Planting Garlic In Spring: How to Grow Big Bulbs 19 Comments
Spring or Fall
Many gardeners do their garden planning during the winter or very early spring. This process includes looking through all the seed catalogues and deciding what they will be planting for the coming season. Sometimes, this includes wanting to plant garlic in spring even though it is not generally the best time of year.
In cold climates like Canada and the Northern United States, most garlic is planted in the fall because the plants require a natural dormant period that includes exposure to cold temperatures (vernalization). When planted before winter, the garlic puts down roots until the temperatures freeze and then waits until the next season to continue growing. This fall growing period allows the garlic plants to get a head start and then explode out of the ground once temperatures warm up in spring.
Although garlic is ideally planted in the fall, it is still possible to grow and harvest beautiful bulbs if you miss planting before winter. The following tips are the most important things to remember when planting garlic in spring and trying to grow big bulbs.
(1) Garlic Seed
In general, planting the largest seed cloves possible helps produce big bulbs at harvest. This is especially true for spring planted garlic that will have a shorter growing period than fall planted garlic. The extra energy stored in the larger cloves helps the plants send out strong roots and leaves that explode out of the ground early. This early growth gives the plants a jump on the season and will result in a larger plants with greater ability to develop a large bulb later in the season.
One of the challenges for many growers is finding spring garlic bulbs to plant in the first place. Most garlic varieties offered by seed companies (including our farm) are only available in late summer or fall. However, you can often purchase "spring garlic seed" at garden centers or greenhouses. This garlic is often a softneck garlic and does not need very much cold exposure. That means that the bulbs can usually be planted right after they've been purchased. For hardneck varieties, which are becoming more common in spring, some cold exposure will probably be required before planting (more info below).
Regular food garlic you find in the grocery store is generally a very poor source of seed for planting. The bulbs are often treated to prevent sprouting, can be up to a year old and have a high risk of carrying viruses or diseases that most growers wouldn't want to introduce into their soil. As well, almost all commercial garlic is grown in warm regions like California or China. If you live in a colder climate, these "warm season" varieties are not well suited for growing.
(2) Cold Exposure
If you are planting a hardneck variety in spring and you want them to form bulbs at harvest, the cloves will need cold exposure for proper growth (softneck garlic can also benefit from some cold exposure). This can sometimes be accomplished by early spring planting when temperatures are still extremely cold. However, this does not always work and it is best to expose the garlic to cold before planting (some store purchased bulbs have already been exposed to cold so this step may not be required).
Without vernalization, some garlic plants will not form bulbs properly, producing single clove bulbs called rounds. These rounds are perfectly good to eat and can be replanted in fall with success. They should develop good-sized bulbs with multiple cloves the following summer. Also, some growers like to harvest their spring plantings as green garlic well before bulbs form and therefore don't require any cold exposure.
The ideal temperature for vernalization is 0 to -3 degrees Celsius when trying to vernalize or "trick" the garlic cloves into thinking they went through winter. This process can be challenging without the help of mother nature, although refrigerator temperatures (usually 1 to 2 degrees Celsius) can also work.
Proper vernalization can be accomplished by placing the garlic in a refrigerator (as cold as possible) for at least 2 to 3 weeks. The longer the period of cold exposure is, the stronger the effect. That means that when time allows, a more extended period of up to 2 months in cold storage can be beneficial.
If using refrigeration for vernalization, it is important to remember that it can dehydrate the garlic over a longer period. Some growers place the garlic in a plastic bag (sometimes with holes for ventilation) to prevent excess drying. This often works well, however, you must keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it does not develop mould, rot or start sending out roots. If the roots start growing, it's best to plant the bulbs soon after.
(3) Early Planting
Another important strategy is to plant spring garlic as early as possible. That means planting the garlic cloves as soon as the soil is workable and long before you would consider planting any other garden crops. Even if the forecasted temperatures are for extremely cold spring weather, the cloves should still be planted. Garlic plants are very cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures well below freezing.
Garlic is sensitive to day length changes and not having enough days with increasing day length can affect whether or not there is the formation of cloves within the bulb. That is why planting garlic too late in spring will often form rounds, just like cloves that have not been vernalized properly.
Another factor to consider is that warm temperatures increase the rate of bulb formation, meaning that the garlic can mature too quickly. Garlic planted too late in spring won't have enough time to develop large bulbs before the hot weather arrives and the plant starts to shut down for the season. Yes, the garlic will have cloves, however, the bulbs will be very small.
In northern regions like Canada and the Northern United States, this usually means it is best to plant by early May and in warmer locations like the southern United States, no later than March.
(4) Good Growing Conditions
Spring planted garlic will almost always be smaller than fall-planted garlic, however, having ideal growing conditions can help minimize the difference. Shelter, fertility and moisture are the most important things you can control.
Choose a location that is protected from the wind, has plenty of sun exposure and warms up quickly in the morning. Using raised beds is also recommended as it helps warm the ground in spring and prevent soggy soil during cold/wet periods in spring.
Make sure the soil is rich in nutrients and especially high in Nitrogen. This fertility is helpful because the garlic plants will need to grow quickly to make up for the lost growing time in fall. Adding compost is also recommended as it will improve the soil's health, however, it may not be enough to meet the fertility needs of the plants. A high Nitrogen fertilizer (organic or regular) applied in spring is often beneficial.
It is also essential to ensure that the garlic has consistent moisture for the entire growing season. Even a week of dry soil conditions can cause stunting of the bulbs and will leave you with a poor harvest. Make sure that plants receive at least 1 inch of moisture per week on loamy soils and 2 inches of moisture per week on sandy soils.
For more information on growing garlic see our other blog articles or growing garlic pages.
About the Author: John Côté owns and operates John Boy Farms with his family who have been farming the same land for over 140 years. As an agronomist and experienced farmer, he helps others learn how to grow garlic successfully. He has written many articles and is the author of The Master Guide to Growing Big Garlic.
If you have experience or some thoughts about planting spring garlic, Leave a Comment Below! We'd love to hear what you think!
John Boy Farms on December 6, 2022 13:01
Garlic cloves can survive temperatures as cold as -6C (21F). Anything colder than that risks killing them before they begin growing. Ground temperatures rarely get colder than this, especially with mulch or snow cover. If storing the garlic until spring inside a building such as a barn, temperatures would need to stay above these temperatures the entire time. As for using a freezer, they tend to be too cold and the cloves are usually killed.
Lisa on December 6, 2022 12:52
Thank you for this article! We missed planting garlic this fall and will be trying in spring!
eric rojo on December 6, 2022 12:53
you mention refrigeration as an option for winterizing garlic seeds if we do not plant in the fall. Question, keeping them in the barn or the freezer work better than the refrigerator? Barn temperatures (no heat) are close to ground frozen temperatures in Maine
Arthur on August 18, 2021 12:28
A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing a lot of information!
Dave on August 1, 2021 22:22
I have many seeds that developed from the flowers (obviously). Just collected them in July. Live in Minnesota (Twin Cities). How do I store them? Plan on planting them in the fall.
Also, I spread many on the surface of the garden. Will they grow. or do they need to be buried? Thanks!!!
Angie on October 8, 2020 18:59
Hi there, I planted spring garlic this last spring. I harvested it mid summer and it was fabulous!! So here’s the mystery. I was about to prep that bed for winter and discovered two full rows of newly sprouting spring garlic cloves! Some of them are big, like an inch in diameter. The sprouts were anywhere from just beginning, to green sprouts about 4 inches tall. The rows were in the same spot as where I had my spring garlic. I don’t think its possible that I could’ve missed so many cloves. So, has this ever happened to you? Is it possible that new spring garlic could grow from roots leftover or something? I’m just totally bewildered. Or even if I had somehow missed harvesting these two rows, would the original green tops die off and the cloves start to produce new sprouts?
I left some, and I moved some to a new bed, and I harvested many of them to enjoy. It feels like bonus green garlic! (I live in northern MN just to give you an idea of the climate I’m in.) Do you think the ones I leave in the ground will turn into regular bulbs over the winter?
John Boy Farms on July 17, 2020 01:11
The best time to harvest garlic is when about half the leaves have died and turn brown. You want to make sure that there are at least 3 or 4 leaves still green. If harvested sooner than this, the bulbs will not have finished filling out and you can end up with smaller garlic. If harvest later than this, the bulb wrappers will begin to deteriorate, exposing the cloves and leading to poor quality.
Durray on July 17, 2020 01:05
Hello question from my dad he is gardener. He wants to know he planted the garlic in March when the best time to take them out?
Randy on July 7, 2020 14:58
Not knowing better, I originally planted Russian Red hard neck garlic 35 years ago in the spring and got only puny little bulbs at harvest. Then was given the Golden Tip, and started planting in the fall (late September or early October) with great results. Here in southern British Columbia the snow is all gone in the valley by the end of March, and when the snow in the garden is down to less than a few centimeters the garlic is starting to poke through the snow. It is such a rush each spring to see the garden starting to grow, and is a signal to get going with planting the peas and radishes, followed by all the other vegetables as the spring progresses. Scapes are ready for harvest near the end of June (pickling is preferred), and garlic is ready for harvest the first week of July, sorting out and setting aside the biggest bulbs with the biggest cloves to use as seed in the fall. Scapes are cut where they emerge from the garlic leaves once the scape stem curls, but the entire scape crop is harvested at one time for efficiency (only one pickling session) so some are more advance than others – as long as they are all tender. The garlic is harvested when the bottom three leaves are yellow. Once the garlic is harvested the bed is restored with rotted manures, compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, and manure teas, and worked several times before fall. When fall arrives the bed is ready for planting. Over the years the garlic has gradually got bigger, and now averages about 20 cm in circumference, planting about 120 cloves a year for my own use.
Kirsten Faith on July 7, 2020 14:56
Great tips! Thanks! Fingers crossed for my garlic this year! 🧄
Up hear from Canada,
John Boy Farms on May 15, 2020 00:12
If you plant garlic in the spring and the cloves only develop into rounds (single cloved bulbs) at the end of the season, then they can be left in the ground to grow for another year.
If the cloves develop into actual bulbs with multiple cloves, then they will need to be harvested and separated into cloves before replanting again.
Terri DeMaris on May 15, 2020 00:02
Can I plant my garlic in the spring and leave it to over winter?
Trish on September 13, 2019 10:00
Hi, I have planted garlic in the Spring for many years and usually harvest beautiful bulbs larger than our Fall planted bulbs. I use them first because I don’t think they store as well. I sprout them in a shallow tray close together then carefully separate their prolific root system and plant them as soon as possible. This year we had a very lot of rain and they grew multiple scrapes and have immature bulbs. I’ve never seen this. Occasionally I would get single rounds but this is new.
Have you seen this?
John on July 28, 2019 23:00
Hey Dale, the date of harvest is affected by many different factors like location, planting date, variety and weather conditions. Typically you want to start harvesting your garlic when there are at least 3 to 5 leaves that are still green. This ensures that the garlic has enough layers of skin to protect the bulbs during cleaning and storing. This applies to both fall and spring-planted garlic.
For more info, below is a link to our Harvesting Garlic Page.
Dale Sheridan on July 28, 2019 17:17
I Planted garlic in the spring (early May)… & when’s a time to harvest.. thank you.
Jim Mierzejewski on June 1, 2018 23:17
I live in zone 6, planted hardneck garlic in 1/2 whiskey barrels last November, my garlic has not not yet come up should I be concerned that something happened to the garlic, or is just slow to break ground, we had a cold April.
Ms. Bobbie Harrison on June 1, 2018 23:17
Love all your Info., it’s great, don’t have 2 bother looking through books
and magazines !!
Thanks so much -——— 😊
Ann Campbell on May 21, 2017 07:46
Hi there, I purchased and planted in starter containers about 3 weeks ago. (its now May 22/17. I live in southern Ontario. temps here are all over the board. Last week high 20s, this week low teens. I have never planted garlic before and only just read the above. I have a couple of questions. Will the Spring garlic I planted still grow? where in my garden should I plant it. I have full sun spots and also a spot that gets less sun. Do I have to harvest it? can I leave it in the ground til next summer?
chris mason on April 26, 2016 08:49
Thanks for all this great information. I got started late but would like to plant in the spring.
I am thinking of selling my garlic to small shops and things.
What type would you sugest to grow?