Ultimate Guide to Planting Garlic in the Fall

September 12, 2023

If there is one thing you should be thinking about right now – it is planting garlic in the fall. Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow in the garden, but it takes some careful planning to do it right due to the fact that it takes 8-9 months before harvest. This guide will walk you through all of the things you should be considering right now – from choosing what type of garlic you want to plant, when to plant it, and how! Let’s dive into all things related to planting garlic in the fall!

Planting Garlic in the Fall

Hardneck vs. Softneck

Let’s start here, shall we? Did you know there are two different kinds of garlic? Well, there are actually many varieties within these two categories, but this is the first decision you will need to make. When planting garlic in the fall, will it be hardneck garlic or softneck?

The word “neck” is referencing the stalk that is attached to the garlic prior to harvest. Hardneck is, as you may guess, more rigid than the softneck variety. But their differences don’t end there. Let’s dive in deeper to differences between them and which one would work best for you.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic is quite popular amongst gardeners for many reasons, including:

  • You get garlic scapes in the early summer!
  • Can withstand cold winters
  • Less cloves per head, but the cloves are typically larger than the softneck
  • Easier to peel the cloves
  • Considered more flavorful than its softneck counterpart
  • Only lasts about 6 months after harvest
  • Grows best in zones 3-10

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the same type you typically see in grocery stores and many gardeners will grow it for the following reasons:

  • Stores much longer than hardneck – up to 12 months!
  • More cloves per head, which can often be smaller than the hardneck cloves
  • It’s soft stalk will allow you to braid the garlic together for easy and beautiful storage
  • Milder flavor
  • Grows best in milder winters, specifically zones 5-10

Some gardeners choose to grow both! There is no right or wrong answer here, though your zone can help dictate which type is better for you (more on that below). Within hardneck and softneck are a range of named varieties. Hardneck garlic has hundreds, while softneck has dozens. Don’t get too caught up in the different varieties. For a home garden, I generally advise to pick one variety and try it out for a season to see what you like.

Planting garlic in the fall

Where to Get Your Garlic

Once you have decided what kind of garlic you want to plant, it is time to get it! There are a wide range of sources you can check out to find your garlic cloves:

  • Online Seed Company – If you are able to plan enough ahead, you can order from an online seed company that may give you access to a wide variety of options. Companies such as Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are excellent ones to check out.
  • Local Nursery – Oftentimes, your local nursery will carry garlic that will do well in your climate. This is a great place to check out because the staff are usually quite knowledgeable and can help you decide which type is best for you.
  • Farmers Market – This is a fantastic way to find garlic that is tried and true in your climate! Farmers only grow the crops that will reliably produce for them, so they are an excellent source.
  • Another gardener friend – The first garlic I ever grew in my garden was given to me from another gardener. I have since then passed on the tradition of sharing my garlic with friends and clients, to give them the same wonderful first experience of growing garlic in their garden. If you have any gardener friends, see if they have extra to share with you!

A Note on Grocery Store Garlic

I would not recommend growing garlic you get from the grocery store. Sometimes, the garlic has been sprayed with a growth inhibitor to prevent you from growing garlic from its cloves. However, that isn’t always the case, as can be seen from the garlic that sprouts on your countertop after sitting there for too long! Another thing to consider is that this garlic may have been shipped from another location – including an entirely different country! You can’t be sure that this garlic is best suited for your environment or what conditions it was grown in.

When to Plant Your Garlic

Exact timing for planting your garlic in the fall will depend on two things:

  1. What kind of garlic you are planting
  2. Your growing zone

Garlic needs to go through a vernalization period, which means a prolonged exposure to cold weather to stimulate root growth. The vernalization period will be different for hardneck vs. softneck.

Hardneck garlic will need at least 40 days at or below 40 degrees and can survive temperatures as low as -20 degrees. Softneck garlic requires a much less extreme vernalization period, and cannot withstand extreme low temperatures.

winter garden

When planting garlic in the fall, we want to find that perfect time when temperatures have dipped low enough to provide the vernalization period, without suddenly rising and starting growth of the tender greens. The greens will begin to grow once temperatures have risen above 40 degrees and they cannot survive a hard frost.

For specific time periods by zone, check out this excellent garlic planting chart from Grey Duck Garlic here.

A note about growing outside of recommended zones

These are not hard and fast rules. If you wish to try to grow either of these varieties outside of their best grown zone, there are some tricks. If you would like to grow hardneck garlic in a climate with warm winters that do not reach 40 degrees and below, you can mimic this vernalization period by storing your garlic in the fridge for at least 40 days prior to planting.

And if your winters are a bit colder than the softneck garlic prefers, you can try adding a thick layer of mulch on top of the garlic, or plant them under polytunnels to help insulate the soil.

Steps for Planting Garlic in the Fall

Step 1: Prep the soil

Garlic needs loose rich well-draining soil in order to properly form the garlic head. Lightly work the soil – but not too much that you break down all of the beneficial microbes that are living within it! Make sure to add in rich compost as you are working the soil.

If you are planting your garlic in rows, then dig a trench about 2-4” deep. Sprinkle bone meal or your favorite phosphorus-rich fertilizer along the trench. If you are interplanting your garlic all around your garden, then dig each hole 2-4” deep and follow the same steps for fertilizer.

Planting garlic in the fall

Step 2: Plant the garlic

Break apart your garlic head and choose the largest cloves to plant. Make sure you do not break off the papery skin around the clove, as this will help prevent rot.

Each garlic clove will need to be spaced 6-8” apart to allow enough room for the bulbs to form and the eventual leaves to spread. When placing hardneck cloves into the ground, make sure the pointy-side is facing up! That is where the garlic will sprout from and we want to make sure it has a clear path upwards. Softneck cloves are less picky.

Step 3: Mulch

Make sure to add a layer of mulch on top of the soil. You can use straw, leaves, or compost, whatever works best for you. The mulch will not only help insulate the soil, but it will also help suppress the inevitable weeds that may pop over over the long growing period.

Step 4: Water

Garlic needs to be consistently watered – but not too much, or else it will lead to rot. Garlic needs about 1” of water per week, and will need to be watered according to your fall/winter weather. If you receive an adequate amount of rain/snow throughout fall and winter, then there is no need to be concerned with watering. However, if you live in a climate with a warmer/drier winter, then do not forget this important step!

Garlic Companion Plants

Although we are planting garlic in the fall, we should still take consideration what we intend to grow around it in the spring and summer. Some crops do well planted with garlic, and some don’t. This is due to a gardening concept called “companion planting” which pairs crops together that are mutually beneficial.

Ways they may support each other include attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, providing necessary nutrients, or compatible growing space. Ways they may not be compatible include inhibiting growth or attracting pests.

When planting garlic in the fall, make sure to take into consideration what you may plant in your garden next spring and summer. Here is a list of vegetables and herbs that do well planted with garlic, and some that do not.

Vegetables & Herbs that Grow Well with Garlic

Companion plants garlic
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes 
  • Chamomile
  • Tarragon
  • Dill
  • Rue

Vegetables & Herbs NOT to Plant with Garlic

  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Parsley 
  • Sage
  • Aspargus
  • Other alliums – onions, chives, leeks and shallots

Fall Garden Planning

If you are looking for more guidance on fall garden planning, then you will love this blog post covering my planning methods. You may also enjoy the Kitchen Garden Seasonal Planning Guide will be an excellent resource. This free 24-page guide provides sample garden plans for each season, seasonal garden tasks, space for you to plan your own garden beds, a BONUS Weekly Garden Log, and more. If you want to try out the Seasonal Planning Guide for your fall kitchen garden, you can download it below!

If you still have question about how to plan for planting garlic in the fall, then let’s set up a garden coaching session! You can check out coaching session options here, and feel free to reach out with questions.

Happy gardening!

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