Planting garlic in the fall may seem counterintuitive but it’s actually the best way to ensure a great crop the following year. Here is everything you need to know to successfully plant garlic in the fall.
Understanding Your Growing Season and Frost/Freeze Dates
As most of the garden is being put to sleep for the cold winter season ahead — garlic is just getting ready to begin its journey.
You may currently be trying to speed-ripen your tomatoes before the cold sets in, better plant some garlic while you're at it.
Depending on your particular location, garlic should be planted about 4-6 weeks before the soil starts to freeze for winter.
I'm located in zone 5b in Southern Ontario which means I should plant garlic approximately between September 1st and 15th.
Here is a quick reference guide:
Frost & Freeze Dates for Gardeners
Plant your garlic according to these dates and your particular zone.
|USDA Zone||Last Frost Date||First Frost Date||Minimum Number of Frost-free Days|
|1||June 15||July 1||30|
|2||May 15||August 15||90|
|3||May 15||September 15||120|
|4||May 15||September 15||120|
|5||April 15||October 15||180|
|6||April 15||October 15||180|
|7||April 15||October 15||180|
|8||March 15||November 15||240|
|9||February 15||December 15||300|
|10||January 31||December 15||315|
|11||No Frost||No Frost||365|
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners can determine which plants are most likely to thrive in any given region. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
Unsure of what zone you are even in? For Americans click here and enter your ZIP code in the search box in the upper-left of the map to find your location and the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Click the map at your location of interest to see the Zone classification at that location.
For Canadians, unlike the USDA map, which is based only on minimum winter temperatures, the planting zones map produced by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) considers a wider range of climatic variables, including maximum temperatures and the length of the frost-free period. Because of this, the zones listed in the Canadian and US maps are not on the same scale, so keep that in mind before following one or the other!
NRC also produces a map that shows plant hardiness zones for Canada based on the USDA extreme minimum temperature approach. Click here to see both Canadian planting zone maps.
Choosing Garlic To Plant
The most important thing to consider when planting garlic in fall is to choose the best, the healthiest, the most robust seed garlic. What you want here are bulbs that have an intact, tight, papery wrapper holding the cloves firmly and neatly.
Do not plant garlic seeds from bulbs that are splitting open as you will in turn grow more garlic with those unwanted characteristics.
Try and find the largest cloves possible. Large cloves are so much easier to peel and work with when cooking. I absolutely hate peeling and chopping teeny tiny cloves so I prefer not to grow more of them.
Where To Buy Seed Garlic
Shop local if possible as that will likely be the hardiest and best choice for your locale.
Did you know that are more than 200 varieties of garlic? You need to choose a variety that suits your region, climate and taste.
I highly recommend finding hardneck garlic seed.
Start your search locally and find high-quality seed garlic. Eventually, you can build up your own successful strain from careful selection and planting of your own year after year.
One of my favourite places to shop for seeds, particularly rare ones, is Baker Creek. I can spend a long time pouring over the catalogue daydreaming about my garden goals.
And although they are US-based, shipping to Canada has been easy and hassle-free with no extra charges.
Highly recommend them.
If you wish to purchase from a Canadian company, John Boy has great varieties. I will be ordering from them this year.
Preparing Your Garlic Bulbs For Planting
Preparing your bulbs for planting in the fall involves peeling the outer paper husk while leaving the individual inner garlic peels intact.
Assuming you cook with garlic, this is pretty self-explanatory — gently peel off the outer layers and separate the inner cloves while leaving their protective husks alone.
You can now soak the cloves for 20 minutes right before you’re going to plant them.
Preparing Your Garden Bed For Planting Garlic In The Fall
Prepare your garden beds in the fall before planting.
Garlic thrives in rich, well-drained soil and in areas that receive full sun exposure.
You will want a bed that is free from roots or rocks.
Add compost like well-rotted manure or worm castings.
It is also best to choose a bed that can be rotated with something else the following year. Rotating your garden beds greatly reduces the chance of pests and diseases taking hold and decimating your garden.
After planting the garlic cloves you will need to cover the beds with straw or mulch, more on that below.
Planting The Garlic
When ready, plant your garlic about 3 inches deep (in cold areas like where I am in Canada) or only about 1-2 inches in milder climates.
Plant the individual cloves 3-4 inches apart and set your rows about 6-8 inches apart.
If you have poor soil allow for more room, a couple of inches or so. This is not an exact science.
It is vital that when planting garlic you plant root side down and stem side up. Garlic that is planted the opposite way might not grow at all but if it does it will likely be small, stunted, and deformed.
See the image above for reference — that is how you need to plant your garlic.
This of course is not true for soft neck garlic — the garlic you most likely find in your grocery stores that have been planted mechanically.
But soft neck garlic simply does not taste as good as hardneck which is the type I love the most and highly recommend you seek out.
Once you have planted your garlic, cover it with a thick bed of straw or mulch.
If you are concerned about straw containing numerous weed seeds you will have to contend with come spring — get chopped straw like the type used for chicken bedding. You will not have to worry about weeds or other random accidental seeds.
And that is really all there is to it.
The garlic cloves you planted will begin to sprout before the harshness of winter really sets in and continue in the spring when the temperatures warm up and the soil begins to thaw and warm up too.
As the garlic begins to grow in earnest come springtime, keep the bed mulched and weeded. Ducks or geese can be a big help here as they don’t really care for the garlic plants, although your experience may be different!
Harvesting The Garlic Scapes
One of the best parts of growing garlic is the garlic scapes which you will need to remove come June to let the plant continue to grow successfully.
If you have never had garlic scapes before, you are in for a gourmet treat that is very simple to prepare.
If you were to leave the scapes on, they would develop into small garlic bulbils, which are true garlic seed. You can actually plant these bulbils and grow garlic from seed, but by doing this the plant will not put its energy into growing large bulbs below the ground.
The bulbs would instead be considerably smaller and harder to work with in the kitchen
It’s best to harvest the scapes and make garlic scape pesto or just steam or sauté them and serve with butter and sea salt. I love scapes served as a side dish to a nice butter-basted prime rib steak.
Harvesting Your Garlic
Come July or August spending on your location, you will harvest your garlic. Hopefully, you have grown enough to last you for the rest of the year along with enough to reseed your garden beds and start the process again for the following year. I love to have some extra to give away oo.
Do not wash the garlic and do not cut or bruise the bulbs.
Instead, gently dislodge them from the soil and brush off as much dirt as possible.
Harvest the garlic when the soil is dry if possible, it is much less messy that way than if the soil is wet and sticky.
Curing Your Garlic
After harvesting, make sure you do not remove the leaves or cut off the roots
Now you can hang the garlic or spread it out to dry in a well-ventilated and dry place. Keep the garlic out of direct sunlight.
Your kitchen might be perfect for this.
Garlic takes approximately 2 weeks to cure but if you are in a humid climate it may take longer.
You will know it’s ready because the outer papery use will be dry to the touch and the tops will be completely brown.
Now you can cut the bulbs out whole and store them.
Storing Your Garlic All Year
Garlic should be stored somewhere relatively dry, cool, and out of direct sunlight. Your cellar might be too humid depending on your location but a cold room may be just right.
We like to hang our garlic in the kitchen out of direct sunlight and within easy reach alongside dried peppers and other herbs.
Braided strands of garlic look very pretty and neat in your kitchen. They are also very practical and easy to learn how to do yourself.
Lots of YouTube videos can show you exactly how to do this!
And that is pretty much it. Planting garlic in the fall is simple. As the spring season returns next year, keep your garlic beds mulched and free from weeds as you wait for the garlic to be ready for harvesting.
Feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment down below. Are you planting garlic this fall?