bought produce that has been stored for a long time.
And it doesn’t have the bitter green inner that begins to grow over time.
You can also access a wide range of varieties, with some unique flavors – punchy creole, intense rocambole and even black garlic.
And you can use the green scapes, usually only found at farmer’s markets, in a similar way to spring onions.
How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?
You can tell that garlic is ready to harvest when one third to half of the leaves have yellowed and dried.
Another rule of thumb is to harvest garlic 3-4 weeks after the scapes have appeared.
It is usually better to err on the side of leaving garlic longer, as most of the bulb growth happens in the final couple of weeks.
Garlic is ready to harvest when 1/3 – 1/2 of the leaves are dry & yellow, 3-4 weeks after the scapes form. Harvesting too early will mean small bulbs with not much flavor. Harvesting too late means the garlic will start to grow out of the cloves, splitting them & putting them at risk of infection.
Harvesting garlic too early will give small bulbs with not much flavor.
Harvesting garlic too late will mean that the cloves begin to grow out of themselves and start to split.
How long does it take to grow garlic from a bulb?
Depending on the variety, garlic grown from the clove of a bulb will take 6-8 months to mature.
Garlic can also be grown from the bulbils produced by the scapes, however this takes two to three years before the mature bulb can be harvested.
Garlic grown from the cloves of a bulb will take around 6-8 months to mature, depending on the variety. Garlic can also be grown from the tiny bulbils produced by the scapes, but takes much longer. Bulbils need a year to mature into a clove, then another year before the full bulb is formed.
Although growing garlic from bulbils takes much longer, it is a very economical way to propagate as each garlic plant can produce up to 100 bulbils.
You should not grow garlic from bulbs bought from the supermarket, as they tend to be soft-necked varieties that may not grow well in your region, and are also sprayed to discourage germination.
Garlic secondary growth
Secondary growth is when plants thicken, or grow outwards rather than growing lengthways.
Secondary growth in plants is cell division that causes stems and roots to thicken, rather than primary growth which causes them to lengthen. In garlic, this results in auxiliary cloves that grow around the original bulb. It is undesirable as it makes each clove smaller and reduces flavor.
Secondary growth is not desirable as it generally results in smaller cloves with less flavor.
Garlic is a relatively easy crop to grow that delivers good value for money and access to a wide range of varieties and unique flavors compared to store-bought produce.
Garlic is also a winter crop, growing from fall to spring during what can be an unproductive period for the vegetable garden.