Garlic is a super simple bulb to grow, though dreaded by most gardeners for its prolonged maturity period (usually about nine months), which essentially implies an extended care period.
Garlic is native to Asia. And like most bulbs—whether grown in pots or ground gardens—will thrive with little effort as long as the growing conditions are favorable.
The secret to success with garlic is to get the timing right. This, for most areas, is in the fall—between late September and November, after the first frost, once the soil cools down but just before anything freezes.
For hard frost-prone areas, plant the cloves six to eight weeks before the predicted first fall frost date.
Be sure to pick the suitable variety for your growing zone. There are mainly two categories of this bulbous plant; the hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) and softneck (Allium sativum).
Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
The significant differences are the orientation, number of cloves, and climate preference.
The ‘hardnecks’ produce fewer (but larger) cloves, concentrically aligned around a woody stem—and they prefer cold climates.
On the other hand, the softneck variety thrives in mild climates, has no central stem, and produces numerous cloves arranged in no particular order.
Both, however, require vernalization (exposure to cold temperatures) to ensure the production of healthy bulbs.
Now, at this point, you may already be wondering…
Can you grow garlic from a clove?
The answer is yes–you can grow garlic from a clove.
Garlic is mainly grown from cloves, but you can also start them from seed. The major challenge with seeding is that it’s almost impossible to come by the plant’s tiny black seeds.
If you decide to go the ‘clove way,’ consider purchasing the bulbs from your local farmers’ market, nursery, or a reputable online garden shop—rather than from a grocery store.
Grocery stores sometimes treat garlic bulbs to prevent them from sprouting.
Be sure to pick the healthiest cloves; large (and fat), firm, and free of disease, so you’re guaranteed an equally healthy harvest the following summer.
Finally, you can save yourself the trouble and purchase ready-to-plant bulbs like these, available online or in your local gardening supply store:
How to Grow Garlic in Pots
The process is pretty much the same as when growing the cloves in-ground. However, you have to be very loyal to the bulbs’ hydration needs throughout the growing season lest they die.
This is the reason most gardeners give up growing garlic before even trying. Imagine keeping the plants watered from fall to mid-summer…
It’s quite a tedious process.
To avoid all that stress, consider using a large pot to have enough soil to help boost moisture retention, thus minimizing the need for frequent watering.
Before we explore the step-by-step process of how to grow garlic from cloves—precisely—how to grow the bulbs in pots, let’s kick off by addressing the ‘timing issue’ concerning container gardening by answering the question below.
Can you grow garlic in containers in the fall? And if so, what is the best soil for garlic in pots?
Generally, you should plant the bulbs in containers or pots around the same period as you would plant in the ground, after the first frost in the fall—once the soil cools down.
To ensure healthy growth and prevent the heads from rotting, use the right soil medium.
A good mix of peat, vermiculite, perlite, and compost or potting mix with a bit of builder’s sand should suffice.
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Grow and Care for Garlic in Pots
Once you settle on your preferred garlic variety, here are the next steps you will take:
1. Choose the right-sized container
- The container should be at least fifteen cm (six inches) deep—with adequate drainage—and large enough to allow for sufficient spacing between the cloves.
- Also, consider the material it’s made of because this will impact how fast the soil dries out.
- Glazed and plastic pots, unlike terra cotta pots, don’t allow the water to escape via the sides; therefore, are slower to dry. This means not-so-frequent watering is needed.
2. Fill the container with high-quality potting soil
- As you do so, leave at least two inches of space at the top unfilled to facilitate the irrigation process.
- Add in a slow-release (pellet-style) organic fertilizer in case it’s already not included in the potting mix. If possible, use the type specifically marketed for bulb plants like tulips, daffodils, or hyacinths.
3. Plant the garlic cloves
- Begin by separating the cloves. You can opt to leave the outer papery wrappings on the individual cloves or remove them.
- Maintaining a spacing of at least three inches, push the cloves into the soil with their pointy ends up. The spacing is vital if you want your bulbs to form sizeable, full heads.
- Ensure the base of the cloves (from where the roots sprout) is lodged about three inches deep into the soil.
- Backfill with more soil while gently pressing around each clove. Then water adequately.
4. Find a good spot for the container
- Position the pot in an area that receives six to seven hours of direct sunlight daily.
- You can mulch to help boost moisture retention and keep any weeds at bay. (Assuming you will place the garlic containers outdoors).
- Remember to irrigate frequently.
- Sprouting should occur in a couple of weeks.
- Once the cloves sprout, begin fertilizing every few weeks and water as needed
- Ensure the soil stays consistently moist.
6. Continue care until harvest
- In early summer, you can snip the curly flower stalk (scapes) to divert the bulb’s energy into growing even bigger heads. This is if you’re growing the hardneck varieties.
- Begin harvesting four to six weeks after the flower stalks appear.
- For any reason, you lose track of the days, simply wait until half of the leaves die off or yellow out. This trick also works for the softneck varieties, considering they don’t form scapes.
- Remember, garlic growing is all about getting the timing right.
- If you delay harvesting, the cloves will begin to separate, compromising the head storage.
- Too early a harvest also implies smaller bulbs with an intense garlicky flavor.
The Takeaway: You Can Grow Garlic in Containers or Pots, But It Takes a Little Practice
At first, growing your own garlic may seem daunting. But once you get the hang of it using the simple tips above, you’ll automatically become a garlic grower addict.
Unlike most veggies, garlic is a natural pest repellent, which means less pest and disease management stresses throughout the growth cycle. However, watch out for the pests that often bother onions.