It's not common to grow garlic (Allium sativum) as an indoor plant, but it is certainly possible and not particularly hard. Most often, garlic grown indoors is used for its greens, which can be snipped off to use raw in salads, as a garnish in soups, or cooked in stir-fries and other dishes.
It is also possible to grow full garlic bulbs, though this can be tricky since they need lots of sunlight and it takes a long time to grow full bulbs. Garlic is a rather slow-growing plant that takes six months or more to grow from planted cloves to full bulbs that resemble the product you buy at the market.
When to Plant Garlic Indoors
Garlic bulbs are typically broken into cloves and planted in pots for indoor growing at the end of the outdoor gardening season, whenever that might occur in your region. It only takes a couple of weeks for the green shoots to be large enough to begin snipping them off for cooking, but if you want to grow actual garlic bulbs, you'll need to leave the shoots in place and grow the plants through the winter. months. Planted indoors in early fall, you may have harvestable bulbs by early to late spring, provided you were able to give the plants plenty of sunlight. Garlic needs lots of direct sunlight and don't do well with artificial light.
|Working Time||15 minutes|
|Total Time||2 weeks (for greens), 6 to 7 months (for full bulbs)|
|Material Cost||$5 to $10|
What You'll Need
- Drill and bit (if necessary)
- Garden trowel
- General-purpose potting mix
- Bulb of garlic
- Flower pot or other container (such as a leftover coffee can)
- Paper towel, coffee filter, or piece of plastic window screening
Choose and Prepare a Container
A simple clay pot with a drainage hole in the bottom makes a good container for growing garlic, but any number of other containers can also work. If you are using a can or another container without drainage, you will need to make holes so the water can get out. You can make several large holes with a drill. If you are using a ceramic container that doesn't already have drainage holes, you can drill drainage holes with a special ceramic bit. If you are using a leftover metal can, such as a coffee can, you can bore drainage holes using a hammer and nail.
Cover the Drainage Hole
The drainage holes in the bottom of the container need to be covered with a paper, towel, coffee filter, or a piece of plastic window screening to keep the soil in the contianer while allowing water to drain out freely. Garlic bulbs like well-draining soil and may rot if they're allowed to soak in wet soil. Fill the container with a standard potting mix so the surface is about 2 inches below the rim. Do not use garden soil or purchased topsoil to grow garlic indoors, as it will not drain well when confined in a container.
Prepare the Garlic Cloves
Split a garlic bulb into cloves by prying it open. Keep as much of the skin on as possible, though it’s okay to brush off some of the dry, papery husk. Discard any cloves that are soft or show signs of decay.
Plant the Cloves
Plant the cloves pointy-side-up in the container, embedding them about halfway into the potting mix. You can plant the cloves fairly close together, but make sure they are not touching.
Fill the container with more potting mix until the it totally covers the garlic by about 1/2 inch, making sure to fill in all the spaces between the cloves. Pat the soil down gently. Water slowly until water comes out of the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix if you see any garlic cloves poking through.
Tend the Growing Garlic
Water the garlic often enough so the soil stays moist, but not wet. Within about a week or two you should see green garlic shoots coming through the soil. Wait until these shoots get a couple of inches tall before you start snipping them with scissors to use the greens for cooking. Leave about an inch of shoot on each clove so the shoot will continue to grow.
Garlic Growing Tips
- If you want to grow full garlic bulbs, plant just one clove in each container, then place it in the sunniest location you can find—a south-facing window that gets full sunlight all day is best. Water the pot whenever the potting mix feels dry to the touch. Feed the plants twice a month with a water-soluble balanced fertlizer diluted to half strength. (Feeding is not necessary for garlic you are growing only for the greens.)
- Be patient—garlic closes take quite a long time to develop into bulbs that are ready to harvest. When the leaf shoots begin to turn brown, withhold all watering. Within a couple of weeks, the shoots will be entirely dried out, and the bulbs should be ready to harvest for cooking. If you wish, garlic bulbs can be stored in a dark, cool place for several months to be used as needed.