Helen’s guide to growing garlic


Helen Simpson, from the Mushroom Shed, tells you all you need to know about growing garlic. She has also written articles about growing basil, brassicas, chilli, coriander, cucurbits, ginger & turmeric, mint, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes and lesser known herbs.

garlicWith wintery weather underway, it can be difficult to find something cold hardy to plant in the veggie patch. But garlic loves the cold weather. In fact the more it receives, the better, as the cold is essential for large bulb formation.

Garlic can be planted in Melbourne from early April to late June. Surprisingly it’s a perennial, but usually grown as an annual and harvested from late November into December.

The downside of growing garlic is it takes up space in the veggie patch for around six to seven months. However its advantages include being relatively free from pests and (as long as it’s kept well-weeded and receives reasonable rainfall) pretty much fuss free. Of course it tastes great!


There are many varieties, categorised as ‘hardneck’ (firmer tuft above the garlic bulb) or ‘softneck’ (softer tuft, milder flavour, longer storage). We have found the hardneck varieties easier to grow and less prone to rot, but suggest you try both.

To obtain garlic for planting, purchase garlic bulbs from reputable suppliers who haven’t treated the garlic with growth retardants and chemicals. Farmers’ markets offer good choice and supply and you can check with the farmer directly on these aspects. Alternatively, garlic can be purchased in punnets, giving you the advantage of having someone else start the growing process for you.

If you have purchased bulbs, separate the bulb into individual cloves. Only plant the large, outside cloves – keep the small ones for eating. Large cloves produce large garlic – don’t waste your time with the small ones.


Plant cloves pointy end up, just under the soil. Mulch with a 3cm layer of straw or equivalent – make sure the straw is loose, so the green garlic tops can push their way through when growing. Plant in the sunniest spot you have.


Garlic is generally a ‘pest free’ crop. However, if you grow a large amount, watch out for the cockatoos in the early stages, who can destructively rip them out of the ground. If this is a problem, place a net over the garlic for the first few months.


Keep weed free!! This usually means weeding two to three times over the growing period. If grown in good soil at initial planting, extra fertilisation is not usually necessary; however, if the green tops of the garlic start to look yellow, fertilise with a liquid fertiliser.

Generally it rains sufficiently over winter to eliminate any need for watering; however, if the ground gets dry, then water.

Harvesting and drying

Garlic is usually ready to harvest around end of November to early December. When the green tops have died back by about one third, feel the garlic under the soil to check if distinct bulbs have formed – if so, it’s ready. Don’t wait until the tops have completely died back, or the garlic can often rot. It is easiest to harvest during a dry period – use a fork to gently lever out – don’t pull out by the tops. Don’t be concerned if it’s flowered.

Garlic can be stored by hanging, laying on airy racks above ground, or plaited and hung out of direct sunlight. If you want to make garlic plaits, do this whilst tops are still green – once the tops have dried, it is difficult.

Garlic takes about two weeks to dry; however, if you can’t wait, use it ‘green’, which means it will be very juicy. The garlic tops and flowers can also be used in cooking.

And finally…

Elephant garlic is also great to grow – note this is actually a variety of leek, not a garlic. It can be planted and harvested a few weeks later than garlic. The huge blue flowers look stunning in a cottage garden and the cloves have a milder flavour for eating.

  18 Responses to “Helen’s guide to growing garlic”

  1. Hi Helen, I have had a great crop of garlic this year with flower heads producing bulblits (I think that is what they are called). Can I grow further crops from these?

    • Hi Narelle, yes you can grow from the bulblits. However, being small, it takes some years to get reasonable sized garlic from them. The cloves are a lot quicker. Regards, Helen.

  2. Hello Helen,

    I live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and I would like to know if I can grow the Italian purple garlic? (I think that is what it’s called). I tried growing garlic earlier this year I grew tiny garlic bulbs. Why?

    • Hi Dani,

      When did you plant your garlic? Tiny garlic bulbs are usually a sign that you planted too late. In Melbourne, garlic should be planted in April or May.

  3. Hi Helen. I’m located in Brisbane. Planted Italian white based on recommendations for the climate. Garlic grew well until a month ago. Had a massive hailstorm after a very dry period. The garlic has now created various new thin leaves. On inspecting one, it seems like the cloves has started to grow inside the bulb. I wanted to grow the garlic for seed for next year. Question is, should I harvest all the garlic and let it dry out to stop the growth and will it grow next year? Also, some cloves have not formed. Can I harvest and re-plant next year and will it grow?

    • Hi Deon. I’m not experienced in growing garlic in warmer climates, but internet research recommends to plant around March in Brisbane and then harvest in September. As you have new growth appearing, I’d guess your garlic has been in too long. It may be inedible due to the new sprouts. If so, I’d keep it in the ground another season – digging it up and storing it will not work as it’s already re-sprouted, ready to go again. You may end up with it rotting if you get heavy rain over summer, but fingers crossed it will keep going and you can harvest next September.

  4. Last time I planted garlic (left them growing for 8 months) they ended up quite small. Why is that? What did I do wrong? Please.

    • Last year my garlic grew quite small. My location is Geelong.

    • To Mario and Charlie: In Melbourne, garlic needs cold winter months from April to mid-Oct for growing larger cloves. Plant the cloves between Feb and March so that they grow big enough to face the winter and probable nightly frost. Large cloves to plant, soft + loose composted soil, wider planting, weeding and watering is essential. Don’t leave them, nurse them. If the soil is not fertile spray liquid fertilizer. This is my personal experience.

  5. Do you have to wash dirt from garlic before drying? Sue

  6. I would like to know if garlics have to be kept watered till harvesting time. Thank you!

    • Hi Tom,

      Around harvest time (harvest time has just started), don’t water and keep the garlic dry. The tops will start to dry off, if they haven’t already. When the tops have died back by around a third, it’s usually time to get them out of the ground.

      Regards, Helen

  7. Hi Helen, thanks for your tips – I’m going to give it a go! One question: when preparing the (outside) cloves for planting, should I remove the papery cover and cut off the bottom bit where it attaches to the garlic head?

    • Hi Kerry. Leave the papery cover on the clove for protection. You can leave the bottom bit on too – however sometimes it snaps off which is also OK. The main thing is not to damage the individual clove. Regards, Helen

  8. I accidently put my garlic on the window sill to dry out. It has just started to turn green. It doesn’t smell like garlic; it barely has a smell.The cloves are gigantic. Can I still use them?

    • Hi Heather, if your cloves are gigantic with little smell, you may have elephant garlic (a leek). Some of ours have turned green too. They can still be eaten or planted, as long as the green is not a mould, which should be obvious on inspection. Normal garlic can look like this too. Regards, Helen

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