How to Grow Garlic in Containers

fresh garlic

The Spruce / Kerry Michaels

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. 

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

A gloved hand holding a pair of garlic cloves
Kerry Michaels / The Spruce

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.

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.

How to Plant Garlic in Containers

garlic planted in a container
Kerry Michaels / The Spruce

Here's what you will need before you plant your garlic.

Equipment/tools:

  • Garden trowel
  • Watering can

Materials:

  • A large pot with good drainage
  • High-quality potting mix
  • Garlic cloves that are fat, firm, and healthy
  • Slow-release fertilizer

Once you've gathered your materials, the planting is easy.

  1. Fill your container with potting mix about 3 inches from the top. If your potting mix doesn't already include it, then mix in a slow-release fertilizer.
  2. Take your head of garlic, and gently separate the cloves.
  3. Place the cloves with their pointy end up in the soil. You'll want them at least 3 inches apart.
  4. 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.
  5. Pat the soil gently to firm it on top of the garlic cloves.
  6. Position the container somewhere that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
  7. 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 in a container garden
Kerry Michaels / The Spruce

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.

When to Harvest Garlic

A ripe garlic head
Kerry Michaels / The Spruce

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.

Article Sources
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  1. Garlic Production for the Gardener. University of Georgia Extension