Full grown garlic plant

When Is Garlic Ready to Harvest?

Do you know how to tell when garlic is ready to harvest? Even professional garlic growers say it’s a skill to be honed. Harvest too soon, and bulbs won’t be fully formed. Harvest too late, and bulbs will be splitting open, with cloves starting to separate from one another. Digging at the wrong time means garlic won’t store well into winter. The secret to harvesting at the right time depends on two things: knowing the signs to look for and understanding how garlic grows.
As garlic plants grow, each bulb produces a flowering stem, which is also called a scape. Scapes are easy to spot—they curl around as they grow. If allowed to open, the buds would reveal a typical onion-type bloom (like ornamental alliums). Most garlic gardeners cut scapes to yield larger, healthier bulbs that store longer.
Scapes bring wonderful garlic flavor to the kitchen. Sautee them with young summer squash, add them to summer marinades or whip up a feisty garlic pesto. Young scapes are tender; older ones become woody and tough to chew. Scapes provide an important clue on the road to your garlic harvest. On average, garlic is ready to harvest roughly three full weeks (21 days) from when you harvest the bulk of the scapes.
Cutting scapes also signals the time to stop watering. Give plants one more deep watering after you cut the last scapes, and then let soil start drying down. When it’s time to harvest, it’s better if soil is dry.
Most garlic plants produce from six to nine leaves. Each of these leaves extends down the stem and wraps around the bulb, forming part of the papery layers that cover and protect cloves. When the lower two or three leaves turn yellow or brown, bulbs are ready to harvest. If you wait too long beyond this point, your bulbs won’t have as many protective layers around cloves, which means they won’t store well.
At the same time, the remaining leaves will probably be showing yellow or brown tips. When about one-third of the plant’s seven to nine leaves—including the lowermost ones, which may be fully brown—are showing signs of yellow and brown, that means the plants are reducing how much moisture and nutrients they’re shifting from roots to shoots. That’s a clue that leaf growth is drawing to a close and bulbs are ready to harvest.
Fat stems make it tempting to grab and pull garlic from the ground, like an onion. Do not do this. Instead, first loosen soil with a garden fork, and gently pull bulbs from soil. Some professional garlic growers recommend using a small spade to avoid accidentally spearing bulbs. Don’t clean soil from bulbs until they’re cured.

How to Grow Garlic. Now’s the time!

Garlic is a fall planted crop that is harvested in July. So if you’re reading this in October, now is the time to plant your garlic or next year’s harvest. (but if it isn’t fall, don’t worry you *can* plant garlic in the spring) A step by step tutorial on how to plant garlic!

Skip right to the instructions.

Many, many, many, several, too many to count … years ago, my father brought home some garlic. He got it from an old Italian man at work. Actually, I’m making up the old Italian man part, but it seems entirely possible. And THAT is when my garlic growing obsession began. I’m obsessed with many things, that’s how I’ve learned to do so much and why I can’t sleep at night because I’m always plotting, planning or cleaning up after my latest venture. Occasionally I’m getting rid of evidence.

Any idiot can grow garlic. Seriously. When’s the last time you watched a television special on the “Remarkable Garlic Growing Person”? Never. Because you do not have to be remarkable in any way, shape or form to successfully grow garlic.

You just need some garlic and some dirt. Or “soil” for you uppity types. You also need fall weather to plant garlic (although even that isn’t a deal breaker – more on that later). Ready? Let’s plant some garlic.

The first thing you need to know is which type you should be planting: hardneck or softneck garlic?

What’s the difference between Hardneck and Softneck garlic?

Softneck garlic
  • Softneck garlic is best grown in warmer climates.
  • Has no stalk that grows up from the centre and therefore doesn’t produce a garlic scape.
  • Softneck garlic heads are generally smaller than hardneck and have smaller cloves.
  • The head of a softneck garlic can be made up of multiple rows of garlic cloves.
  • Softneck garlic will store for 6-8 months if kept in optimal conditions.
Hardneck garlic
  • Hardneck garlic is best grown in cooler climates.
  • It has a long hard stalk that grows up from the centre of the head, producing a scape in June and a flower head later in the season filled with little garlic bulbils which you can use as garlic seed.
  • Hardneck garlic is larger than softneck and has bigger cloves.
  • Cloves form the head in a single row.
  • Hardneck garlic will store for 4-6 months if kept in optimal conditions.

So generally speaking, if you live in a climate where you get lots of very cold temperatures and snow in the winter, plant hardneck. If you live in a warmer climate with mild winters and hot summers, softneck garlic is for you.

How to Grow Garlic

Separate your garlic head into cloves. Just pull them apart. Pick out the biggest cloves for planting.

The flat end of the garlic is the root end.

The pointy end is the tip of the garlic. It needs to point up.

You want to plant the garlic “root” end down 2-3 inches into the ground. The bigger the clove you plant, the bigger the resulting head of garlic will be. If you sprinkle a little oregano on top of the garlic and squeeze a tomato over everything, in 9 months you’ll have grown a delicious marinara sauce.

No you won’t.

Plant the cloves so they’re around 4 inches apart and their tips are covered by two inches of dirt.
Cover them up and wait. Through the fall the clove will start to develop roots and maybe even a shoot depending on how warm your weather is.

By the spring with a little help from sun, water and these little guys to aerate the soil, you’ll have garlic plants starting! A single clove, produces an entire head of garlic.

Harvesting takes place in July followed by curing the garlic and properly storing it.

Materials

  • Heads of garlic

Tools

  • Trowel or shovel

Instructions

  1. Separate your head of garlic into individual cloves.
  2. Choose the largest cloves for planting.
  3. Plant the garlic, flat end down (the root end) in a hole that is 3-4″ deep. When covered with soil, the tip of the garlic should be around 2″ below the soil line.
  4. Fall planted garlic will develop roots underground in the fall and then go dormant through the winter. In spring it starts to grow again.
  5. In June, hardneck garlic will send up “scapes”. Scapes are the tip of the growing stalk. Cut these off once they loop into a complete circle.
  6. DON’T THROW THE SCAPES OUT. You can use them for cooking or making a DELICIOUS garlic scape pesto.
  7. Stop watering your garlic 2 weeks before you harvest. (Around the time the lower leaves on the plant have turned brown.)
  8. Dig garlic up in July when one half of the leaves are brown. This indicates the garlic is ready to be harvested.
  9. Cure your garlic by hanging it in a well ventilated, shaded area like a porch. Leave it to dry for 2 weeks. This curing process will help your garlic to store much longer.
  10. Once cured you can cut the roots off of your garlic and the stem, leaving 1-2″ of stem above the bulb.
  11. Store garlic between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. A humidity level of 65% is the best.

Notes

  • The bigger the clove you plant the bigger the head of garlic will be.
  • If properly stored hardneck garlic will store for around 6 months.
  • You can also freeze your garlic cloves. Just separate the cloves and put them in a freezer safe container. Do not remove the skins, they’re a protective layer.
  • Want garlic powder? Dry extra garlic in a dehydrator and then grind it into homemade garlic powder.
  • Softneck garlic is planted and grown the exact same way except it’s planted in the spring and there are no scapes to remove.
  • If you missed the fall planting for your garlic, don’t worry! You can still plant it in the spring and get a good garlic harvest. A gardener at my community garden does this every year. Your garlic heads may just be a little smaller than fall planted garlic.

Garlic Tips

  1. Despite what you may have read on the Internet, you can just buy garlic for planting at the grocery store. As long as the garlic hasn’t been treated with anything to keep it from sprouting you’ll be fine. As a little experiment, I bought 2 heads of garlic from my produce aisle. One bulb of regular giant garlic and a package of smaller, organic garlic. Both of them sprouted and grew. HOWEVER note that most grocery store garlic is not locally produced and can introduce new disease to your soil.
  2. For the best quality garlic you should buy locally sourced garlic heads that do well in your growing area. Music, Russian Red, and Chesnok Red are all popular hardneck varieties. Italian softneck is a standard softneck variety.
  3. If you forgot to plant your garlic in the fall you can also do it in the spring! But hardneck varieties do best when they have a period of “cold”. So stick the planting bulbs in a refrigerator 2 weeks prior to planting them out in the spring. The cold will trigger them to come out of dormancy and sprout when you remove them from the fridge.
  4. Stop watering your garlic 2 weeks before you harvest. Around the time the lower leaves on the plant have turned brown.
  5. Garlic dies from the bottom of the stem up. It’s time to dig up your garlic when the bottom half of the leaves have turned brown.
  6. Don’t pull your garlic out of the ground, dig it. Otherwise you may break the head apart.
  7. Store your garlic in a well ventilated area that’s 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and 65% humidity.
  8. If you have extra garlic you can stick unpeeled cloves in the freezer, or dehydrate them in a dehydrator to make garlic powder.

I use an Excalibur dehydrator (it’s pretty much what most dehydrating enthusiasts use) for all my dehydrating projects. You can take a look at the Excalibur dehydrator here (this one is white, but mine is black.)

Hands down my favourite garlic recipe is actually one that doesn’t use any garlic at all! It uses the garlic scapes I harvest in June. My garlic scape pesto is delicious on pasta or pizza and stores for a year in the freezer!

Now that you have all the information you need on how to grow garlic so get out there and get your hands dirty. Or for the more refined among you – soily.

The Trick of Knowing When to Harvest Garlic

Your garlic cloves went in the ground last October, grew through winter and spring, and now that it’s May, they’re ready to be plucked from the garden, right?

Well, maybe.

Garlic is one of those things where timing is everything, and the harvest period can span from late spring through late summer, depending on the weather and the variety of garlic grown.

But since the bulbs are all underground, how can you really tell when your garlic is ripe for the pickin’?

The short answer is: It’s all in the leaves.

But don’t be fooled by its allium cousin, the onion. When onions have stopped growing, their leaves begin to lose color and wilt. The tops will dry up and flop over, signaling the time to harvest. Most onion bulbs have pushed themselves out of the soil and it’s easy to see whether they’ve fully matured.

Garlic bulbs, on the other hand, remain below ground during development.

The trick of knowing when to harvest garlic is looking at how many leaves are left on the plant.

Each leaf above ground indicates a layer of protective paper wrapped around the bulb. A garlic plant with 10 green leaves, for example, will have 10 layers of bulb wrappers.

While there’s no standard number of leaves that garlic should have, a reliable harvest indicator is when half the leaves have died off, and half are still green. The leaves start to die off from the bottom up.

When most of your crop has reached this stage (aim for at least 50 to 75 percent of your crop, assuming you planted them all at the same time), stop watering for at least a week and allow the soil to dry out a bit to prevent rot and make harvesting easier.

It’s a good idea to lightly dig into the soil around the bulb (taking care not to damage any of the wrappers or cloves) and check its size without digging the whole thing up.

If the bulb looks small, pat the soil back down and wait a few days before you check again. If the bulb looks substantial, the wrappers tight, and the cloves well-formed, it’s ready to be pulled.

Just don’t wait until all the leaves have died back before harvesting. Without the bulb wrappers protecting the garlic head, the cloves may separate and the garlic won’t store well.

Over-ripened bulbs also tend to divide and form shoots from each clove (looking like a Siamese twins version of garlic… but still edible, as I’ve found from experience).

At harvest time, carefully loosen the soil around your bulbs and gently pull the garlic out from the base of its stem, at its neck. Brush off any excess dirt that falls off easily, but do not wash your garlic or remove the bulb wrappers.

Washed garlic tends to accumulate extra moisture in the bulb that may lead to fungal infestations. It’s also additional time and effort that simply isn’t necessary, and I am all for efficiency in the garden!

If you plan to eat your garlic right away, use scissors to trim the leaves and roots so you can store them neatly in the kitchen.

Garlic that may have been cosmetically damaged during harvest (but are still edible) should also be eaten first, as they’ll decline in quality sooner.

If you want to prepare your garlic for long-term storage, however, keep the leaves and roots intact while you cure your crop.

Generally, Asiatic and Turban varieties of garlic mature first in the season (as early as May in some areas), while Silverskins mature last (in July or August).

There can be a six- to eight-week span between the time the earliest garlics are ready to when the latest-maturing garlics are pulled from the ground. Smaller plants will often mature earlier than larger plants.

For example, I once planted Ajo Rojo (a Creole garlic) and Siciliano (an Artichoke garlic) in October in my Southern California garden, and both were picked about two weeks apart in late May and early June. These spring harvests are typical of warmer regions, especially for cultivars that are well suited to the climate.

Garlic Maturity Chart from Earliest to Latest

Cultivar Maturity
Turban May to June
Asiatic May to June
Artichoke June to July
Rocambole June to July
Creole June to July
Glazed Purple Stripe July
Purple Stripe July
Marbled Purple Stripe July
Porcelain July to August
Silverskin July to August

In northern climates, harvest from fall plantings typically occur in late July to August. In southern climates, harvest depends on the actual planting date.

Your harvest period is also determined by the current weather and soil conditions, so even if you grew the same cultivar of garlic this season, it may not mature at the same rate as last season.

Since there are no hard-and-fast dates to go by, the best way of knowing when to harvest garlic is to start paying attention to the leaves in spring.

Happy harvesting!

Take the Next Step with Your Garlic Harvest:

  • A Guide to Curing and Storing Garlic

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on July 9, 2011.

Ornamental Garlic Plants – Why My Garlic Is Flowering

Garlic has a host of health benefits and livens up any recipe. It is a key ingredient in both regional and international cuisine. Do garlic plants bloom? Garlic bulbs are no different than other bulbs in that they sprout and produce flowers. Ornamental garlic plants are grown to produce these blooms, which are called scapes. These are delicious when sautéed and provide an interesting, starry pouf of tiny florets to adorn the landscape.

Do Garlic Plants Bloom?

Garlic plant flowering takes place near the latter part of the plant’s life cycle. Planting garlic for its flowers is as simple as allowing the plants to develop longer than you normally would for bulb harvest. I’m always thrilled to see my garlic is flowering, as it increases the interest in the herb garden and I can still harvest the garlic bulbs, although the inflorescence will redirect energy from the bulb. For larger bulbs, remove the scapes and eat them before the buds burst open.

Bulbs are complex storage organs for plants. They house not only the embryo, which causes the plant to form shoots, but also contains

the energy needed to start the growth and flowering process. Flowering is part of a plant’s life cycle where it seeks to produce seed and perpetuate itself.

Although we most commonly grow garlic just for the intoxicating bulbs, allowing garlic plant flowering lends a unique and magical touch to the landscape. Intentionally planting garlic flowers is becoming popular due to the tasty scapes. These are simply the buds for the flower and have a long history as an edible in their own right.

Producing Ornamental Garlic Plants

If you want to try growing some of these aromatic bursts of white florets for yourself, start with planting garlic. If you want big, robust garlic bulbs, it’s inadvisable to allow them to flower, but letting the scapes themselves appear does not seem to slow bulb growth.

Plant numerous seed garlic in fall for hardneck bulbs or in spring for soft neck. Let a few of these develop scapes and produce starry balls of flowers just for the enjoyment. The rest of the plants should have their scapes removed and use these in salads, soups, sautés, sauces and any other dish that can be improved with their mild garlic flavor.

What to Do if My Garlic Plant is Flowering

If you have planted garlic for its bulbs and neglect to remove the scapes, the plant is directing its energy to producing flowers rather than bigger bulbs. You can still harvest the bulbs but they will be small and low in flavor.

In some regions, garlic can stay in the ground and produce a second year harvest. To reap the benefits the following year, remove the flowers and mulch around the garlic in fall. Let the green shoots die back. In spring, they should resprout and the number of garlic bulbs will increase. Pull away the mulch to allow shoots to emerge from the soil.

This way you have one season where planting garlic flower was the goal, but a second season of bulb harvest is still possible. These may still be smaller than they would be without flowering but the flavor will be intense and delicious.

My second year garlic has flowers. Is it safe to eat?

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How To Grow And Harvest Garlic Scapes

Garlic is an easy to grow plant that is used for its bulb and its greens. Garlic scapes are the first tender green shoots on garlic which will become bulbils. They are edible when young and add a delicate garlic flavor to salads, soups and sauces. You can use them just as you would use chives. Most gardeners wouldn’t encourage growing garlic scapes but when they appear, remove them and use them for early spring flavor.

What is a Garlic Scape?

Garlic scapes are curly tendrils of greenery that come up from hard necked garlic plants. They terminate in something that looks like a bud. If you let the scape grow, it will flower with a wiry white-tipped cluster of tiny blooms. Each bloom will swell at the tip and produce seeds that bloat and turn brown.

The protuberances become bulbils or tiny bulbs, which may be planted and will become garlic in three to four years. They can be removed without damaging the plant and eaten when young.

Growing Garlic Scapes

There’s nothing you need to do to grow garlic scapes other than to plant garlic. Their formation is a natural part of the garlic growth cycle and part of the plant’s reproductive process. Provide good care to the garlic and watch in spring for the curly slender stems. Cutting scapes of garlic is an early season activity in March or April. If you allow the scapes to develop, they become woody and lose their flavor.

Should I Cut Garlic Scapes?

Cutting scapes of garlic off the plant is an individual decision. Many gardeners believe that the removal of the scapes will increase the bulb production because the plant can put its energy into the underground growth.

You can also leave them and allow them to mature so you can harvest the bulbils for future harvests. Consider the size of cloves you like to have when you ask yourself, “Should I cut garlic scapes?” If you’re trying to grow monstrous garlic, you will likely want to remove the scapes.

How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

The only tools necessary for cutting scapes of garlic are scissors and a container. Cut the scape at the base of the plant. You can eat the slim green leaves and the bud-like structure. You can also just pinch or bend off the stems. They should snap off easily. Rinse them and put them in a glass of water or in a zip top bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days.

Using Garlic Scapes

Once you’ve tried these little delicacies, you will never wonder, what is a garlic scape? The fresh, delicate garlic flavor will be imprinted on your culinary memory with recipes to follow.

Use garlic scapes in soups, stews and sauces. Slice them into salads or sauté them as a quick addition to pasta. Use them to flavor foods like fish or go crazy and make them into a flavorful pesto. These flavorful shoots are too good to waste.

Long, curly and deep green, garlic scapes are typically among the first produce found at spring farmers markets. But what are they—and what do you do with them? Here’s everything you need to know about these delicious greens.

What are garlic scapes?

Garlic scapes are the tender stem and flower bud of a hardneck garlic plant. (Hardneck garlic is the kind of garlic that typically grows in Canada and the northeastern U.S.) Scapes first grow straight out of the garlic bulb, then coil. When harvested, they look like long, curly green beans.

Garlic is one of the few plants with two harvests: garlic scapes are harvested in the late spring and early summer, and then the bulbs are harvested later in the summer. Harvesting the scapes is an integral part of garlic farming—if the scapes aren’t cut off, the plant expends its energy trying to grow its stem and flower, leaving the bulb small and flavourless. So, by eating garlic scapes, you’re doing your part in the garlic growing cycle.

When are garlic scapes in season in Canada?

These thin, green stalks are in season in in the late spring and early summer. Because garlic farming is dependent on soil temperature, scapes start growing once spring arrives and the soil starts warming up. In most parts of the country, scapes are ready to be harvested in June and July.

What do they taste like?

According to Carolyn Chua, Chatelaine’s Senior Associate Food Editor, garlic scapes taste like a unique blend of onion, scallion and garlic. However, scapes are usually less fiery and have a fresher, “greener” taste than the actual garlic bulbs. The texture is similar to that of asparagus.

How are garlic scapes different from ramps?

Ramps, or wild leeks, can sometimes be confused with garlic scapes, since they also tend to be available in early spring (though generally earlier than scapes). However, ramps are their own plant (unlike scapes, which are the stem of the garlic plant) and taste like leeks and onion.

How do I prep garlic scapes?

Scapes are really easy to prep. Most of the time, the tips of the scapes will have a little bulb on it. Snip off the tips and the bulb, run the scapes under some water to get rid of any dirt and chop up the scapes to whatever length you’d like.

How do I eat them? What garlic scapes recipes can I use?

Scapes are very versatile and can be used in an assortment of recipes. They can be used anywhere you might otherwise use garlic cloves or scallions. They can be sautéed, pureed, roasted and pickled. They’re great in Asian cuisine, such as a stir fry. They can be diced and used in omelettes, frittatas, soups and salads. They can be eaten cooked or raw—though, be warned, they are a little tough when raw.

A common use for garlic scapes is pesto. It’s a great alternative to the standard basil and pine nuts pesto. Garlic scapes pesto can be made by simply replacing basil with raw scapes. For the best possible pesto, Chua suggests using a nice canola oil, rather than extra virgin olive oil.

An easy garlic scapes pesto recipe:

You will need:
1 cup chopped garlic scapes (1-in. pieces)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
Directions
1. Pulse garlic scapes with pine nuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Add parmesan and pulse twice. With motor running, slowly add oil through feed tube until almost smooth. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper.
2. Use pesto right away over pasta, crostini, salad and pizza or transfer to a glass jar, seal and refrigerate up to 3 days. It can be frozen in ice cube trays for future use up to a month.

This recipe takes about 10 minutes and makes 1 cup of pesto.

Where can I find garlic scapes?

Garlic scapes can be found in Asian supermarkets in the fresh produce section when they’re in season. You can also find garlic scapes at farmers markets and independent grocers as Urban Fresh Produce at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. You can also buy scapes directly from farms, such as Le Petit Mas in Martinville, Quebec and Bradley Creek Garlic Farms in Forest Grove, B.C.

Because scapes are very hard to come by when they’re not in season (and even when they are, they’re not available at many generic grocery stores), it’s a good idea to stock up when you find them.

How do you store garlic scapes—and how long do they keep?

Garlic scapes keep very well in the crisper—they can last for up to two weeks. You can also chop them up and freeze them in plastic bags, which will preserve them for much longer.

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