Planting Garlic – How Late is Too Late?

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Robert Pavlis

I hear about a lot of people planting garlic in winter or even early spring. In most cases they never report how well the crop turned out so I wondered, how good is the crop if you plant late? Can you plant in spring, in a cold climate, and still get a good crop?

Planting Garlic - How Late is Too Late, by Robert Pavlis
Planting Garlic – How Late is Too Late, by Robert Pavlis

Best Time to Plant Garlic

Garlic can be planted most of the year in warmer climates, but in cool climates the traditional planting time is October (zone 5).

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

In a previous report I looked at the results of planting earlier than this date, and those results can be found in Planting Garlic – When is the Right Time.

One reason for planting earlier is that it gives the cloves time to set down roots in the warm fall soil. The picture to the right shows how much root growth takes place in one month after an October 1 planting. In theory, more roots in fall equals bigger bulbs in summer.

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Garlic planted in December or early spring will be sitting in cold soil and will not make as large a root system. Then in spring when things warm up, such plants will be behind other garlic that was planted in mid fall.

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 2017 and spring 2018, I made four different plantings around the first of October, November, December and March. The ground was too frozen in January and February to plant anything.

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.

Garlic Growth in Spring and Summer

The October and November plantings looked similar with respect to plant height and thickness of leaves. The December plants were clearly smaller in size and the March ones were even smaller. The March planting also had fewer leaves per plant.

Plant Size at Harvest Time

The picture below shows the size at harvest time. From left to right, early October, November, December and March.

The bulb size matched the top green growth, which is not surprising. October had the largest bulbs, closely followed by November. The bulbs from a December planting were significantly smaller and the March were even smaller. The largest of the March cloves were about the same size as the smallest October cloves and are considered to be too small for seed garlic. They will grow as seed garlic, but they would not produce large bulbs.

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Garlic planted early October, November, December and March (left to right), by Robert Pavlis
Garlic planted early October, November, December and March (left to right), by Robert Pavlis

Should You Plant in Winter or Spring?

The results clearly show that earlier plantings will produce larger cloves, and a larger crop.

What is a surprise to me is that a March planting produced anything at all. I expected much smaller cloves from such a planting.

If you can, it is best to plant in October for zone 5. However, early December plantings will still produce a decent crop. Consider a spring planting only as a last reserve. It won’t produce much of a crop, but it is better than no crop. The other benefit of planting in spring is that it allows you to preserve the bulbs for a future planting. If, instead of planting in spring you had tried to hold the bulbs over until the next fall, they would have dried up and been useless. At least a spring planting gives you seed bulbs to plant in fall.

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

Growing Garlic

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Garlic Nematodes

If you grow garlic, take the time to understand this pest. It can destroy your crop.

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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!

31 thoughts on “Planting Garlic – How Late is Too Late?”

  1. Yep it’s December here in Montana and I didn’t get my garlic planted. I bought a variety pack from Keene Garlic but life happened! I’m a zone 5 and also have two high tunnels that give me an extra zone of protection. I grow a lot of produce but I have little garlic knowledge! Rather than losing my garlic (or eating) I’m considering planting in containers and keeping them indoors for a month to get the root growth and then moving into a cooler location like the garage to mimic a fall planting with temperature and lighting. Perhaps I will transplant to a high tunnel in the spring. I see the results of your experimentation and I’m not sure I can get a full 9 months growth for a late harvest. Generally I’m harvesting into October in my high tunnels. I believe my garlic are hard neck varieties (6). Do you think I will still get small, stunted garlic? Have you experimented with containers?

  2. This is a great blog! Thank you for all of the well thought out information. I did discover a thing about the hard neck garlic I grow. I couldn’t get my October bed planted in a zone 6 finger lakes NY upstate area. So I set the cloves in peat pots in March in ProMix BX and let them root on seed mat and then for month of april, which is rainy and cool here, I set them in an old frig at about 32F…then 4th week april…set them in the beds and they grew some nice bulbs and some really nice scapes. October bed set is much better, but forcing them this way did work pretty well.

  3. I plant mine in Jan in could frames I let it set root growth then open the frame they seem to grow fine in spring and I get a nice bulb

  4. I believe the Willamette Valley is in Zone 8. Yes, plant in October. In central Oregon (Madras) Garlic is grown for seed in 40+ acre fields. That garlic is also planted in the fall. Why do it any different? The farmer gets paid by the pound. Planting any other time would be less profit.
    FYI one of those farmers warned me to not water stress (let the ground get too dry) the garlic as it would stop growing, resulting in bulbs like your March planting.

  5. You don’t mention the fairly recent problem of the leek moth. A couple of years ago I noticed that my garlic was wilting at the top. I looked it up online and read about this moth. I examined the garlic and it had maggots which apparently can travel down to the bulb. I cut the tops off (but lost the scales by doing this) to hopefully prevent the maggots from getting to the bulb. In most cases I still managed to harvest the bulbs. Some years before I did have problems with nematodes, so I usually plant garlic in a different area than the year before.

  6. They grow some great garlic in the north of Scotland where the summer days are very long which makes for a huge yield. I am happy to leave it to them and not prat around in my garden with it.
    It’s is a superb vegetable for human health and a fantastic flavouring – but seriously bought at the shop as we need it and avoiding all its foibles in wet weather etc is for us the better option.

  7. Thanks for this post on when to plant garlic (I’ve been wanting to do it but couldn’t this past fall, so it’s a great help to know that not all is lost! At least not yet, lol). Your blog is so wonderfully informative and well written. I’m glad I signed up for notifications!


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