So you’ve been growing garlic—congratulations! If you’ve never grown garlic before, it can be hard to tell what is going on underground and when it is time to harvest. Too early, and the garlic cloves will be small and undeveloped. Too late, and the garlic bulbs will split and be difficult to store. Luckily, there is an easy trick to determine when your garlic is ready to harvest—just look at the leaves!
Whether you are growing soft neck garlic, hardneck garlic, or elephant garlic (which isn’t true garlic but is still tasty), this easy signal will help you know when to harvest.
When to harvest garlic scapes
Hardneck varieties of garlic will grow long green shoots that curl. These are the scapes, and they are a delicious treat that is available only once a year! In the midwest, they typically appear in May or June.
If the scapes stay on the plant, they will eventually turn into flower stalks and seed pods. But you’ll want to cut them off so that the plants focus their energy on bulb production. Remove the scapes with a sharp pair of scissors, and enjoy cooking with them.
Softneck varieties won’t grow garlic scapes. But unlike hardneck garlic, softneck garlic can be braided into garlic braids at the end of the season!
How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?
Garlic will tell you when it is ready to be harvested. When about half the leaves have turned brown, it is time to harvest. The lower leaves will die back first, and then the browning will move up the plant. When half the leaves are brown, your garlic bulbs are ready.
When should you stop watering garlic?
Stop watering your garlic plants a week or before harvest. You want the soil to be dry when you harvest.
How to harvest garlic
There are a few secrets to harvesting garlic to get the best results:
- Harvest on a dry, sunny day.
- Pull back the mulch from around the garlic.
- Using your hands or a garden fork, gently loosen the soil around the garlic bulb.
- Twist the bulb until it comes out of the soil.
- Dust off any large clumps of dirt.
Twisting the garlic is much more gentle on the bulbs than yanking the plants out by the neck. You are much less likely to damage the bulbs this way, which means the garlic will have a longer storage time.
Should you wash garlic after harvesting?
Nope! For the curing step (which will extend the shelf life of your garlic), your goal is to reduce moisture as much as possible. So you don’t want to add more by washing the bulbs with water!
Instead of washing garlic to clean it up, peel back the outside layers of the garlic and discard. This should remove all the soil.
What if I pull my garlic too early?
Garlic that is harvested too early will be small, and the bulbs won’t be developed. The garlic will still be edible, but you won’t get nearly as much garlic out of it.
What happens if you leave garlic in the ground too long?
In mild climates, garlic left in the ground for too long will resprout and grow again. Underground, the bulbs will start to split. You can still eat this garlic, but it won’t store as long.
Can you eat garlic straight from the garden?
Absolutely! You can use your garlic at any time after harvest, so feel free to go ahead and cook up some of those cloves on harvest day. If you want to store the garlic for a longer time, though, you’ll want to cure it.
How do you dry and store garlic?
- Immediately after harvesting, lay the garlic out in the hot sun for a full day. We just lay them in the raised beds in the same place we dig them up.
- After a day, move the garlic, stalks and all, to a dry, covered spot outside that is out of direct sunlight. Spread into a single layer and make sure there is plenty of airflow around the plants.
- Allow to cure until the outer layers of the peel are papery, and the neck of the garlic is brittle and dry. This takes a month for us, but your time may vary depending on how humid your area is.
- Cut off the stems and trim the roots. Store the garlic in a cool, dark, somewhat humid spot.
Don’t forget to set a head or two of garlic aside after curing to use as seed garlic in the fall! Between September and November, you can separate the cloves and press each clove into the soil, pointy side up. With a thick layer of straw mulch, the garlic will be protected through the winter and ready to grow in the spring!
How long will cured garlic last?
Hardneck garlic will store for about 3-6 months. Softneck garlic will last for as long as a year in good storage conditions.
What happens if you don’t cure garlic?
Without curing, garlic isn’t a storage vegetable. You can still eat it, but you’ll need to get through it all in a few weeks, rather than the months to a year you can get out of cured garlic.