Growing Garlic in the South- Everything you Need to Know (2023)

Growing Garlic in the South

Growing your own garlic in the south is easy as long as you know exactly what you need to know. This way you don’t get bothered with details that just don’t apply to your situation.

Garlic, like other bulbing plants, will grow differently based on your latitude (because of differing day length), so the rules that apply to other latitudes aren’t what you should be following.

In general, garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in late spring.

If you are growing garlic in the south, this post tells you everything you need to grow garlic well.

Choose the Right Garlic Varieties

There are 2 basic kinds of garlic for the beginner garlic grower to know about: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic was the first type of garlic I ever grew here my western North Carolina garden.

growing garlic in the south
2021 Hardneck Garlic Harvest

Hardneck Varieties Grow Garlic Scapes

Hardneck garlic grows garlic scapes, which are the immature flower heads of the garlic plant.

Spacing Out the Hardneck Garlic Bulbs in the Raised Bed
Spacing Out the Hardneck Garlic Bulbs in the Raised Bed

They Grow Cloves in a Ring Around the Main Stalk

They grow cloves in a single ring around the main stalk and usually have a more pungent flavor than softneck garlic varieties. They have fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, which tend to have several layers of cloves instead of just one.

Hardneck Garlic is Usually Grown in Cooler Climates

Hardneck garlics are usually not as successful in warmer climates because they need colder weather in the winter than southern climates can provide.

Hardneck Varieties That Grow in the South

I grew Music, Russian Red, and German Extra Hardy garlic in zone 7B western North Carolina with success.

I’m sure other hardneck varieties will grow successfully in the south, but I’m sticking to what I know when I tell you what works.

When to Plant Hardneck Garlic in the South

You plant hardneck garlic in the fall around mid-to late October. You want the garlic to grow a bit to establish a good root system before the winter temperatures halt the growth.

Usually I will get a good amount of green growth before the shortest and coldest days of January set in:

Bed of Garlic Has Green Growth Before Cold Sets in
Bed of Garlic Has Green Growth Before Cold Sets In

Garlic needs to have a well-established root system in the winter so that it can survive. You can tell by this green growth in the picture above that the roots are working just fine headed into our shortest days of January.

Amending the Garden Bed for Growing Garlic in the South

Growing garlic doesn’t require a lot of work. You fertilize at the time of planting and once again in early spring, keep the weeds out, water when needed, and that’s IT. 

You can learn more about the details of soil amendments in this post about how to amend your own soil. I go into crazy detail about how to amend your soil.

The Soil Amending Basics for Growing Garlic

There are 2 times during the process of growing garlic that you need to be diligent about fertilizing.

The first time you need to fertilize is right before you plant the cloves. The other time you need to fertilize is when daytime temps start warming into the 50s.

Amending Soil Before Your Grow Garlic

The first time you need to worry about amending your soil is right before you plant your garlic.

Ideally, you’d have a soil test done first, but let’s face it- most people really don’t and their garlic turns out fine.

Add An All-Purpose Fertilizer Like GardenTone to Your Soil According to the Directions

This fertilizer will give your soil the root-building power it needs to get your plant established before growth slows to a crawl for the winter.

Plant the Garlic

Planting your garlic is easy. Take your largest cloves from your last crop or cloves from your seed garlic if you bought some and plant them 1-2 inches deep in well-draining soil 4-6 inches apart.

My garlic beds are 30 inches wide and 18 feet long. This year, I grew several varieties in 4 beds.

Mulch if You Like (optional)

I’ve found that I didn’t need to mulch my garlic, and I never have. Adding straw mulch is an option if you are worried about cold weather during the winter. Mulch can also help retain soil moisture, so if you expect dry conditions, mulch is helpful.

Water as Needed

Garlic doesn’t need a ton of water over the fall and winter. Only water it if you experience drought conditions during that time.

Fertilize in the Spring

Once your daytime temps start to warm up ( around mid-Feb), fertilize your bulbs with a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer like this blood meal (click here to check current pricing) or this alfalfa meal (click here to check current pricing).

Harvest Garlic Scapes

If you are growing hardneck varieties, you are in for a treat about a month before harvest.

You’ll see a curly stalk appear from the center of each plant and when they are the size below, break them off.

You can eat them and they are delicious. Garlic scapes are like a cross between asparagus and garlic.

Sauté them in olive oil to bring out their sweetness, grill them, or add them to herbs in a compound butter.

A Pile of Garlic Scapes from my 2022 Music Garlic
A Pile of Garlic Scapes from my 2022 Music Garlic

Hardneck Garlic Isn't the Only Type of Garlic You can Grow!

While you can grow hardneck Garlic in the south, and it was the first type I grew, softneck garlic actually grows much better in the south than hardneck does.

Softneck Garlic is Best for Warm Climates

Softneck garlic is the best for southern climates, and I had a great experience with them this year when I grew them.

Softneck Garlic Varieties I Grew

I grew a few softneck varieties of garlic, and I can tell you all about them!

Inchelium Red

This is by far the best softneck garlic I’ve grown so far. The bulbs are absolutely huge and the flavor is excellent.

Inchelium Red has won several awards for flavor, and the size of these garlic cloves and garlic bulbs are INSANE.

An Inchelium Red Bulb that is as big as my palm
An Inchelium Red Bulb that is as big as my palm

If you are looking for a garlic to impress your friends with, this is the garlic to grow.

Inchelium Red is delicious as raw garlic since it has a very mild garlic flavor. This garlic confit recipe is perfect for this garlic type. I made it with 40 cloves of garlic (just 2 bulbs worth) and it was gone in 10 minutes. It was THAT good.

Susanville

The Susanville garlic was a late-season sale purchase one December from Garlic Gods.

Usually you’re supposed to plant garlic in October, but I had to plant later than that since I didn’t order the garlic until late December.

Even planted late, the garlic turned out fine. The cloves were on the smaller side because my back yard is shaded, but otherwise it was fine that I planted “late”.

Silverwhite Silverskin

This garlic is an amazing softneck garlic, along with the Inchelium Red.

If you can only grow one garlic, I’d grow Inchelium Red. If you have room for it, though, add this Silverwhite Silverskin. This garlic is curing right now as you can see in the picture below.

It's Harvest Time!

After being planted in the fall, overwintering, and growing in spring, your garlic is finally ready to harvest.

In the south, harvest happens in June if the garlic was planted in October.

The plants will have at least 6 leaves that have died and are brown when the garlic is ready.

It will look pretty ragged, but that’s ok. It is important that those leaves are dead because if they aren’t dead, the garlic won’t cure properly and store as long as it should.

Step 1: Dig the Garlic Out From the Bottom, Don't Pull From the Top

To harvest, you just dig the bulb up and out with a shovel or hand spade. You don’t want to pull the garlic out of the ground by the leaves or your garlic won’t cure properly. Shake the excess dirt off.

Step 2: Cure the Garlic Bulbs

Lay the bulbs out of direct sun in a place where there is good air circulation around the bulbs. After about a week, the soil around the roots will be dry enough that you can knock it off the bulbs.

After 2-3 weeks, all the green leaves will be brown and crispy. At this point, you can cut the roots down to about a 1/2 inch long and cut the top off the bulb. Then you are ready to store the bulbs and use them as needed.

Elephant Garlic

In the Deep South–further south than I am– they can have a tough time growing either hard or soft neck garlic due to higher temperature.

They can grow elephant garlic, which is similar to garlic. While also in the allium family, it is actually more closely related to leeks and has a much milder flavor than garlic. It’s not considered a true garlic, but can be used in place of garlic in most recipes.

The cloves of elephant garlic are ENORMOUS. You can see in the picture below that a single clove of elephant garlic can be as big as a whole garlic bulb of other varieties.

A clove of elephant garlic next to a bulb of hardneck garlic to show the size difference
A clove of elephant garlic next to a bulb of hardneck garlic to show the size difference

Conclusion

Garlic is a delicious and versatile vegetable that can be grown in the south with a little bit of care. In this post, we’ve covered everything you need to know about growing garlic in the south, from choosing the right variety to harvesting and curing your bulbs. We hope you find this information helpful and are able to enjoy homegrown garlic in your vegetable garden this year.

FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions

What garlic grows best in the South?

Softneck and elephant garlics grow best in the South.

What is the best month to plant garlic?

The best time to plant garlic in the South is in late October- late November, but I’ve planted it as late as the first week of January and it did fine. Try it out and see what works for you!

How late can you plant garlic?

I’ve planted it as late as the first part of January.

Can you plant garlic anytime of year?

No. It needs to be planted in the fall because it needs the exposure to cold to form bulbs.

How long does garlic take to grow?

Roughly 9 months. 

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