5 Jun 2020

How to grow garlic

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:25 pm on 5 June 2020

Growing garlic for many people can be a hit-and-miss affair, with bulbs looking more like little leeks come Summer harvest time, leaving some novice growers with a bad taste in their mouths.

Garlic and garlic cloves on a wooden background.

Photo: 123RF

However, success is achievable with the right growing conditions, by planting at the optimum time and by using the appropriate seed bulbs.

With some luck, you’ll be able to harvest your culinary bounty and have a string of garlic bulbs hanging in your parlour that would do justice to any traditional French kitchen.

“If things do go wrong, for example if it gets rust, then you end up with no crop at all and you get little tiny spongy bulbs that look like a baby leek, so that can put people off,” says gardening expert Lynda Hallinan.

“It’s really worth giving it a go though because with garlic there’s a real beginner’s luck factor. The first time you grow garlic and this seems to be true of everybody that I know, you will have an amazing crop and you’ll think wow, that was easy. Then, for there on in it gets a bit challenging.”

Good soil without any fungal issues guarantees a good start, but the key is getting good quality seed bulb.

When breaking it up into individual cloves, only planting the larger ‘outside’ ones as opposed to the smaller ‘inside’ cloves, which are better used in the kitchen.

“You do need to buy really good New Zealand-grown garlic if you are going to plant it,” she says.

Other essential factors are rich, non-compacted soil and a long growing season – from winter to summer. Garlic are nutrient hungry, so compost and manure are useful. 

The space allocated to the garlic is important in that it will monopolise space for an extended time.

“Keep in mind that it is going to be in there to at least Christmas, so you can’t grow anything else in that spot. So, if you have one really great sunny bed where you grow everything in, if you put garlic in it now you won’t be able to grow anything else.”

Getting them into the ground within the next 20 days will be optimum time to plant. 15-20cm apart is enough, with distance between rows being best at 20cm.

When ready the shoots above the ground will have a ‘dead’ look, meaning all the energy has gone into forming the bulb, a sign the garlic is ready to harvest. Those tempted to pull out the bulbs too soon will be left disappointed.

“What you do is you leave it in the ground until you have a decent-sized bulb in the summer and you did them up. The garlic bulb will be hanging off the stalk and you dry them the way you would onions.”

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