Zach's writing ranges from matters of gardening, cooking, aquariums, and fish to more niche topics like coin collecting.
With contenders like tomatoes, peppers, and amazing herbs surrounding the container gardener, garlic sadly tends to fade into the background. It's not that garlic isn't compatible with container gardens, it's just more or less forgotten about in the container-filling frenzy we call planting.
Maybe it's because garlic grows below the soil? Who knows, but isn't it about time for garlic to receive some of the spotlight? After all, this member of the allium family is very easy to grow, requires little effort throughout the growing season, and can be planted at high densities for maximum yields! If I've snagged your interest, be sure to catch this garden guide on how to grow garlic in a pot.
Basics of Growing Garlic
As far as garden crops are concerned, garlic is one of the easiest to grow. Better yet, garlic plants are virtually pest resistant. With these qualities, it's pretty much just a water-and-wait game. Although there's not a whole lot of effort needed to grow garlic in containers, you do need to cover some basic necessities in order to produce a good crop!
Fertile and Well-Draining Soil
For container gardeners, soil will be the most important aspect of the garlic growing process. With garlic regarded as a heavy feeder, the potting soil used will need to be rich in initial nutrition but also provide a steady release of nutrients over the season. A premium, well-composted soil amended with earthworm castings and bone meal provides an excellent nutrient stream.
As well as being fertile, the potting soil used must also provide excellent drainage. Garlic cloves will not tolerate soggy soils and will most often rot if kept in these conditions. To provide proper drainage, select a potting soil amended with perlite.
To produce full heads of garlic, it is recommended that your garlic plants receive at least six hours of strong sunlight daily. South-facing areas will tend to provide the best growing conditions, but garlic can also be grown with success facing east or west as well.
A Long Growing Season
Most container gardeners tend to only plan for summer crops. The problem is that by the time your tomatoes are ready to plant, garlic should have already been planted months ago! So, if it's garlic heads you're after, plan to plant very early in the season.
Any size container will do when growing garlic. However, the size of the container will determine how many plants can be grown. Wood or clay pots are preferred over plastic. These "breathable" materials allow for greater aeration of the roots when compared to plastic.
How to Grow Garlic in Pots
Traditionally, garlic is planted mid-autumn, a few weeks before the hard frost sets in. During this time, garlic cloves are able to set roots and prepare themselves for overwintering. As spring begins to warm the soil, bulbs exit dormancy and begin to sprout early spring.
For container gardeners, this process isn't that appealing or even feasible in some cases. Though the heads produced using a spring planting method will generally be a bit smaller than fall planted garlic, container gardeners can still achieve a bountiful harvest of medium heads.
Growing garlic in pots gives the gardener a bit more wiggle room when it comes to planting. If a south-facing window is available until spring warms, garlic may be planted in January and February. For those gardeners who must keep containers outdoors, plant as soon as you would other cold crops such as spinach and onions. Growing garlic from cloves is the best way to start planting. To plant garlic, separate garlic heads (can be store-bought or selected at nursery) into individual cloves. Plant the largest of the cloves at least 1.5 inches from the edge of the container and 4–6 inches from each other in all directions. Plant the cloves to a depth of 2–3 inches.
Garlic will require adequate amounts of water, but will also insist that the soil never become waterlogged. I've found the best practice is to water thoroughly once the top 2 inches of soil have been allowed to dry. Be sure that containers are able to drain freely and that they do not sit in excess water that runs out.
If you started out with a premium soil and amended it with earthworm castings and bone meal (about 1 tbsp each per clove planted), then fertilizing will typically not be needed. But of course, that's not to say that garlic plants won't respond positively to compost tea a couple times a month early in the season!
Garlic Planting Schedule
3–4 months before average last frost
Plant garlic indoors in containers.
Starting early can produce larger heads.
1–2 months before average last frost
Plant garlic outdoors.
Garlic planted indoors can be moved out.
3–5 months after planting
Harvest garlic heads.
Harvest when bottom leaves turn yellow.
Once garlic starts to grow, it's hard not to treat it like many other members of the onion family. After all, garlic plants have similar nutrient requirements, share similar plant structure, and even begin to indicate when to harvest in the same fashion. Yet, there is one fundamental difference when it comes to harvesting garlic, and that's timing!
Typically, onion leaves are allowed to nearly all turn completely yellow and start to die back before harvesting. If the same practice was utilized to harvest garlic, the heads will have split open and rendered the cloves useless for storing.
- For garlic heads that will readily store, watch for just a few of the bottom leaves on the garlic plant to turn yellow and begin to die back. Letting the garlic go beyond this point could risk splitting of the cloves. Harvesting before this point could risk immature heads that will not easily store.
- At this point, you can gently dig around the base of each garlic plant and verify the size of the garlic head before harvesting. When ready, use your fingers to dig under and then lift out the garlic head. For proper drying and curing, the shoots must not be damaged, so avoid pulling the garlic tops to get them out of the ground.
- Move the harvested garlic heads to a cool and dark area with plenty of air circulation for drying and curing.
Curing Garlic Heads
In order to make the most out of your garlic crop, you'll want to cure your garlic heads. This process entails hanging the garlic (with leaves attached), in a cool, dark, well ventilated, and dry area. After a couple weeks, the outside skins should be papery. You can now cut off the leaves at a spot about an inch above the bulb. Store the garlic in the same area and use as needed!
Although it may seem like a lot to remember, growing garlic in pots is no harder than going to the grocery store and picking out a couple heads. The only real difference between the two is that you'll get a lot more satisfaction from pulling your fresh garlic from its container, rather than just selecting one from the designated bin.
Try something new this season and plant some garlic in containers! Thanks for reading this gardening guide on how to grow garlic in pots. Please feel free to leave any comments, questions, or experiences that you've had with garlic in containers! Good luck with your garden.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Zach
Ethan Hinds on May 28, 2020:
Thank you for you for your advice.This is really helpful.
katerina - Greece on February 08, 2017:
Thank you. Excellent article - very detailed - very useful. Tomorrow I will put the garlic in the pot - first time I try. Garlic is the best Nature's medicine, for so many ill conditions - Eat garlic, live longer. Many many thanks
peachy from Home Sweet Home on August 25, 2015:
i had grown many times garlic but none of them grew that tall
Audrey Howitt from California on April 05, 2014:
Just excellent--and just as I was thinking about planting garlic!
Daniella Lopez on April 05, 2014:
This article was perfect timing for me! Thank you!
Ghaelach on April 05, 2014:
We have no garden in our high-rise, but spend our free time over at our static caravan in the summer months. This will make a great addition to my strawberries in a tub a long with spuds, onions and lettuce.
Thanks for sharing.
Shelley Watson on April 04, 2014:
I love garlic and gardening, so this is a great idea for which I thank you. Up, interesting and useful.
Marcus from California on April 03, 2014:
SO EASY! Urban gardening at its finest.