How to Plant Garlic in Canada
The following information will help you learn how to plant garlic in Canada, including varieties, planting dates, planting depth, techniques and plant spacing.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of garlic available worldwide, but only some of them can be grown well in Canada. Of those varieties, they can all be grouped into two types called hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck varieties bolt during late spring or early summer, producing a flower stalk called a scape. At the tip of the scape is a capsule containing bulbils (small aerial cloves) that is produced instead of a true flower. You should remove these scapes to maximize the size of your bulbs at harvest.
Softneck varieties do not produce a scape, although they sometimes produce bulbils in the stock of the plant, especially in cold climates.
Purple Stripe variety (left) and a Porcelain variety (right)
The two Softneck family groups grown in Canada include Silverskin and Artichoke, although the Artichoke family tends to grow much better because it is more suited to Northern climates.
When choosing garlic varieties to grow, you want to find ones that are cold hardy, develop large bulbs and have great flavour. Most Canadian garlic meets these criteria, however, the three most popular varieties that we grow on our farm are Music, Spanish Roja and Chesnok.
If you're looking for more garlic seed varieties suitable for planting in Canada, check our online store.
In Canada, garlic is usually planted in the fall so that cloves are exposed to the cold temperatures (vernalization) that many types of garlic require. Garlic can be planted in spring, however, the plants often form single cloved bulbs (called rounds) and or they grow normal bulbs that are much smaller than the fall planted cloves (see our Planting Garlic in Spring article for more info).
The best fall planting date for garlic depends mostly on where you live in Canada. Your goal is to plant early enough to have the cloves develop a large root system, while at the same time planting late enough that garlic cloves don't sprout and show any green top growth above the soil.
This means that the date for planting can range from mid-September to as late as the end of November depending on where you live and how long you want your cloves to settle in before winter.
In colder zone 2, 3 or 4 regions such as Western Canada where winter comes early, garlic can be planted as early as September 15 or as late as the end of October. The goal is to plant at least 4 to 6 weeks before the soil freezes.
In warmer regions like southern Ontario and coastal British Columbia, planting can range from early October until the last week of November.
If you plant your garlic early in the season, you can sometimes end up with a small amount of green top growth above the soil line going into winter. These first green leaves may die back if they are exposed to very cold temperatures, however, the cloves will re-grow new leaves in spring.
A garlic clove that was planted early and emerged from the soil before winter. Notice the slight tip burn at the end of the first leaf.
Planting garlic in nice straight rows or in a uniform layout is also highly recommended. Garlic tends to require a lot of weeding, and straight rows makes this much easier. Using a string, long stick with markings or a dibbler to indicated perfect spacing helps significantly.
When possible, garlic cloves planted by hand should be pushed into the soil with clove tips pointed upward and their flat bottoms pointed down. This allows the first leaves to emerge from the ground easily in spring and ensures that the garlic necks do not grow crooked. This is more important with hardneck garlic varieties as upside down cloves often form smaller, odd shaped bulbs.
Another option used by larger garlic growers and some gardeners, is to plant cloves on their sides, which makes the process easier and saves time. A long furrow is dug the length of the planting area, cloves are laid on the bottom and the furrow is covered with soil burying the cloves.
When using this method, most of the garlic plants will develop normal shaped bulbs, however, some of them will sometimes be slightly misshapen. Softneck cloves tend to be affected the least by side planting and tend to turn themselves upright which allows the bulb to form normally.
A furrow being dug before planting garlic cloves on their sides.
Garlic cloves can be planted anywhere from 1 to 2 inches deep (top of clove to soil surface). When figuring out whether or not the cloves are planted at the right depth, it should be based on the soil having settled and not fluffy soil that has just been tilled. In other words, very fluffy soil might require slightly deeper planting to meet the proper depth.
Some growers plant deeper than 2 inches, however, this is not usually recommended and only works well in very loose soils that drain very well. Generally any deeper than 2 inches is excessive and will force the garlic cloves to use valuable energy when emerging from the soil, limiting the size of the harvested bulbs due to the force of the soil pushing down on the bulbs while growing.
How deep you choose to plant your cloves will depend on two factors. First is the type of soil you have and how well it drains. In poorly draining soils like clay, or regions that generally receive high amounts of rain, planting deeper than 1 inch can cause the garlic to rot during cool temperatures or during wet periods. In sandy or very well drained soil, planting less than 2 inches can lead to drought stress during dry periods.
The second factor to consider is the climate of your region. The deeper a garlic clove is planted, the more winter protection it has. In warmer regions like the west coast, where winter conditions are mild, depth is not really a concern.
In very cold climates like Western Canada, planting slightly on the deeper side can help protect the cloves over the winter. That being said, using mulch to cover the garlic for winter will also protect plants and allow for shallower panting.
Planting garlic cloves 1-inch deep in heavy clay soil.
Cloves can be planted anywhere from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) within the row and 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) between rows, with wider spacing sometimes used to accommodate equipment.
How close or how far apart you decide to plant your garlic will depend on how you plan to weed around the plants, your space limitations, the type of garlic being grown and your goals regarding size and quality.
Space for Equipment
For growers using equipment such as tillers or tractors for tasks like weeding, the spacing of the garlic has to allow for movement of the equipment through the field or garden. Enough space must be given to ensure that tiller tines or tractor wheels don't hit the sensitive garlic plants or roots even when they are almost full grown. What looks like a lot of space when planting the cloves in fall, often seems too close once the garlic is growing during the summer, so using a wider spacing is a good idea.
Garlic planted in rows 12 inches apart between rows and 6 inches within the row.
Space for Small Areas
If you have a small growing area, have good soil and want as much garlic as possible, then planting your garlic with very close spacing is a good option. Some of the nicest looking garlic is grown by market gardeners or homeowners that use very tight spacing.
The key to their success is supplying adequate moisture to the plants, consistent weed control and high soil fertility. If you have a large area or marginal soil conditions, then using a wider spacing is a better choice. This will reduce the competition between your garlic plants for water, light and nutrients as well as make your job of weeding much easier.
Space for Large Varieties
If you are growing a variety of garlic that tends to produce large bulbs and/or you are trying to grow the absolute largest garlic possible, then giving each plant a large amount of space is the best practice.
In general, individual garlic plants do not need a very large amount of space, however, using a plant spacing on the wider side will definitely improve your chances of growing large, healthy garlic that looks uniform.
Garlic grows well on a wide range of soil types including both sand and clay. It can be cultivated anywhere in Canada that can grow cool season vegetables.
Loamy soils with high organic matter are ideal because of their high moisture and nutrient holding ability. These soils are less prone to crusting, settling or compaction and are the easiest to work with in general.
Heavy clay soil types can be a challenge and sometimes difficult to work with, especially under wet conditions. Using raised beds and adding large amounts of organic matter such as peat moss or compost can significantly improve them. When managed properly, clay soils can grow very large bulbs.
Light sandy soils often lack fertility and can easily suffer from drought. Adding large amounts compost or manure and making sure they are watered regularly can make them very productive and easy to work with.
Garlic is a heavy feeder and grows very well on fertile soils. Poor fertility is one of the most common reasons growers end up with small bulbs. To help ensure optimal nutrient levels, it is best to incorporate 2 to 4 inches of compost 2 to 3 weeks before planting, as well as apply a balanced Organic Fertilizer. Fertilization can be split into three applications. Once in the fall at planting time and two times in spring (once at 1 to 3 leaves and once 4 weeks later).
When possible, all the phosphorus and potassium should be added and incorporated before planting. About 1/3 of the nitrogen should be added just before or just after planting in the fall. The remaining nitrogen should be split into several applications starting first thing in spring and ending about one month before harvest.
Taking a soil test before planting garlic is recommended in order to verify nutrient levels. The following are general fertility recommendations for garlic in Canada, however, they could be higher or lower depending on the soil type, length of growing season and previous crop grown.
Pounds per Acre
Pounds per 1000 ft2
120 lbs (55 kg)
3 lbs (1.3 kg)
160 lbs (73 kg)
4 lbs (1.8 kg)
150 lbs (68 kg)
4 lbs (1.8 kg)
30 lbs (14 kg)
1 lb (0.5 kg)
Fertility recommendations for growing garlic.
Most Canadian growers mulch their garlic for the winter. Mulching helps moderate soil temperatures and keeps the cloves protected from fluctuating temperatures.
It is important to ensure that mulch materials are not contaminated with garlic pests, such as nematodes, bulb mites, diseases, or weed seeds. Wheat straw is the most commonly used mulch and should be applied 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) deep directly over the planted garlic. Other types of mulch such as oat straw, barley straw or hay can also be used.
In early spring, some growers remove the mulch completely once the threat of extreme cold is gone. Removal helps warm the soil once the snow melts, minimize disease during wet weather, and make weeding easier during the growing season. Other growers leave it on for the whole season to help conserve moisture and provide a barrier for weed control.
See our other Growing Garlic articles for even more information!
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.