How to Harvest and Store Garlic
It's All in the Leaves: Get the Freshest Garlic in a Few Easy Steps
Thanks to its delicious taste and reputation as a healthy food, garlic (Allium sativum) is popular with gardeners but it helps to know how and when to harvest garlic. Growing this relative of the onion takes a fair amount of space and patience. It is an unusual plant in the vegetable garden because you have to wait about eight months after planting before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you've grown it, harvested it, and stored it properly, you can have fresh garlic all winter. This is one of the best vegetables for long-term storage.
When to Harvest Garlic
With most root vegetables, including garlic, it can be difficult to know when harvest time has arrived because you can't see their ripeness. Most gardeners plant garlic in the fall and wait for the plants to sprout the following spring. But if you planted garlic in the early spring, the harvest will come in late summer.
Harvesting too soon will result in smaller cloves that don’t store well. However, leaving the bulbs in the ground too long causes the cloves to burst out of their skins, making them vulnerable to disease and shorter storage time. So timing is quite important when it comes to harvesting and storing garlic. Here are tips on how to know when to harvest garlic:
- When the leaves begin to turn yellow and dry, usually in June or July, harvest time is near.
- In general, garlic is ready for harvesting when the lower two leaves start to brown. The only way to be sure about this is to dig up a few bulbs to check their progress.
- If the cloves fill out the skins, it’s time to pick the garlic.
- Hardneck varieties of garlic grow best in regions with harsher, colder winters and softneck varieties grow best in moderate climates. Some climates may be ideal for both types of garlic. Harvesting is usually the same for both types though the timing of harvesting depends on which hardneck or softneck variety of garlic you grow.
- Not all garlic varieties mature at the same time. You may have early-season (spring harvest) or late-season (summer harvest) varieties. For example, artichoke garlic (softneck) generally matures first for harvest, followed by rocambole garlic (hardneck). Then come other varieties, including purple stripes (hardneck), porcelains (hardneck), and silverskins (softneck).
- If you see that the higher leaves are yellowing or also browning with yellow tips, that is not an indication of harvesting time. One of the most common reasons is a nitrogen deficiency in the soil that needs to be addressed for your next crop.
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What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Garden fork
- Knife or kitchen scissors
- Mesh bag (optional)
- Mature garlic plant
How to Harvest Garlic
Prepare the Garlic for Harvest
Once the leaves on your garlic begin to decline, stop watering the plant. This is impossible if it rains on the plant, but do the best you can. A dry spell will help to cure the garlic in the ground.
Determine When the Time Is Right
Picking the right time to harvest garlic is something of an art form. Consider these tips:
- The plant is ready after three or four leaves have died back but five or six green leaves remain.
- Avoid waiting too long because the cloves will begin to separate from the bulbs in the ground.
Dig Up the Bulbs
Garlic bulbs don't easily pull out of the ground as onions do. While you may have planted a small clove, the mature bulb is now several inches deep with a strong root system. So always dig up your garlic.
- If possible, wait for the soil to dry before digging.
- Never try to pull it out of the ground, as the stalks can break and separate from the bulbs.
- Use a garden fork because it typically works better than a shovel for digging up garlic, although either tool will do.
- Loosen the soil, and gently dig up the garlic bulbs, taking care not to slice through them.
- Shake off the remaining dirt by hand to separate the bulbs from the soil.
Cure the Garlic
Garlic should be cured or dried before storing it for later use. Cure and dry garlic using these steps and tips:
- Start by brushing off any soil remnants clinging to the bulbs. Do not wash them off or get the bulbs wet.
- Leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs while they cure.
- To store the garlic, either bundle eight to 10 garlic stems together, tie them with twine, and hang bulb-side down in a cool, dark space, like a basement, or lay the garlic flat on a raised screen in a single layer.
- Allow the bulbs to cure for three to four weeks.
- Keep the bulbs out of sunlight, as it can change the flavor of fresh garlic.
- Once the tops and roots have dried, cut them off and clean the garlic by removing the outer papery skin. Be careful not to expose any of the cloves.
- Alternatively, you can leave the stalks and braid the garlic if you've grown softneck varieties.
Store the Bulbs
Use these tips to store bulbs:
- Keep your garlic in a dark, cool place (32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) where it will still get some air circulation.
- Braiding and hanging garlic is a good way to store it.
- Don’t hang garlic in the kitchen where it will be exposed to light.
- You can also store garlic in a mesh bag.
Tips for Harvesting and Storing Garlic
Here are some tips on storing various types of harvested garlic:
- Softneck varieties of garlic can be stored for 6 to 8 months. Check periodically to make sure the garlic is not going soft or sprouting.
- Hardneck varieties might dry out, sprout, or go soft within three to four months. However, storing hardneck varieties right at freezing temperatures sometimes helps them survive for up to 6 months and maybe more without deteriorating.
- If you're a seed saver, there is nothing easier than saving garlic seed cloves. Simply put aside a few of your largest, healthiest bulbs to plant next season. Don't bother saving smaller bulbs, as planting them will result in small bulbs for your next harvest. Store bulbs for planting at room temperature with fairly high humidity, so they don't dry out.
Growing Garlic in Home Gardens. University of Minnesota Extension.
Garlic Production for the Gardener. University of Georgia Extension.
Garlic leaves yellow then wilt. University of Minnesota Extension.
Grow and Save Garlic. Seed Savers Exchange.