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 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. And the bulbs require chilling for several weeks in order for the cloves to develop into full bulbs.
Be aware that garlic, as well as other members of the onion family, is toxic to dogs and cats. This is not a plant to grow indoors if you have pets that nibble on your houseplants. Toxicity is more pronounced in the bulbs, but even nibbling on leaves can potentially cause damage to a pet's red blood cells.
|Botanical Name||Allium sativum|
|Plant Type||Bulb, Vegetable|
|Toxicity||oxic to dogs and cats|
Can You Grow Garlic Inside?
Garlic is considerably more difficult to grow indoors compared to outdoors, at least if the goal is full mature bulbs. Garlic cloves can be planted relatively close together, so depending on your garlic appetite, one or two 6-inch pots of garlic might be sufficient (or four or five pots if you are an avid garlic lover). Thus, garlic is perfectly suitable for either apartments or homes, provided there's a sunny location to grow it.
If you want to grow actual bulbs, you'll need to first chill the bulbs in the refrigerator or another cold location or several weeks before planting. Like many perennial bulbs, garlic—especially the hardneck varieties—must have this cold dormant period in order for the planted cloves to develop into mature bulbs. This is less crucial for the softneck varieties, which will grow more successfully without the chilling period. For this reason, softneck varieties are often preferred to hardnecks for indoor growing.
Planted indoors in early fall after a chilling period of several weeks, you may have harvestable bulbs by early to late spring, provided you were able to give the plants plenty of sunlight. But if your goal is just green shoots to snip off for cooking, the chilling period is not necessary. The green shoots to be large enough to begin snipping them off for cooking.
How to Grow 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.
Garlic needs lots of direct sunlight and don't do well with artificial light. 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. Garlic needs at least six hours of sun per day to thrive, and this can be hard to achieve during the short days of winter.
If you are growing garlic just for the greens, it won't need quite as much sunlight.
Temperature and Humidity
Avoid very hot temperatures or very cold temperatures for your indoor garlic. A range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Garlic is native to relatively arid regions of central Asia and Iran, so it thrives in dry conditions. There is no need to bolster humidity to grow indoor garlic.
Water 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. Water the pot whenever the potting mix feels dry to the touch.
Feed the plants twice a month with a water-soluble balanced fertilizer diluted to half strength. (Feeding is not necessary for garlic you are growing only for the greens.)
Pruning and Maintenance
Wait until the shoots get a couple of inches tall before you start snipping them with scissors to use the greens for cooking. Leave about 1 inch of green shoot on each clove so the shoot will continue to grow.
If your aim is mature bulbs, be patient—garlic cloves 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.
Container and Size
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.
Potting Soil and Drainage
Garlic bulbs like well-draining soil and may rot if they're allowed to soak in wet soil. Do not use garden soil or purchased topsoil to grow garlic indoors, as it will not drain well when confined in a container.
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 container while allowing water to drain out freely.
Potting and Repotting Garlic
For indoor planting, you can use any mature garlic bulb you've grown outdoor or purchased as a seed garlic bulb. Many growers recommend storing the bulbs in a refrigerator for a few weeks before planting potting them in the fall.
Split the 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.
Fill the container with a standard potting mix so the surface is about 2 inches below the rim. 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 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.
Is garlic a type of onion?
Garlic is a member of the Allium genus and is closely related to the onion (Allium cepa). It is not a type of onion, but rather its own species. Shallot, on the other hand, is considered to be a variety (cultivar) of onion.
What varieties are best for indoor growing?
There are two basic types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The softneck varieties are best suited for indoor growing, since hardnecks prefer colder temperatures. Some popular softneck varieties include 'Silverskin', 'Inchelium Red', 'California Early', and 'California Late'.
Can you plant a store-bought garlic clove?
Yes, you can use a store-purchased garlic bulb for planting, but the results might be less satisfying than with bulbs grown specifically as seed garlic. Grocery store garlic is sometimes sprayed with a sprout inhibitor that makes it less likely to sprout in the soil. And grocery store garlic has sometimes been stored for many months; these older bulbs aren't as viable as younger bulbs. The best option is to buy organic or farmer's market garlic, which will give you a better chance for success. And if you grow your own outdoor garlic, these bulbs will be excellent for indoor planting.