Garden of Eatin' / How-To / Vegetables

The Trick of Knowing When to Harvest Garlic

Garlic harvest

Your garlic cloves were planted last September (or maybe October or November?), grew steadily through winter and spring, and now that it’s nearly summer, they’re ready to be picked from the garden, right?

Well, maybe.

Unlike many vegetables that are planted in spring and harvested in fall, garlic is usually planted in fall and harvested from late spring to mid summer. It’s a long-maturing crop, taking eight to nine months from seed garlic (plantable cloves) to final harvest.

Related: Find First and Last Frost Dates Accurately with This Custom Planting Calendar

Garlic is also one of those things where timing is everything, and the harvest period can span from May to August, depending on the date of planting, the weather conditions, and the type of garlic grown.

It can’t be picked too early or too late, but since the bulbs are all underground, how can you really tell when your garlic is ripe and ready?

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

Garlic foliage

How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?

Unlike its allium cousin, the onion, garlic matures when its leaves are still partially green. Garlic bulbs remain below ground during development, so it’s hard to know when they’re ready to harvest.

Onion leaves, on the other hand, begin to lose color and wilt when they stop growing. The tops dry up and flop over, telling you it’s time to harvest onions. Most onion bulbs have pushed themselves out of the soil and it’s easy to see whether they’ve fully matured.

So what’s the trick of knowing when to harvest garlic?

Look at how many leaves are left on the plant.

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.

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.

Garlic leaves start to die off

Just don’t wait until all the leaves have died back before you start to harvest. Without the bulb wrappers protecting the garlic head, the cloves may separate and the garlic won’t store well.

Here’s another trick for timing the harvest of your garlic: If you grow hardneck garlic, your crop will form garlic scapes about four to six weeks before the bulb is mature. Once you harvest the scapes, wait a month or so, then start checking the size of the bulbs.

When should you stop watering your garlic?

Continue to water your garlic as usual in spring, even as the leaves start to die off.

When at least 50 to 75 percent of your crop has reached the telltale stage of maturity—half the leaves are brown and half are green—stop watering your garlic for one week.

Each leaf above ground indicates a layer of protective paper wrapped around the bulb

This allows the soil to dry out a bit to prevent rot, and makes harvesting easier if the soil is loose and crumbly instead of wet and compressed.

How to harvest garlic

First, do a pre-check (as I like to call it).

Lightly dig into the soil around a random bulb, or a few random bulbs (taking care not to damage any of the wrappers or cloves), and check its size without digging the whole thing up.

Lightly dig around garlic bulb
Check garlic bulb for good development

If the bulb looks small, pat the soil back down and wait a few more days before you check again. If the bulb looks substantial, the wrappers tight, and the cloves plump and well-formed, it’s ready to be harvested.

Carefully loosen the soil around your bulbs with a trowel and gently pull the garlic out from the base of its stem, at its neck. Brush off any excess dirt that falls off easily.

Pull up garlic from the base of its leaves

Should you wash garlic after harvesting?

Do not wash your garlic or remove the bulb wrappers after harvesting.

Washed garlic tends to accumulate extra moisture in the bulb that may lead to fungal infestations. It’s also additional time and effort that simply isn’t necessary, and I am all for efficiency in the garden!

From a cleanliness standpoint, most of the dirt sticks to the outermost layer of paper, which is also the layer that tends to shred and peel away during harvest. Once this layer falls off naturally, it’ll reveal a clean layer of bulb wrapper.

Freshly harvested garlic

How to use and store garlic

If you plan to eat your garlic right away, use scissors to trim the leaves and roots so you can keep them tidy in the kitchen.

Do store the garlic at room temperature in a dark, dry place with plenty of air circulation, such as an open paper bag or wire basket in a pantry or cupboard.

Don’t store garlic in the refrigerator. Light and moisture are its worst enemies, and garlic stored in the fridge for a long period will start to get moldy or sprout.

Freshly harvested garlic bulbs in summer with the roots and tops trimmed

You should use the garlic within 3 weeks, or within 7 to 10 days once you break open a head of garlic. Any garlic that may have been cosmetically damaged during harvest (but are still edible) should be used first, as it’ll decline in quality sooner.

If you want to prepare your garlic for long-term storage, keep the leaves and roots intact and follow this guide for curing your garlic crop.

When do different garlic varieties mature?

Generally, Asiatic and Turban varieties of garlic mature first in the season (as early as May in some areas), while Silverskins mature last (in July or August).

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. Smaller plants often mature earlier than larger plants.

Freshly harvested garlic

For example, I once planted Ajo Rojo (a Creole garlic) and Siciliano (an Artichoke garlic) in October in my Southern California garden, and both were picked about two weeks apart in late May and early June. These spring harvests are typical of warmer regions, especially for cultivars that are well suited to the climate.

In northern climates, harvest from fall plantings typically occur in late July to August.

In southern climates, harvest depends on the actual planting date.

Garlic Maturity Chart by Type

TurbanMay to June
AsiaticMay to June
ArtichokeJune to July
RocamboleJune to July
CreoleJune to July
Glazed Purple StripeJuly
Purple StripeJuly
Marbled Purple StripeJuly
PorcelainJuly to August
SilverskinJuly to August

Your harvest period is also determined by the current weather and soil conditions, so even if you grew the same cultivar of garlic this season, it may not mature at the same rate as last season.

Since there are no hard-and-fast dates to go by, the best way of knowing when to harvest garlic is to start paying attention to the leaves in spring.

What happens if you harvest garlic too early

Timing is important when it comes to harvesting and storing garlic.

If you harvest garlic too soon, the garlic bulb will be smaller and may not have fully divided into individual cloves. The bulb wrappers will be thin and will disintegrate more easily, leaving your garlic susceptible to rot or other damage.

If you have no choice but to harvest garlic early (for example, if you know you’ll be out of town), you can still eat the immature plants.

Very young garlic (called green garlic) can be stored in the refrigerator, and both the white bulb and green leaves can be used like green onions.

Garlic that’s almost ready (but probably picked a couple weeks too early) should be cured, with the understanding that it might not store as long as it typically does.

What happens if you harvest garlic too late

While you shouldn’t harvest garlic too soon, you also shouldn’t harvest garlic too late.

If you leave garlic in the ground for too long, the over-ripened bulbs will divide and form shoots from each clove (looking like a Siamese twins version of garlic).

The cloves will also burst out of their protective outer skins as they split apart, leaving them vulnerable to pests and diseases in the soil.

While overgrown garlic is still edible, it won’t last in storage and needs to be used right away.

But let’s say you forgot or missed a few garlic bulbs in the ground during harvest. That’s okay!

Garlic is actually a perennial vegetable and will continue to divide and regrow from cloves, year after year. The plants will start to become overcrowded after a couple of years, but this is a great way to keep a crop of garlic greens for use.

I actually have a perennial patch of garlic in my garden that I thin out every other year. It’s extremely low-maintenance as far as vegetable crops go, and gives me an endless supply of delicious, mildly garlic-flavored stems that I use like green onions.

If you can allocate a small amount of space in your garden, I highly recommend growing garlic as a perennial!

Freshly harvested garlic

Common questions about harvesting garlic

Here’s what to do next with your garlic harvest

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on July 9, 2011.

View the Web Story on knowing when to harvest garlic.

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 »