Planting Garlic – When Is The Right Time?

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Robert Pavlis

The recommended time for planting garlic in colder climates is mid-fall – October in zone 5. That certainly works but is that the best time?

Spring bulbs, like tulips, are also planted in fall but common advice for these is to plant them as soon as you get them. Earlier is certainly better than later. Planting earlier allows the bulb more time to develop a good root system before winter sets in. Since garlic is a bulb, would the same logic not apply to it? Would it not be better to plant garlic sooner?

Planting garlic - When Is The Right Time? From left to right, Aug 2, Sept 1, Oct 1, by Robert Pavlis
Planting garlic – When Is The Right Time? From left to right, Aug 2, Sept 1, Oct 1, by Robert Pavlis

Planting Garlic

Garlic is grown by planting a clove of garlic, which is a bulb. After planting, the clove makes roots while the soil is still warm, and it may also start growing some green leaves which poke out from the soil.

Garlic after being in the ground for 1 month showing significant root growth, planted Oct 1 in zone 5, by Robert Pavlis
Garlic after being in the ground for 1 month showing significant root growth, planted Oct 1 in zone 5, by Robert Pavlis

Spring bulbs do exactly the same thing. As temperatures drop in late summer or early fall, they start to make roots. This is then followed by leaves. The leaves will grow until they are just below the surface of the soil and then they stop growing until spring. The first time I heard this I didn’t believe it, so I went out in fall and started digging around and sure enough almost every one of the bulbs had leaves just below the surface.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

In hindsight, this makes perfect sense. By growing leaves in fall the plant gets a head start on spring and can flower earlier.

Since garlic has the same growth habit it only makes sense that planting garlic earlier should work. In fact it might even make larger plants since they get an earlier start. An earlier start should produce larger bulbs at harvest time? All this logic seems to make sense, but I found no information to support it.

Most home gardeners, and most commercial growers plant late fall once temperatures are already quite low.

This is the perfect scenario for a little experiment.

Really Early Planting

What happens if you plant real early? As I was planting my garlic, I found some smaller bulbs that had been in the garlic roots in Septemberground for at least a full year and maybe two. They are the result of letting one plant go to seed, which produces baby garlic bulbs. These fell to the ground and I just ignored them – until now.

I dug them at the end of September. You can see that they are already producing both green shoots and lots of roots. It certainly seems as if early planting would be a benefit to garlic.

Testing Garlic Planting Dates

I have grown garlic in the same bed for a number of years and they always produce a great crop with very large cloves. I am in zone 5 and grow hardneck garlic. I know from past experience that the whole bed produces about the same size garlic.

In fall of 2016, I made three different plantings on Aug 2, Sept 1 and Oct 1.

Planting depth and spacing (4-5″) were the same for all bulbs. The bed was mulched with 3″ of wood chips after planting. Urea fertilizer was added the following spring. The beds were watered as needed to keep the soil moist. I find that the combination of clay soil, rain and mulch are enough to keep the soil moist most of the time.

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To keep my observations as objective as possible, the markers with planting dates were buried so that I did not know when specific plants were planted.

Garlic Growth in Spring

The August 2 planting was the first to show new growth in spring but within a week green tips were found for all planting dates. There seemed to be very little difference between the dates.

When the plants were about a foot tall, all of the plants seemed to be the same height. Looking at the plants you could not tell which were planted early.

Plant Size at Harvest Time

Plants were harvested the last week of July. At that time all plants were the same height.

Planting time for garlic did not affect plant height, by Robert Pavlis
Planting time for garlic did not affect plant height, by Robert Pavlis

Bulb Size and Number of Cloves

You can see from the top picture that the size of the cloves were the same for each planting date.

The clove count is important to me. Large cloves mean less peeling, which makes them easier to use. The number of cloves per bulb were: 4.25 (Aug 2), 4.4 (Sept 1) and 4 (Oct 1). No significant difference.

Best time to Plant Garlic

In this test, planting any time from August 1 to October 1 produced the same results. Contrary to popular belief planting later did not produce a bigger crop.

Why do people advise late planting? It could be the repetition of historical advice which has no basis. It is possible that farmers are just too busy earlier in fall and that October is more convenient for them. Gardeners then follow this advice.

Some have suggested that planting earlier may give pests and diseases more time to attack the garlic, but where is the evidence that this is true?

Keep in mind that this test looked at one unnamed variety of hardneck garlic. Other varieties of hardneck or softneck garlic may behave differently. I also tested only one type of soil – mine – about 40% clay. Different soils may give different results.

How Late Can You Plant Garlic?

That is a good question and I tried different late plants the following year. The results are reported in Planting Garlic – How Late is Too Late?

If you grow garlic, try different planting times and post your results in the comments below. Include information about the type of garlic and your planting zone.

Garlic as a Companion Plant

Garlic is one of the most popular companion plants. It can be grown next to most plants as a natural pest and fungus deterrent. It takes up little space, is not fussy about soil and can grow in most conditions.

But does it actually work as a companion plant? Garlic – the King of Companion Planting

More Information About Growing Garlic

Article on Growing garlic

Which is better, hardneck or softneck?

Video on growing garlic:

YouTube video

If the above video does not play, try: https://youtu.be/NuCqoGZEcks

Garlic Nematodes

If you grow garlic you should learn about the garlic nematode – it can devastate your crop.

YouTube video

If the above video does not play, try: https://youtu.be/hJdJV95WEMU

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

39 thoughts on “Planting Garlic – When Is The Right Time?”

  1. One week before the first frost was expected in NE Louisiana, I planted 50 garlic cloves, Dec 14. In May a bumper crop was harvested. After curing, I placed 24 cloves in the fridge in moist paper towel in a baggie and planted them (already rooting) on Aug 19; they’ve already grown six inches above the soil <3 wks.

    Reply
  2. Is it alright to plant garlic in summer? I planted garlic in the first week of March this year then I planted again in first week of April this year also which is the summer season in the Philippines is from April to May. Did I plant it wrong this time or what advantages or disadvantages planting garlic in summer?

    Reply
    • In the tropics you can plant any time, but you need to give the garlic a cold treatment before planting. Some suggest a 3 months cold.

      Reply
  3. A single data point, Robert, does not an experiment make. I tried the same experiment and got opposite results (also in Zone 5 US). In my case, the autumn was mild and the garlic sprouted leaves that were eventually 5 inches above ground level (even though I buried them as I saw them). All leaves froze out during the winter, and the cloves had to re-sprout in the spring. You need to run your experiment over at least a decade to account for the variability in autumn and winter weather (warmth, rainfall, snow cover, etc).

    Reply
    • Multiple year data would be better, but without additional data, it is the best we have at the moment. If you send me your data and details I will publish it.

      Reply
    • It seems to me that the burying of the leaves is what froze them out in winter. Every year, I plant mid to end of October zone 5b Colorado. Depending on the year, they sprout long leaves as early as November, and as late as April. I’ve never buried those leaves. All crops were good. I will now plant a month earlier due to Robert’s data.

      Reply
  4. Hi Robert,
    I live in Vancouver, British Columbia (zone 7- 8) and our weather is not always predictable. Sometimes it rains for days at a time. I started soft neck garlic in mid March and am wondering if I should not harvest till next spring or the garlic bulbs will remain small in spite of the length of time in the ground.
    Shidu.

    Reply
  5. Hi their
    I am based in nz Marlborough i grow garlic soft and hard also nz red 10,000 bulbs
    I plant any time threw the year with success I also grow in pb5 bags and pb8s as i have half an acre of land so i use every square the cloves may grow slow but if i am not happy with the stalk I leave it in the ground and pull it or leave it till next season normally just the small bulbs stay till next season I also grow from bubls so they are normally the second season before they are used I hope this helps john

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