How To Grow Great Hardneck Garlic – Fall Planting Guide
Hardneck garlic is a staple in our Zone 3 Canadian garden. It’s one of the last things I plant in the ground in Fall, typically in October, and one of the first crops to pop up come Spring. Feed it, mulch it and water it, and you’ll reap in the benefits.
But the real key to growing big, juicy garlic bulbs is to select the right hardneck garlic variety for your climate. In this planting guide, you’ll learn why planting garlic in the Fall works best, how exactly to plant your cloves and growing and harvesting instructions. After you grow garlic once, you’ll never want to go back to store bought….trust me!
This post covers:
- What Is The Difference Between Garlic & Seed Garlic
- Hardneck Garlic vs. Softneck Garlic – The Main Differences
- When To Plant Hardneck Garlic In Cold Regions
- Step-by-Step Planting Guide
- Spring and Summer Care for Hardneck Garlic
- Harvesting and Curing Tips
What Is The Difference Between Garlic & Seed Garlic
You’ve wondered whether you can go to the grocery store, buy some garlic and plant it in your garden, right? Well the answer is no.
And that’s because there’s two different types of garlic.
Grocery store garlic vs. seed garlic.
When you’re planting garlic in your garden for growing, the grocery store stuff won’t cut it. You likely won’t get a substantial harvest, if any at all.
This is because garlic sold at the grocery store for mass consumption is typically softneck garlic, which will not survive cold conditions over winter.
The cloves of softneck garlic are also usually too small and won’t yield large bulbs if you try planting. Too large of cloves and you’ll end up with the same results.
Most grocery store garlic is grown in China or California. It will not adapt well to Canadian soil and growing conditions. There is also the chance it can be carrying pathogens that could transmit to your soil if planted.
So what type of garlic do you need to successfully grow it in a cold climate? Hardneck seed garlic.
Seed garlic is specially grown by garlic farmers with the intention of being replanted in the next season. It’s a tireless job that requires specialty growing conditions and ongoing breeding. This is often reflected in the higher price of seed garlic. But, it’s worth it!
Seed garlic is typically very disease-resistant and top graded….especially when compared to food garlic you’d find at the grocery store.
Garlic is grown from bulbs (similarly to potatoes), but is referred to as seed garlic. This can be a little confusing, considering there’s no actual seed that comes from garlic.
So just know — when garlic is called seed garlic it is in fact referring to the garlic clove or bulbil.
Great varieties of hardneck seed garlic that grow well in a Zone 3 garden include:
- Music – spicy, wasabi-like flavour, and well adapted to most Canadian grow zones.
- Majestic – traditional garlic flavour, great for Italian cooking. Known to produce large quantities of garlic scapes.
- Chesnok Red – sweet and savoury flavour, a very “rookie friendly” variety for first time garlic growers.
Hardneck Garlic vs. Softneck Garlic; The Main Differences
Now that you know hardneck garlic is the way to go for planting garlic in a cold climate, here are the main difference between hardneck and softneck.
- Is best suited to cold climates with severe winters (Zone 1-5).
- Produces a long stem, otherwise known as a garlic scape. The BEST!
- Stores well for 4-6 months after harvesting.
- Is said to produce more flavourful cloves.
- Is best suited to warmer climates with moderate winters, not cold hardy (Zone 6-12).
- Produces many different sized cloves within a single head (while hardneck garlic produces 5-8, large cloves).
- Stores for long periods of time (12-15 months). This is the reason softneck garlic is mass produced worldwide, and likely the type of garlic you’ll find at the grocery store.
When To Plant Hardneck Garlic In Cold Regions
Timing is key when it comes to planting hardneck garlic, and the best time to plant hardneck garlic is in the Fall. This is a must for success.
Some gardeners will try and plant hardneck garlic in the Spring, but in order to harvest full-size garlic bulbs, you have to plant in the Fall.
The cool weather gives a clear message to the garlic bulbs not to produce any shoots yet. While the soil in the Fall has still accumulated enough warmth over summer that the garlic roots will actually slowly start to grow even as Winter arrives. Garlic requires a full 8-9 months of growing time.
There’s two most important tips when planting hardneck garlic in the Fall:
- Mulch — you must cover your garlic with a thick layer of “insulation.” This can be leaves or garden straw.
- Fertilizer — you need to provide each clove enough fertilizer for strong root development over Winter.
When Is The Perfect Time To Plant Hardneck Garlic In Canada
I believe “later is better” when it comes to planting hardneck garlic. Of course, you can only plant when the soil is still workable. So, waiting until December to plant or waiting until you’ve had several hard frosts is probably too late.
So, when exactly should you plant hardneck garlic in the Fall in Canada?
The exact timing depends on your grow zone, however anytime between early October to late November is typically good for most Canadian climates.
For a more exact answer, plant your hardneck garlic when the average nighttime temperatures are consistently around freezing, and day time temperatures are no higher than 5-7ºC.
There’s been many years when I’ve planted my garlic in the snow. Yes, gardening in the snow!
This has been the case for years when we’ve gotten an early snow fall in Manitoba. And the results were still the same in the Spring, harvesting big, beautiful garlic cloves.
If you happen to experience a snowfall before you plant your garlic, simply clear off the snow and use a hand trowel to dig your planting holes.
An Easy Step-by-Step Guide For Planting Hardneck Garlic In Cold Regions
There’s 7 easy steps to planting hardneck garlic in this guide. Follow along and you’ll definitely have success!
Step 1: Select a planting site
Choose a spot in your garden or yard that receives full-sun, this is considered 6-8 hours minimum of direct sunlight daily.
Plant your garlic in a raised bed or directly in the garden in rich, well-drained soil. We plant our garlic in a raised bed that receives 12+ hours of full sun during July.
*Note: Do NOT plant your garlic in a container.
In order for hardneck garlic to survive the winter months, it needs to be well insulated and protected from the cold. A container can’t provide this. I highly advise against planting hardneck garlic in a container.
If growing in a container is your only option, wrap it in burlap or surround with other containers to provide wind protection. Also ensure to place a heavy layer of mulch on top for additional insulation.
Step 2: Amend your soil with compost
Soil amending is the act of adding new organic matter to your soil to improve its structure, nutrients and drainage, which in turn will help your garlic develop strong, healthy roots.
Healthy soil is the key to growing big, beautiful garlic bulbs. Start by removing any debris, roots, weeds and foliage left over from plants that were in this site prior.
Next, using a hand rake, gently till the soil surface by turning the top layer of soil over. This is especially important for clay soils.
Now, add your compost. Apply 30L of compost to every 25-30 square feet of garden space. Using your hands, thoroughly mix your compost into your soil. If you are planting in a new garden site, improve your soil’s nutrients even further by mixing in shredded leaves and/or coco coir.
Step 3: Dig your holes
Before you start digging, consider what formation you want to plant in. For garlic, I recommend straight rows with each hole spaced 4-6 inches apart.
However, if you’d like to interplant garlic throughout various areas of your garden, you certainly can. Garlic is an excellent companion for most vegetables as it helps repel aphids. To dig holes, use a hand trowel or transplanter (small shovel) to dig 4inch deep holes.
Step 4: Add fertilizer to each planting hole
Garlic is a heavy feeder and requires high nutrients to develop strong roots and large bulbs.
To each hole, add 1 heaping tablespoon of slow release, organic, granular fertilizer. Our preferred brand is Evolve Organic Fertilizer, available for purchase here in the From Soil to Soul shop!
Use your hand to sprinkle the fertilizer into each hole. It does not need to be mixed deeply into the soil, but should be evenly dispersed.
Step 5: Divide your cloves from each bulb
Take your seed garlic bulbs and gently separate each clove. Be careful not to remove the papery exterior wrapper. You want to keep this on each clove as a protective barrier.
The neck of the garlic (the middle stalk at the center of the bulb) can be discarded.
Step 6: Plant one clove in each hole with the pointy side up
Take each individual clove and place it pointy side up in your hole.
You’ll want your cloves to remain as upright as possible to support uniform bulb development. This is especially important with hardneck garlic as it ensures scapes develop properly in the Spring.
To keep cloves in place, gently push each one into the soil to secure it. The base of each clove should be sitting in the fertilizer.
Step 7: Cover each hole with soil and then mulch with straw
Cover each clove with your amended soil. Your soil should be fluffy and light. Use your hands or a trowel to pack it over the hole so the entire clove is covered.
You should be adding 4-6inches of soil. Smooth the soil so the surface level is even.
Next is mulch! Apply a heavy layer of straw mulch to ensure your garlic does not send shoots above ground before Spring. You don’t want any warm, Fall sunlight sprouting your garlic.
I find we have the best results with our garlic harvest when we mulch with Garden Straw. It is an excellent insulator over Winter and also retains moisture during the Spring and Summer months.
*Note: If you do not have access to straw, shredded leaves are a great alternative for mulching garlic.
Apply 3-5inches of mulch over your planted garlic. If you live in an especially windy area, you can gently water your mulch to keep it down. Be sure not to heavily water as you don’t want your garlic cloves to rot.
And that’s it!
Those are your 7 easy steps to planting hardneck garlic in Canada.
You can forget about your garlic all winter long, lettting it slowly put down roots as it’s covered in snow.
How To Care For Hardneck Garlic in Spring & Summer Months
In the early Spring once the snow has melted, you can expect to see your garlic pushing its way above the mulch. This sometimes happens as early as April in my Zone 3 garden, depending on how much snow has melted.
As soon as sprouts appear, start watering and weeding your garlic patch.
Determine how much you should water your garlic based on:
1. How much snow you received over winter.
2. How warm Spring has been, and how much the sun is drying out your soil.
3. How much mulch you’ve applied (less mulch = more watering).
A common question I often get asked is, “When do I remove the mulch on my garlic?” The answer is, you don’t need to!
Keep your mulch over your garlic bed until you’re ready to harvest come late July-early August.
Mulch will retain moisture in your soil, helping to keep your garlic evenly watered. It will also gradually breakdown over the summer and feed your soil. Straw mulch especially becomes a great nutrient and micro-organism for your garlic bulbs. So whatever you do, do not remove!
After watering, the next thing to think about in the Spring is fertilizing. You’ve already fertilized your garlic once when you planted in the Fall. Now, you’ll want to fertilize once more with a slow release fertilizer again.
I suggest using a liquid fertilizer that you can apply my mixing into a watering can. Sea Magic kelp-based fertilizer is our preferred brand.
When Should I Fertilize My Garlic Patch In The Spring
Apply your first Spring feeding to your garlic patch once the chance of heavy snows and hard frosts has past.
For myself in Zone 3, this is usually around early to mid May. You can fertilize a second time if you’d like, however this must be before garlic scapes appear.
The tricky thing about garlic is that it’s a heavy feeder, but can suffer from over fertilization. So more is not better in this case.
When To Expect Garlic Scapes From Hardneck Garlic
Garlic scape season is one of my fav times of the year!
Garlic scapes are the tender stem that grow from the center of a hardneck garlic shoot. Come early to mid July, you’ll notice scapes shooting up from the center your garlic. They curl and twist into tight circles.
They are tasty, unusual and an added bonus that comes with growing hardneck garlic. Definitely give them a try!
To harvest garlic scapes, simply cut the stem using a sharp pair of scissors or garden shears.
Try my recipe for Quick Marinaded Garlic Scapes with Miso Glaze!
Some garlic growers claim that removing the scapes actually supports larger bulb development. There’s not a lot of research to prove whether this is accurate. But I wonder, why wouldn’t you remove your scapes? They’re delicious!
How To Properly Harvest Hardneck Garlic
When you should harvest your hardneck garlic is all dependant on when you planted your garlic.
It’s safe to say that garlic needs between 8-9 months of growing time before it’s ready to harvest. So, start by counting back to your planting date.
How Do I Know If My Garlic Is Ready To Harvest?
The first sign to look for that will indicate your garlic is ready to harvest is browning leaves.
The very cool thing about garlic leaves (also known as shoots) is that each one represents one potential papery wrapper around the bulb. The more layers of paper around your bulb, the longer it will store for. So, many shoots/leaves off one clove is a good sign!
You want the majority of the bottom leaves of your garlic (those closest to the soil) to be brown before you harvest.
About two thirds of the bottom leaves brown is a good rule of thumb. You want the top leaves to still be green. This represents the moisture in the bulb.
If you wait too long, your garlic will be dried out. If you harvest too early, your bulb will have too much moisture and won’t store well. It’s all about finding that sweet spot. The best way to know if you’ve hit it is to simply harvest one bulb and see how it looks. If it is still small, wait to harvest the rest.
The Best Tips For Properly Harvesting Hardneck Garlic
Harvest Tip 1: Loosen soil gently.
Your bulbs are delicate and you want to ensure the papery wrapper stays completely in tact to protect the bulb when curing. Grab the base of the stem closest to the soil and gently wiggle it back and forth a few times to begin loosening.
Harvest Tip 2: Don’t use sharp tools.
Use your hands to gently dig the soil away from the bulb. Sharp tools like a trowel or spay can easily pierce the bulb, which will cause it to quickly rot. You won’t be able to store a damaged bulb. Coax them out by moving them back and forth rather than pulling straight up.
Harvest Tip 3: Take your time.
Slow and steady is the way to go when harvesting. Trust me, it’s so worth it when you pull up a perfect bulb of homegrown garlic. Don’t rush!
The Best Tips For Properly Curing Hardneck Garlic
Curing Tip 1: Either hang your garlic to dry or lay it on a rack or table in a space with lots of air flow.
You can get creative here! In the past I’ve simply used a wire shelf in our garage, but I’ve seen gardeners lay each bulb between the metal of a dog crate, which looks like a great solution. This season I hung all our garlic in our greenhouse to cure, which looked gorgeous.
Curing Tip 2: Keep drying bulbs until all leaves have turned brown.
This typically takes one week to 10 days. If you’ve harvested your garlic early when more leaves are green, it may take slightly longer. This period is the curing process and is key in order to store your garlic for the next 4-6 months.
Curing Tip 3: Use a toothbrush or other soft bristle brush to gently clean bulbs.
Loosen away the remaining soil from the roots and paper wrapper. This will also help your garlic store for longer over the Winter.
Curing Tip 4: Store in a cool, dry place.
For some gardeners, this is a pantry or root cellar. For myself, I simply keep my garlic in the basement because it tends to be much cooler than the rest of our home. Any space away from direct sunlight and humidity works just fine and will keep your garlic for months!
And there you have it!
If you’ve read through this entire Fall Planting Guide on How To Grow Great Hardneck Garlic, you can already consider yourself an expert on the topic!
The hard work is done, it’s time for you to enjoy your beautiful organic hardneck garlic harvest. Congratulations! There’s nothing like the feeling of growing your own food.
Happy Fall garlic planting!