The Trick of Knowing When to Harvest Garlic

Garlic harvest

Your garlic cloves went in the ground last October, grew through winter and spring, and now that it’s July, they’re ready to be plucked from the garden, right? Well, ready-ish.

Garlic is one of those things where timing is everything, and the harvest period can span from late spring through late summer, depending on the weather and the variety of garlic grown. But since the bulbs are all underground, how can you really tell when your garlic is ripe for the pickin’?

The short answer is: It’s all in the leaves.

But don’t be fooled by its allium cousin, the onion. When onions have stopped growing, their leaves begin to lose color and wilt. The tops will dry up and flop over, signaling the time to harvest. Most onion bulbs have pushed themselves out of the soil and it’s easy to see whether they’ve fully matured.

Garlic bulbs, on the other hand, remain below ground during development. Each leaf above ground indicates a layer of protective paper wrapped around the bulb. A garlic plant with 10 green leaves, for example, will have 10 layers of bulb wrappers.

Garlic foliage

While there’s no standard number of leaves that garlic should have, a reliable harvest indicator is when half the leaves have died off, and half are still green. The leaves start to die off from the bottom up. When most of your crop has reached this stage, stop watering for at least a week and allow the soil to dry out a bit to prevent rot and make harvesting easier.

Garlic leaves start to die off

It’s a good idea to lightly dig into the soil around the bulb (taking care not to damage any of the wrappers or cloves) and check its size without digging the whole thing up. If the bulb looks small, pat the soil back down and wait a few days before you check again. If the bulb looks substantial, the wrappers tight, and the cloves well-formed, it’s ready to be pulled.

Lightly dig around garlic bulb

Check garlic bulb for good development

Just don’t wait until all the leaves have died back before harvesting. Without the bulb wrappers protecting the garlic head, the cloves may separate and the garlic won’t store well. Over-ripened bulbs also tend to divide and form shoots from each clove (looking like a Siamese twins version of garlic… but still edible, as I’ve found from experience!).

At harvest time, carefully loosen the soil around your bulbs and pull the garlic out from the base of its stem, at its neck. Brush off any excess dirt that falls off easily but do not wash your garlic or remove the bulb wrappers.

Pull up garlic from the base of its leaves

Freshly harvested garlic

Freshly harvested garlic

If you plan to eat your garlic right away, trim off the leaves and roots for cleaner storage in the kitchen. But if you want to prepare your garlic for long-term storage, keep the leaves and roots intact while you cure your crop.

Generally, Asiatic and Turban varieties of garlic mature first in the season (as early as May in some areas); Silverskins mature last (in July). There can be a six to eight-week span between the time the earliest garlics are ready to when the latest-maturing garlics are pulled from the ground.

I planted Ajo Rojo (a Creole garlic) and Siciliano (an Artichoke garlic) last October in my hardiness zone 10b garden, and both were harvested about two weeks apart in late May and early June. It was my first time growing garlic, and there’s nothing quite like the taste of spicy garlic freshly dug from the ground!

Freshly harvested garlic

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July 9 2011      22 comments     Linda Ly
Hierbas   Jardín

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  • Jane

    Just harvested garlic that was left in the ground too long. There isn’t any protective paper wrapping. Would I be able to freeze these cloves in oil? Do I dry them first, or process them right away? Thanks,

    • Linda Ly

      You can freeze them right away. Personally, I’d chop them up before freezing in oil so that they’re ready to use when you need them.

  • Gary

    Linda YOU know your stuff. Everything you have said is 100 percent. Thank YOU

    • Linda Ly

      You’re welcome! :-)

  • Ralph

    Does the “top flowers” have anything to do with the timing of the harvest. Please advise. Also, FYI, I have two types of garlic that grows along a portion of my yard. The first produces a large bulb. I never plant this particular garlic, yet it appears every year for the last 25 years. Some years will produce more than others, though it has not failed me during the mentioned time frame. A second includes an Italian garlic that produces a smaller bulb that is red in color. This garlic is much more zestier, and is a product of seeds that I tossed along the area six or seven years ago. Like the initial garlic, the Italian garlic also appears every year, after harvest, w/o replanting. My neighbor who is no longer here, once referred to the first garlic described as a natural garlic bed, after all my years of harvest, I guess my question is is a “natural garlic bed” possible(?). Thank you for your time and consideration.

    • Linda Ly

      Some types of garlic form bulbils, which look like tiny cloves of garlic, and reseed in that way. The garlic “flowers” you’re seeing are the mature garlic scapes, and when they “bloom” they’ll drop bulbils in the ground that eventually grow into new garlic. Bulbils take much longer to produce a head of garlic than cloves do, but you probably don’t notice since they’re always producing. The constant reseeding is what’s creating this naturalized garlic bed.

      You can actually cut off these scapes before they bloom and eat them before the bulbs are fully developed; they’re delicious and taste like a mild, crunchy garlic:

  • Donna Merrill

    Thank you, this has been very helpful. It is my first year growing garlic and the pictures sure did help.

    • Linda Ly

      You’re welcome. Enjoy your first harvest!

  • Steve

    I want to grow some ginger and garlic in containers on my deck. Will garlic to well in containers?

    • Linda Ly

      Yes, they make great container plants!

  • hoosiercommonsense

    I found these instructions, and especially the close-up photos, the most helpful and clear directions ever. I now understand that I should have pulled my garlic last month, but didn’t. So, should I just leave it in the ground for next year, take it up and replant in October, or what?


    • Linda Ly

      You should harvest all of your garlic now. Bulbs left in the ground will continue to divide, and you’ll end up with a clump of nothing but tiny cloves.

    • slconfidential

      I agree with you about this article…excellent

      • Linda Ly

        Thank you!

  • Kailey

    That was the worst advice eer I pulled my garlic WAY to soon

    • Linda Ly

      I follow these guidelines for all of my garlic harvests and they have always been successful. Remember to check your garlic bulb BEFORE pulling it out. If you find it too small, you should leave it underground longer. And if you planted garlic in the spring (rather than last fall), you’ll usually end up with much smaller bulbs, if they divided at all.

      • Smh

        I planted about 10 garlic sections roughly two months ago in april. I planted them in a container, about a foot long and half foot wide. This was just planning on being a trial run. Only one ever grew a sprout, which grew about 2 inches. It looked nice and was growing well and then suddenly one day it looked like someone had pinched it at soil level almost totally off an within two days it was completely shriveled up and dead. Does this mean the one particular garlic plant is completely lost? Is my whole bunch lost? I don’t understand what went wrong with any of them. Thanks

        • Linda Ly

          The garlic that died is completely lost. The others that never came up have likely rotted in the soil; it should not take 2+ months for a clove to sprout. Hard to say what might have caused your crop to fail, as it depends on many factors: the quality of the seed garlic, the moisture of the soil, even the planting depth of the cloves. Sometimes, store-bought garlic will be treated with a chemical that inhibits sprouting.

          I have a quick guide for growing garlic here:

          • Smh

            Thank you so much for the speedy response!! I really appreciate it. God bless!

        • Garlic Farmer

          garlic needs to be planted in the fall (oct) and harvested in summer (july) here in zone 8. I have an extreme slug population and They will chomp on them fast in the spring. maybe a slug or other bug ate your garlic? :-D

    • hoosiercommonsense

      When you harvest anything may depend on which climate zone you two live in. Things get ripe at different times in different places. Are you in the same climate zone?

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