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      71 comments     Linda Ly
Hierbas   Jardín

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  • Dulcie Beak

    Interesting post, thank you.

  • Kevin_Carson

    I’ve grown a fair amount of garlic, but never heard about the bulbs dividing and sending out separate shoots before. Can you leave a bulbs in the ground each year to keep dividing, and raise them as a perennial crop like multiplying onions?

    • I suppose you could, but the bulbs might not grow that large.

    • Linda

      I have had garlic in same place for 36 yrs. + the bulbs are large. I live in the south. I have no idea what the name of the garlic is. This garlic comes up around January and then it will have large seeded blooms. I was told when the blooms and leaves turn brown and fall over, it’s time to harvest it.

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  • Ross

    I have an extensive garlic crop growing, and, I am waiting, but, I have found in my climate, you just keep planting it, and you will get a crop throughout the year. I do use the leaves often in cooking. They are sweet, sharp and have the good garlic flavor, so, to me, the plant can be utilized before harvest. And, to germinate the cloves is easy.
    Stagger the planting, and over time you can have an abundance of garlic.

    • Rachel York

      Hi am real new to garlic planting, am curious as to what area you live in and am hoping I can as well because I don’t want to have to wait 8 more months till October. I live in California zone 9. In your experience would my climate be suitable for year round garlic planting and harvesting?

      • Ross

        Hi. What I am doing is always germinating cloves to plant at any time of the year. I live just south of the SF bay area, so, it’s a good climate. You have to wait though as the winter months have less sunshine and the angle of the sun in relationship to the Earth is such that any obstruction, tree, fence, etc, limits the available direct sunlight.
        So, the time to harvest does vary. Now, if you want to get your garlic ahead of things and know if you have a viable plant, do this. Get the very thin kebab skewers and take single cloves, with the skin on, and rack them up. Now, get them about 3/4 submerged in water, the skewers holding them up, and wait until you see a green shoot come out of the top. You will also see definite roots. These will grow 90% of the time.

        • Linda

          The garlic capital of the world used to be, Gilroy, CA so growing garlic in CA should be a breeze

          • Ross

            I did transplant some of the garlic from a big pot to a garden soil. That was a death blow! I harvested some, but, I am disappointed. However, I just keep germinating the cloves. And, the key is keeping them in the same soil. So, the really healthy ones failed….But, I have to admit….There was a large cat that decided to choose this area for napping!
            Oh well…….

      • Deborah Y Burr

        Been planting the last couple months (it’s almost June). I live on San Diego and it’s such an easy plant to raise. I trim and use some of the stems in cooking too and it’s yummy.

  • Stephen Coote

    You’ve uploaded some good posts thanks Linda. Down here in New Zealand I’m monitoring my garlic crop closely, and I reckon I will probably harvest it within three weeks. I’ve grown the same type of garlic for a few years now (don’t know the variety name sorry), and I’ve noticed that the plants look a bit weatherworn long before the bulbs are fully developed. Nevertheless I generally get a good harvest. I pick it all at the same time and I can find some bulbs that aren’t quite fully developed, and some in which the cloves have started to separate. So we eat the over- and under-ripe garlic first, and the rest can keep in a cool place until around the time of the next harvest … although a few cloves will have sprouted or gone mouldy by then. Best wishes from Nelson, New Zealand… Stephen Coote.

    • Ross

      Hey Steve,

      Been and lived in NZ. What else are you growing?

      • Stephen Coote

        G’day Ross. We live on a small property. We have fruit trees, some espaliered, including apples, plums, peaches, citrus and feijoas. We have a couple of grape vines and some blueberry bushes. I love to grow tomatoes in the season. It is winter here and we are picking lettuce, rocket, kale, swiss chard, parsley, mint and the leaves from some young broad beans. Our parsnips look like they are just about ready, and there are a few carrots left. I planted the garlic about six weeks before the shortest day, and it is looking very good. I am fortunate to be able to harvest wild meat from the neighborhood. I’ve caught about five feral pigs in my home valley this year so far. Where do you live now Ross?

        • Ross

          Oh, I spent plenty of time on the South Island. I live in Campbell, California. So, we get some mild weather. I knew a guy who had a ranch outside of Tauranga. But, he was a sheep and cattle guy. I also was a chef, or cook, for a Bed and Breakfest in Methven,,,,
          I have a whole bunch of things growing that are coming to fruition, and some that have bolted. I don’t mind that, because the seeds are there for the germination for the next crop. But, the plants focus more on the flower and less on the leaf. But, you get the seeds.

          Farming is patience……As is life.

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  • kimberly

    Could you please tell me how to store my garlic , once it’s been harvested?

  • Kathleen Quinlan

    I bought a house that has garlic planted they are tall and have green balls with a leaf over them. DO I dig up the inground garlic or eat the tops only? If I dig up the bulbs will they grow next year or do I have to replant?

    • I’m not sure what you mean by green balls, do they look like flowers? Hardneck garlic will often send up flower stalks that are tall and stiff. You can cut off the flowers and eat them, if you wish. Only dig up your garlic when the leaves indicate they’ve matured enough. If you aren’t sure, you can lightly dig around the base of the garlic to take a peek at the size of the bulb. After harvesting, the garlic needs to be replanted.

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  • Sue

    This post was perfect for information content. Now, how do I deal with the moles that compromise the root system of some of my garlic??!!! Grrrrrrr…

    • Eric

      Sticky traps around your beds . they especially love pepper plants and lettuce I have found . So wht i do is set a lettuce with 4 sticky traps and eventually you will catch one .

      To keep em away entirely , use grounded Cayenne pepper spice , they hate this stuff and will keep away . works for deer and other veggy loving pain in the butts .

  • scotty

    I have had them in the garden for 3 years now and they seem to be no where ready yet, just dug one out and its like a anorexic spring onion

    • Assuming you started the garlic from full-sized cloves, it shouldn’t take over three years for them to grow. Maybe there was a lack of sun, not enough spacing between the plants, or your cloves came from a warmer climate and were planted in a colder climate (so they haven’t acclimated).

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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,
    Jane

    • 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

  • 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.

    • 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: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2012/07/garlic-scapes-are-good/

      • Joot

        I was told garlic only sends up a scape and flower in the second year of a two-year cycle, so if there’s a scape, it’s too late to dig up the cloves. Is this true?

        • If you plant cloves of hardneck garlic in fall, scapes will appear in spring and you can harvest the bulbs in summer.

          • AaronCrossNZ

            Exactly the info I was looking for 🙂

    • Eric

      On most garlic , when the scape loop starts forming , you must top it off , otherwise , the plants energy is focused on flowering instead of producing nice sized bulbs .

      Did you plant garlic that was bought at a store , like a chinese variety ? If so , maybe the genetics are not accustomed to our weather and climate .

      I bought my first garlic sets off a mennonite organic farmer a few years ago from my immediate area , and all i can say is WOW great genetics and quality and the taste is second to none , Maybe you should try the same .

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

    • 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?

    • 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?

    Thanks

    • 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

  • Kailey

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

    • 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

        • 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: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2010/10/growing-garlic/

          • 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? 😀

    • 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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