Growing garlic in containers is a bit of a challenge because the plant has a long growing season and needs regular watering. That said, it can be well worth the effort. You can grow hard-to-find varieties. And as with many freshly picked fruits, vegetables, and herbs, the taste will make you an instant homegrown garlic addict. To top it off, if you grow hardneck garlic, you also can eat the scapes. The hardneck varieties grow best in cold climates while softneck garlic prefers a mild climate.
Before you choose which kind of garlic to grow, it helps to be familiar with overall distinctions between hardneck and softneck varieties. Hardneck garlic sends out flower stalks called scapes, which are edible—and delicious—while softneck garlic does not. It also creates bulbs filled with fewer, but larger, bulbs than softneck garlic.
What makes growing garlic in a pot difficult is you generally plant it in the fall and don't harvest until the middle of the summer. Keeping the garlic well watered over all that time can become tedious. To help with this problem, use a large pot. The more soil there is, the more moisture it will retain.
When to Grow Garlic in Containers
In general, you should plant garlic in containers around the same time as you would plant it in the ground: in the fall after the first frost when the soil has cooled but before anything freezes. In most places, you can plant garlic anytime from September until November. It can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months after planting for harvesting.
When you are ready to plant, choose your garlic bulbs from a local farmer's market or nursery, or order them online. Garlic purchased from the grocery store might grow in a container for you, but supermarket garlic sometimes has been treated to prevent sprouting, so if you go this route, choose an organic option.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden trowel
- Watering can
- Large pot with good drainage
- High-quality potting mix
- Garlic cloves that are firm, fat, and healthy
- Slow-release fertilizer (if needed)
Ready the Container
Fill your container with potting mix till it is about 3 inches from the top. If your potting mix doesn't already include it, mix in a slow-release fertilizer.
Prepare the Garlic Cloves
Take your head of garlic and gently separate the cloves. You can leave the papery outer wrappings on each individual clove.
Plant the Cloves
Place the cloves with their pointy end up in the soil. You'll want them at least 3 inches apart.
Cover the Cloves
Shovel soil onto the cloves. If you live in a warm climate, about an inch of soil is fine. But in colder areas, cover the cloves with around 2 inches of soil.
Pat the soil gently to firm it up on top of the garlic cloves.
Find a Good Location for the Pot
Position the container somewhere that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Once the garlic sprouts in the spring, fertilize it every few weeks and continue to maintain even moisture in the soil.
When to Harvest Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes are the long, winding, blue-green shoots that hardneck garlic varieties put out in the spring. Scapes have a fresh, mild garlic taste. They can be turned into pesto or used to flavor mashed potatoes, salads, roasted vegetables, and more.
Harvest scapes when they are young and tender. Once they have curled around in a circle, they are ready for picking. Picking the scapes not only is good for cooking, but it will also help your garlic grow larger and healthier because it will send more energy toward the bulb rather than the flower stalk.
When to Harvest Garlic
When to harvest garlic is an inexact science. You'll want to harvest when the bulbs are mature and before they start to split apart and rot.
The rule of thumb is to harvest when the leaves begin to turn yellow. But you still might have to dig up a clove to see whether it is time to harvest. Don't pull the garlic out by the stem; dig into the soil, being careful not to damage the bulb.
Gently shake and brush off the dirt from the bulb. Leaving the leaves on, bundle your garlic loosely, and hang or spread out the garlic heads to cure. You must cure your garlic in a well-ventilated, warm area out of the direct sun. It will take two to four weeks for the neck to get dry and the skin to become papery. At this point, cut off the tops and roots. Once cured, store your garlic in a cool, dry place.
If you harvest hardneck garlic, it will keep for between 4 to 6 months before shriveling and becoming unusable. Softneck garlic, on the other hand, can last for up to 12 months.
Garlic Production for the Gardener. University of Georgia Extension