I’ve often thought green garlic was a culinary secret that only gardeners appreciated.
Green garlic (also called spring garlic or baby garlic) is simply a young, immature garlic bulb that hasn’t yet divided. It looks like an overgrown scallion or small leek, and in fact it tastes like a cross of the two, with a heady essence of garlic.
Two of my favorite things, together in one plant!
I usually start seeing green garlic at farmers’ markets in February or March. It’s a vegetable in its own right and if you happen to come across green garlic, consider yourself lucky—its season is short and it only appears through spring while supplies last, since it’s often a secondary crop.
But at home, you can grow green garlic as a staple crop, and it’s ready in half the time as regular garlic! (That’s right… no need to wait upwards of 9 to 10 months before you can harvest.)
Curious? Read on.
The easiest way to grow green garlic
Commercially-sold green garlic are actually thinnings from a farmer’s garlic field, planted in the fall and pulled in early spring to ensure a productive harvest for the rest of the crop.
In a home garden, however, green garlic is a crop that can be planted in spring and harvested in summer.
In my experience, I can plant garlic cloves in spring and pull the young plants at the same time my mature (fall-planted) garlic is ready for harvest in mid-summer.
This is one of the benefits of spring-planted garlic. Not only do you get a completely different crop that you can use a different way, but because you don’t have to wait all season long for the garlic to grow, spring garlic is a good way to fill up that odd patch of soil in the garden.
As soon as the ground warms up or thaws in spring, you can stick a clove from your seed garlic here and there, wherever you find space: around your tomato transplants, next to the carrot bed, in the middle of your salad greens, and in spots where seeds never germinated.
Garlic is a natural pest repellent, so it’s worthwhile to plant a handful of cloves throughout your garden (with the bonus of harvesting and eating them).
Since the bulbs are not meant to develop fully, the cloves can be planted closer together (which makes green garlic an ideal crop to grow in containers, indoors or outdoors).
Step 1: Planting
Green garlic is very beginner-friendly and a great way to get instant gratification in the garden when the season starts.
Simply follow the same method for planting regular garlic as you do for green garlic. Separate the cloves (while keeping the paper wrappers on) and plant each one about 2 inches deep in well-draining soil with the pointed end up (and the root end on the bottom).
Space the cloves about 1 to 2 inches apart in a grid pattern, if you’re growing them in a dedicated bed, or plant them near other plants wherever there’s an empty patch of soil. If you interplant garlic this way, just keep an eye on neighboring plants to make sure they don’t shade or cover your green garlic as they grow taller.
Step 2: Watering and mulching
Green garlic needs moderate watering, but unlike regular garlic—where you withhold water for a week before harvest—you continue to water green garlic up until you’re ready to pull it.
Mulch the plants with 2 to 3 inches of an organic material (like straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves) to conserve moisture and smother weeds. Keep the mulch a couple inches away from the plants, however; you don’t want to pile it up against the stems, which can lead to rot or disease.
While green garlic is a fairly low-maintenance crop, it’s susceptible to garlic rust the way fall-planted garlic is.
To keep the fungal disease in check, especially during rainy spring weather, never water your plants from overhead (or water in the morning so leaves have time to dry before nightfall).
Make sure there’s enough mulch layered on your beds to keep soil from splashing onto the leaves. If you live in a humid area or on the coast, you can try spacing your plants a little farther apart (2 to 4 inches) to allow for more air circulation.
Step 3: Harvesting
As the weather starts to warm up in spring, the leaves will grow taller and denser. Depending on when you plant, you can harvest green garlic in two to four months (typically from May to July).
Green garlic can be pulled at any stage once the leaves are lush and full; the longer you wait to harvest, the more pronounced the bulb will be. (But don’t wait until the leaves die back before you harvest! You want to take advantage of the entire plant being edible.)
Read more: The Trick of Knowing When to Harvest Garlic
Where to find seed for green garlic
Seed for green garlic is the same as seed for fall-planted garlic. Rather than your typical seeds (the kind that come from flower heads), garlic is grown from fully-developed cloves taken from a mature bulb.
The only issue is, seed garlic generally isn’t available in spring, since most seed catalogs and nurseries are out of stock by fall.
So what can you do?
One option is to plant cloves from store-bought garlic—but there’s a catch. Sometimes, commercial garlic is treated with a growth inhibitor, a chemical that prevents it from sprouting. That means it’ll just rot in the ground since it can’t grow.
To get around this, try to find organic garlic (which hasn’t been sprayed) and separate the cloves for planting.
Another option, if you’ve grown and cured your own garlic, is to set aside a couple of bulbs to plant in spring. When kept in ideal conditions that are cool and dry, homegrown garlic that’s been properly cured will last several months after harvest. You can save some of this crop for spring planting and some for fall planting.
How to use green garlic in the kitchen
There’s no curing required of green garlic; it’s meant to be eaten fresh, like a leek or green onion.
Green garlic is one of many plants in the garden where you can eat the entire vegetable, from the leaves (stems) down to the bulb.
Cut into the white bulbous end and you’ll find it smooth and juicy; but honestly, the green leaves are my favorite part.
The tenderest leaves are eaten raw: chopped up for a garden salad or minced to top a baked potato (the way you use chives). The rest are cooked the same way as an onion to flavor a dish.
In a braise or in the oven, green garlic turns tender and buttery, with the same sweetness of slow-roasted garlic.
How else can you eat green garlic? Make a pesto with the leaves, slice it onto pizza, roll it into butter, add it to soups and stir-fries. Chop it up and scatter over rice or noodles, onto nachos, and into eggs. I think it would also make a great pickle!
Is green garlic the same as spring onion?
Even though green garlic and spring onions may look the same and even belong to the same genus (Allium), they’re not the same plant.
Green garlic is the immature version of garlic (Allium sativum)—essentially, young garlic without a divided bulb.
Spring onion (Allium cepa) is the immature version of common onion, harvested before the bulb has had a chance to swell.
To make things more confusing, green garlic and spring onions are also not the same things as scallions, green onions, or bunching onions (Allium fistulosum), which look similar but are grown for their mild-tasting leaves.
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on June 24, 2014.