Growing Garlic

Garlic is planted in the fall but local farmers’ markets are starting to open now and that is a great place to purchase the garlic you will plant in October.

Garlic is a favorite bulb used in our kitchen almost daily. The flavor adds a wonderful taste to marinades, salads, salad dressings, pastas, stir fry’s, dips and many ethnic dishes. Raw garlic has a pungent, spicy kick. Its spiciness mellows and sweetens when cooked.

Fall (mid October) is the perfect time to plant garlic, after the first frost and before the ground gets too cold. There are many different varieties of garlic generally falling into two categories; Hardneck or Softneck garlic. Softneck is generally grown in mild climates. It is the garlic you see in the southwest that is braided. Hardneck is best grown in climates like ours in Central PA where we have cold winters. Hardneck garlic has a stiff stem that makes it impossible to braid. It also produces a “scape” that loops and produces bulbils. It is debatable whether or not to cut off the scape to focus on bulb growth. I generally cut them off and use them in salads or anything I’d use onion in. They are quite pungent! Garlic scape pesto is wonderful to freeze in a saran wrapped lined ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop out of the tray and store in freezer bags.

When planting garlic, choose a variety that is suitable for our zone 5 regions. Purchase seed garlic from a seed catalogue or better yet a local farmers market. Do not plant garlic purchased from the grocery store since you do not know if the variety can tolerate our cold winter climate.

Garlic has very few pests and diseases. Keep your garlic weed free and properly watered and it is one of the easiest and hardiest veggies in the garden. Choose a sunny, well-drained fertile site for planting. Cultivate the soil 6-8 inches and add 2 inches of compost before you place the individual clove in, pointy side up.

Be sure to leave about 6-8 inches on all sides to give the head plenty of room to grow nice and big. Each single clove will turn into one bulb of garlic. Mulching is always preferred to help with weed control and moisture.

Harvest garlic in mid-summer when you notice about 1/3 of the leaves are dry and wilted. As a rule of thumb, harvest garlic in our area, sometime around the 4th of July. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil several inches back from the stem to prevent injury to the bulb. Carefully shake of as much soil as you can before lying out in a dry, well ventilated area to cure. Curing garlic prepares it for better storage. Lay the garlic plants out flat in a dry, well ventilated area protected from the sun and rain. In 1-2 weeks, snip off the roots and the stems. Store your garlic inside a mesh bag in a cool dry place with good air-flow, not the refrigerator. Enjoy your garlic for several months!

For more information contact your local extension office. In Lackawanna County call 570-963-6842 or email

Prepared by Harriett Perez, master gardener in Montour County.

Contact Information

John Esslinger
  • Horticulture Extension
Phone: 570-316-6516