Once you understand the basics of when and where to plant it, even a novice gardener can reap the benefits of growing your own garlic crop.
Whether you like the idea of some home-grown organic garlic or simply want to save money on groceries, this guide will help steer you in the right direction toward a fruitful (and tasty) harvest.
Appearance and characteristics
Garlic bulbs are bulbous plants that grow underground. It is closely related to onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Each garlic bulb has a cluster of cloves.
The flower stalk, which grows above ground, is edible and can be used in cooking or eaten raw. These stalks are known as “scapes” and can be used in cooking in a similar fashion to the way you would use chives.
It is an important ingredient in many cuisines around the world and has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.
There are over 600 varieties of garlic grown around the world but they generally fall into the following categories: hardneck garlic (such as ‘Rocambole’), softneck garlic (such as ‘Australian White’), and Elephant garlic.
When to plant garlic in Australia
In Australia, you can plant garlic from autumn to winter. However, if you plant it too early or too late, your bulbs may fail to grow to their full potential.
Planting too early can lead to the bulbs not correctly separating into individual cloves while planting too late can lead to stunted growth.
There are two key factors that determine the best time to plant garlic: your location and the variety you are planting.
Garlic should ideally be planted when the soil temperature gets down to 10°C. Depending on where in the country you are, this could be anywhere from March to June.
In temperate climates, such as Melbourne and Sydney, garlic is usually planted in March or April.
If you are in a warmer part of the country e.g. Queensland or Northern NSW we recommend varieties such as Glenlarge or Italian Pink as these varieties are better suited to subtropical climates.
How to plant garlic bulbs
- Family: Alliaceae
- Genus: Allium
- Plant type: Perennial grown as annual
- Height: 50cm
- Climate: Can be grown in most climates
- Sun: Prefers full sun but will also grow in partial shade
- Soil: Rich soil with good drainage. It will benefit from manure and/or compost.
- Water: Soil should remain moist (via rainfall or regular watering)
- Feeding: Not required but may benefit from a well-balanced fertiliser
Start preparing your soil a few weeks before planting. Garlic prefers a neutral pH range between 6-7 and likes well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter and nutrients (from manure or compost).
Garlic grows best in full sun but will also tolerate partial shade.
Prepare your bulbs for planting by removing the large, outside cloves from each bulb – these are the ones you want to plant (you can eat the small ones).
When planting garlic, you’ll want to space your cloves 10-15cm apart from one another so they have room to grow without competing with each other for nutrients in the soil. If planting in rows, these should be 30-40cm apart.
You should also plant your cloves just below ground level (around 2-3cm deep); if they’re buried too deep they won’t sprout properly. Apply a layer of mulch after planting.
After planting, water well. The soil should remain moist for the first few weeks but take care not to overwater.
If you receive regular rain through winter they should be fine without any more watering, but keep an eye on them and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.
Overwatering is a common mistake with garlic and can cause the bulb to rot.
Remember to keep your garlic crop weed-free with regular weeding and mulching. Fertilising generally isn’t required.
Should you soak garlic before planting?
Soaking garlic bulbs before planting is not necessary but it is thought to help keep some common problems at bay.
The common soak methods are as follows:
- Seaweed – this is done for less than 12 hours just before planting and is thought to help root development. You can also add bicarb soda to the seaweed mixture to protect from fungal growth.
- Alcohol – this is done to kill mites that may be living under the skin of your garlic. It can be applied either by dunking the cloves or rubbing it over their skin immediately before planting.
Pests and diseases
Garlic suffers from few pests or diseases, but aphids and black aphids can sometimes cause problems.
White root rot can also be an issue if you let your garlic get wet feet. This is why good drainage is so important.
Cockatoos are also known to rip out young garlic bulbs, which is something to keep in mind if you have these birds where you live.
Weed your garlic patch regularly
It’s a lot easier to keep weeds at bay when your garlic bulbs are still small, but even when your plants are established weed growth can cause problems.
Weeds compete with garlic for nutrients, so it’s important that they don’t get the upper hand.
Mulching helps prevent weeds and conserves moisture in dry weather conditions by keeping moisture close to plant roots so they don’t have far to reach when they need it most.
Mulch also prevents shallow rooting which allows plants like garlic access deeper into their root zone where there are more nutrients available.
Finally, mulch acts as a very effective insulator against both cold nights and hot days; thus helping maintain optimum temperatures inside containers/plant beds throughout the winter months.
Pea straw, sugar cane, or lucerne are all good options for mulching garlic.
Maintain a good layer of mulch on top of your soil to help retain moisture and suppress weeds, but don’t cover more than 20cm as this will prevent oxygen from reaching the root zone and damage roots by preventing them from breathing properly.
How long does garlic take to grow?
Garlic takes about 7-9 months to grow from planting to harvest, although this will vary based on the variety you plant and your local conditions.
Keep in mind that there are early, mid, and late-season varieties of garlic, which each have different days to harvest.
Should you let garlic flower?
If you want your garlic to grow to its full potential, you should remove the scapes before they bloom.
The scape is the flower stalk; by removing it, you are directing all of the plant’s energy toward bulb growth. The flowers take energy away from the developing bulbs.
It’s, therefore, best to remove garlic scapes as soon as they appear.
When to harvest garlic
In Australia, garlic is usually harvested in Spring/Summer (October – January).
The best time to harvest garlic is when the tops start to dry and turn brown.
The lower leaves on your plant turning yellow or brown is another sign that your garlic is ready for harvest.
How to store garlic after harvest
Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place where temperatures stay consistent over time; fluctuating temperatures can cause sprouting or rotting.
Good general storage advice is to keep garlic at around 1-5°C, in a dark but well-ventilated space (to prevent any moisture accumulation).
Braiding and hanging garlic is a popular method for achieving better ventilation, which reduces the chance of moisture and results in firmer bulbs.
Garlic is generally hung for 2-3 weeks before being transferred into long-term storage.
A mesh bag can also work, but make sure the garlic is not exposed to any moisture, which can encourage rot.
Whichever method you choose, make sure your garlic is not exposed to sunlight as it dries.
Where to buy garlic bulbs for planting
There are various places where you can buy garlic bulbs for planting.
Garlic bulbs can be found at nurseries, farmer’s markets, or online from a variety of sellers.
It is also important to note that garlic bulbs bought from your supermarket were possibly grown overseas and imported into Australia. These varieties come with the risk of virus infection, so it’s best to use trusted sources.
Garlic varieties in Australia
When it comes to garlic, there are two main types: softneck and hardneck.
- Softneck garlics have a higher yield (larger and more cloves). They generally grow better in warmer climates.
- Hardneck varieties have a woody stem in the centre. When the garlic bolts, a long flowering stalk (called a scape) will grow upwards. They are better suited to colder climates.
There is a wide range of both softneck and hardneck garlic varieties in Australia:
- Australian Red (hard-neck)
- Australian White (soft-neck)
- Italian Late (soft-neck)
- Italian White (soft-neck)
- Glenlarge (hard-neck)
- Monaro Purple (hard-neck)
- Red Rocambole (hard-neck)
- Italian Pink (soft-neck)
- Oriental Purple (hard-neck)
- Elephant Garlic (leek family)
Garlic companion plants
Companion planting is a method used to grow certain plants together that either protect each other from pests, or help each other thrive.
Garlic companion plants include:
How long does garlic take to grow in Australia?
Garlic takes around 8 months to grow but this will vary based on the variety of garlic you choose to grow.
Is garlic hard to grow in Australia?
Garlic is generally considered an easy and rewarding vegetable to grow. Gardeners who live in warmer parts of Australia may struggle with this winter crop, however, there are varieties such as Glenlarge and Italian Pink that are much better suited to subtropical climates.
Can I grow garlic from a clove?
Yes, you can. In fact, growing garlic from cloves is the recommended way to grow garlic. Keep in mind that you should purchase your garlic cloves for growing from trusted sources such as a local nursery, as supermarket garlic can come with the risk of virus infections.