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Your guide to growing garlic in winter for a delicious season-long harvest

Garlic is a great addition to any dish, making it a popular plant to grow. It’s also incredibly easy to grow in any season. Winter isn’t usually associated with vegetables, but some plants don’t mind the cold. If you’re a fan of garlic, you’ll be happy to know that garlic is one of those plants. Want to get started growing delicious winter garlic but aren’t sure how? You’re in luck because we’ll tell you everything you need to know in this handy guide to growing garlic during winter.

When should you start your winter garlic?

Garlic needs several weeks of temperatures that are at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to develop properly. However, they also need enough time to grow roots before the ground freezes. Plant your garlic a little before the first frosts of the year, but avoid planting them right before a big freeze. Garlic doesn’t do well in heat, so plant your garlic once the weather has begun to cool.

In most cases, September through November is the typical time frame for planting garlic. Colder regions (USDA hardiness zones 3 and 4, for example) should plant garlic closer to September, while more mild regions (such as USDA hardiness zones 7 and 8) can wait until November.

Three garlic bulbs with some garlic cloves next to them
Sahand Babali / Unsplash

What are the benefits of growing garlic during winter?

Garlic can be planted in fall or spring. However, garlic planted during spring or summer tends to be smaller and slower growing than garlic planted in fall. This is because garlic needs cool weather to stimulate growth at the beginning of its life, but cold weather can also damage mature garlic’s foliage. Spring garlic has to be harvested before winter, resulting in a shorter growing season.

Additionally, planting in the fall means less overall work for you. Since most of the root growth is done throughout winter, they need remarkably little care. On the other hand, growing garlic during summer can sometimes require more maintenance since, to achieve the ideal size, you’d need to simulate cold weather for the clove before planting. Garlic also tends to be heat sensitive, and the higher temperatures in summer mean more work for you as you try to keep them cool.

Garlic plants growing in a garden
zoosnow / Pixabay

How to plant and care for winter garlic

Garlic does best in soil that’s loamy, well-draining, and slightly acidic. You can add compost to your soil before planting to help with overall soil quality. Choose a planting location that gets a decent amount of sun. Garlic does best with between 6 and 8 hours of sun a day. Clear out any weeds in the area before you start planting. If your natural garden soil is poor draining and you don’t want to spend time and effort modifying it with soil amendments, try growing your garlic in a raised garden bed instead.

Use the largest, healthiest cloves you can, and inspect them carefully for disease, discoloration, or damage. Place each clove about two inches deep, with the root-side facing down, and space them a few inches apart. Cover them with soil and a layer of mulch. Any mulch will work, but straw tends to see the best results, especially in colder climates. Then, leave them until spring.

After the last frost of the year, remove your mulch so the young leaves can begin to push through. Garlic uses a lot of nitrogen, so you may need to fertilize them with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilize them once in early spring and once in late spring or early summer.

Garlic needs most of its water during late spring and early summer, when the bulbs are growing. Water them every few days or twice a week. However, you can stop watering as frequently in the weeks leading up to the harvest. Leaves should be left alone, but any flower stalks that form should be clipped. This stops the plant from putting energy into blooming, which results in a smaller bulb.

A basket of freshly harvest garlic
1195798 / Pixabay

When is it ready to harvest?

In most cases, garlic is ready to harvest between June and July, but a later planting means a later harvest. The ends of the leaves should begin to turn yellow and wilt, which is a sign to begin harvesting. If they turn yellow before June, it likely means they need more nitrogen.

Dig one garlic bulb up first to gauge if they’re ready to harvest. Be careful, and use as few tools as possible to avoid damaging the garlic. The bulb should be intact, without any splitting, and have skin that’s thick enough that gentle handling doesn’t hurt it. A split bulb is an overripe bulb, while a thin, easily damaged skin signals an unripe bulb. If the test garlic is ripe, then it’s time to harvest the rest of your garlic.

Growing garlic over winter is an excellent way to supply all your favorite dishes with delicious, homegrown garlic. It’s a simple, straightforward process that cuts down on effort and results in larger garlic bulbs. Planting your garlic in fall and growing it throughout winter is also a great way to make use of any garden space that would usually be left empty over winter. No matter what you like to use your garlic for, hopefully this handy guide has helped you start planting and caring for your winter garlic.

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Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
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