Growing garlic is a satisfying process. Not only does it provide you with a supply of fresh garlic cloves, it also enables you to experience a far wider range of varieties. Far more than you could ever find in your local grocery store. Additionally, growing garlic is a relatively easy process. It doesn’t require much space or expert knowledge. This makes it ideal for beginners as well as people with limited space.
Garlic cloves require a long growing season. A clove can take up to 9 months to develop into a head that is ready to harvest. Because they require a long growing season, garlic can often take up space in the garden that could be used to grow other produce or flowers. Learning how to grow the cloves in a pot enables you to make the most of your growing space. You can successfully grow garlic in a pot on a windowsill or as part of a container garden.
If you want to learn how to grow garlic in a pot, this guide will take you through everything that you need to know.
Surprisingly easy to cultivate, learning how to grow garlic in a pot helps you to make the most of the space in your garden.
Selecting the Right Variety
Before we begin exploring how to grow garlic in a pot, we will first take some time to identify suitable varieties. Selecting varieties that are suitable for container growing helps to make the process a lot easier. To make container growing easier, select smaller or medium sized varieties. Stay away from larger varieties such as elephant garlic.
Garlic plants can be divided into two categories: hardneck and softneck varieties.
Hardneck varieties are hardy plants. They grow best in colder climates. Hardneck varieties need 6 to 8 weeks of temperatures below 45 ℉ to sprout and develop a full head or bulb. Gardeners in milder climates can pre-chill hardneck varieties by placing them in a paper bag in the crisper draw of the refrigerator for around 8 weeks.
Popular varieties include:
- Purple Moldovan,
- Chesnok Wight,
- Red Czech,
- Lautrec Wight
Softneck varieties are less hardy. They grow better in milder climates.
Popular softneck varieties include:
- Albigensian Wight,
- Picary Wight,
- Iberian Wight,
- Early Purple Wight,
- Solent WIght
As we have already noted, these cloves require a long growing season. In USDA Zones 8 and warmer you can grow softneck garlic in a pot all year round. In colder regions, plant hardneck cloves in the fall for a harvest the following summer. You can also grow undercover in a greenhouse or on a windowsill.
Take the time to explore the different varieties and select a variety that appeals to you and suits your growing conditions.
You Will Need
As well as healthy garlic cloves you will need a few other things.
You will also need:
- A container,
- Potting soil,
- Granular, organic fertilizer for bulbs
- Horticultural fleece.
When selecting your container avoid terracotta pots. These are porous, meaning that the soil requires more frequent watering. They are also more likely to crack in cold weather. Plastic or glazed ceramic containers are better. It should also be frost proof.
The pot should be at least 8 inches deep and have drainage holes in the bottom. The width depends on how many cloves you are planting. A 22 inch diameter container holds 8 to 10 cloves. Ideally there should be 6 inches of space between each clove. This gives them plenty of room to grow and form.
If possible avoid using a terracotta container. Instead use a plastic or glazed pot.
Your potting soil mix should be well draining and fertile. Don’t select a soil mix that is too light. It should be heavy enough to support tall plants and developing heads. If the soil is too light, cloves may heave up. This can also happen if the cloves are not planted deeply enough.
Finally your fertilizer should be rich in phosphorus. A slow release fertilizer is ideal. This provides the developing cloves with a steady supply of nutrients as they develop.
How to Plant
If you are growing outside, plant your cloves around the time of the first frost. If you grow undercover, you can plant at any time of year. Just make sure that you choose an appropriate variety.
Fill the pot with your chosen potting mix. Work in 2 to 3 tablespoons of the granular fertilizer. Ensure that the fertilizer is evenly distributed throughout the soil.
If you have a head of cloves, split or crack it open to separate the cloves. Plant the biggest cloves pointed end up. The base of the clove should be about 3 inches below soil level. Space the cloves at least 4 inches apart. This gives them lots of room to grow and develop. Cover with soil and water well.
Cover the top of the soil with a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of mulch. An organic mulch of straw or shredded leaves is ideal. This is particularly important if you decide to grow your cloves outside because the mulch helps to insulate the bulbs during the cold winter period.
Keep the soil evenly moist at all times. A lack of water is the main cause for plants failing or dying. A self watering pot can help if you often forget to water or don’t have enough time.
After planting, put the containers in a sunny spot. Ideally they should receive 6 to 8 hours of light every day. In colder climates, if you are growing outside, make sure that the pot is in a sheltered position. Wrap straw or leaves around the pot to further insulate and protect the bulbs. You can also wrap the pot in a horticultural fleece such as the Agribon Floating Frost Blanket. If you are growing undercover there is no need to insulate the pot.
Spring and Summer Care
When the last frost date has passed and the temperatures have started to warm up, place your pot in a sunny position. Continue to water the soil regularly. To help promote healthy growth sprinkle 2 tablespoons of organic, granular bulb fertilizer evenly across the soil surface.
In early spring green shoots emerge. These will grow and develop into large stalks. Hardneck garlic varieties produce a scape or flower stalk in early summer. Cut or snap this off. Removing the scape encourages the plant to focus its energy on bulb development.
Green shoots emerge in early spring. At the base of the shoot a bulb develops.
Continue watering regularly as the bulbs develop.
As the bulbs mature the foliage starts to turn yellow. This yellowing usually starts in early summer, if you planted the previous fall. Cloves planted in the spring are usually ready for harvest in late summer or early fall.
When half the foliage is yellow and withered you can harvest your bulbs. Other signs that the bulbs are mature and ready for harvest include the skin feeling papery and dry. Mature bulbs also have clear divisions between each clove.
Don’t let mature cloves sit in the soil for too long. This can lead to the skin splitting or the bulbs resprouting. Cloves left in the soil for too long are also more likely to rot during storage.
How to Harvest and Store
To harvest, loosen the soil around the clove. Lift the bulb with a trowel and shake away any excess soil. If the skin disintegrates easily it means that you have lifted the bulb too early. Allow the other cloves to remain in the soil for a few more weeks before harvesting. When lifting your cloves be careful not to damage or cut the clove. Bruising or accidental damage can impair storage.
Gently lift mature bulbs, accidental bruising or damage can impair storage.
Cure the harvested bulbs by placing in a well ventilated, light position for 2 to 4 weeks. Don’t place the cloves in direct sun. Many gardeners air dry their garlic plants by tying them into small bunches and hanging upside-down. Softneck varieties can be braided together. You can also place them in net bags, such as a Hanging Mesh Storage Bags, to dry. Elevating your crop allows air to circulate all around the clove, helping to fully dry out the bulb.
Curing can take 2 to 4 weeks. Cured cloves have dry necks and papery skin. When the clove is cured, cut away the top and roots before storing.
A vital part of learning how to grow garlic in a pot is knowing how to correctly store your harvested cloves. This helps to increase their lifespan and reduce your waste. Store your cured cloves in a cool, dry place. Ideally the temperature will average 40 °F. In this condition the cloves can be stored for up to 3 months. The longer the bulb is stored the more intense the flavor.
Nicely formed bulbs can be kept and planted in the fall for harvesting the following year.
After lifting the bulbs, cure and allow them to dry before cutting away excess stalks and roots and storing correctly.
How to Avoid and Prevent Common Problems
Learning how to grow garlic in a pot helps you to avoid many common garlic growing problems.
A member of the onion family, garlic can be susceptible to many of the same pests and problems as onion plants. Onion fly can stunt growth and, if left untreated, can cause plants to die. To prevent onion fly keep the soil as clear as possible from March until May for some protection. An insect proof mesh, such as Gardeningwill’s Mosquito Bug Netting may also provide some protection. Lift and destroy badly affected plants, don’t place them on the compost heap.
Rust, an unpleasant fungal disease which causes orange blisters to appear, can be prevented by spraying or watering in sulfur compounds. You can also prevent and treat the issue by amending the soil with potash.
White Rot is another unpleasant issue. It is caused by soil borne pathogens. Planting in containers filled with fresh soil means that white rot is unlikely to affect your plants.
Spacing correctly and keeping the soil weed and debris free helps plants to stay healthy.
Learning how to grow garlic in a pot is a pleasingly straightforward process. While it may not be the quickest crop to grow, as long as you water the cloves regularly you will be rewarded with lots of flavor filled bulbs.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.