Garden of Eatin' / How-To / Vegetables

How to Grow, Harvest, and Use Green Garlic In Spring

How to grow, harvest, and use green garlic in spring

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.

Bundle of green garlic tops in a basket

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.

Undivided bulbs on a homegrown harvest of spring-planted green garlic

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.

Related: How to Soak Seeds and Speed Up Germination Time

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).

Green garlic stems in soil

Step 1: Planting

Green garlic is very beginner-friendly and a great way to get instant gratification in the garden when the season starts.

Read more: The Best Seeds to Plant in Spring for Instant Gratification

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.

A bed of green garlic planted in a spring garden

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.

A crop of green garlic with tall, full leaves

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

Freshly harvested baby garlic in a basket

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.

Homegrown garlic bulbs that can be used as seed garlic for next season

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.

A green garlic stem and bulb split in half

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.

Learn more: 11 Vegetables You Grow That You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

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!

Basket of homegrown spring garlic, also called green garlic

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.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

14 Comments

  • Mano
    May 3, 2021 at 2:43 am

    Hi Betty

    Do you grow indoor tropical plants?
    If so, how do you water when you are travelling and doing outdoor activities?

    Thanks

    Reply
  • Emily
    April 16, 2021 at 7:44 am

    Does it need full sun?

    Reply
  • Karen
    June 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    What a great idea, Linda!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • Cary Bradley
    June 24, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Excellent! Am collecting scapes right now, a couple more to come. LOVE the idea of tucking cloves in amongst the huddled masses of other things. Another benefit is if you plant them throughout the season, you’ve always got oniony/garlicy greens to cook with, at all different stages. Excellent article, as always! Happy Summer, Linda!!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks Cary! Happy summer to you too!

      Reply

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