How to Grow Garlic in Pots

Growing garlic in a pot is an easy way to enjoy this crop even if you don't have gardening space.

garlic cloves sprouting

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Growing garlic in pots is a long-term project, but it's fairly straightforward and mostly hands-off. This technique is especially worth the effort if you waited too late to plant garlic out in your garden and the ground is frozen, or if you don't have outdoor growing space at all. Fortunately, all kinds of garlic are easy to grow in containers. Potted garlic will grow both indoors and outdoors, so it's possible to have this edible bulb growing for you year round, no matter where you live. By following a few simple steps, you can successfully plant garlic in pots to grow your own garlicky goodness.

Types of Garlic

Garlic, a member of the genus Allium, is a relative of onions, leeks, and chives. Exceptionally tolerant of cold temperatures, garlic can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7. Outside of these areas, some extra precautions for cold and warm temperatures can be beneficial.  

There are two kinds of garlic to choose from, softneck and hardneck. Their flavors are similar, but your growing conditions may dictate which one works best for your area. Softneck garlic tends to have smaller, but more numerous cloves within a single head and grows better in mild climates. Hardneck garlic, on the other hand, tends to produce larger, yet fewer cloves in a head and is hardier in colder climates. Hardneck garlic also produces a distinctive flowering stem, called a scape, down the center of the head. Softneck garlic will store for upwards of a year while hardneck garlic stores for roughly six months.

When to Plant Garlic in Pots

Whether you choose to grow hardneck or softneck, garlic should be planted in fall as temperatures begin to drop. Like other types of bulbs, garlic cloves will begin to put out roots well before their leaves emerge. By planting in fall, the cooler weather encourages garlic to begin producing roots without immediately sending up leaves, ensuring a jump start to spring growth.

How to Plant Garlic in Pots

After you have decided on the best type of garlic for you, purchase bulbs (often called seed garlic) from reputable garden centers and other trusted plant vendors. Using garlic from grocery stores isn't the best choice because it may have been treated with growth inhibitors to prevent it from sprouting. Then, follow these five steps to plant garlic in pots.

  1. Start by choosing the right container. Garlic needs plenty of moisture to grow well, but has a shallow, grass-like root system, so it doesn't require a large amount of soil. Rather, planter boxes and short containers work well for garlic. I prefer to use plastic pots for garlic because it holds moisture better than clay containers and is much lighter, making it easy to move around.
  2. Next, fill your container about half way with potting mix and then mix in a measured amount of organic fertilizer such as Espoma Garden-tone. Mix the fertilizer evenly into the soil. Add more potting mix to about an inch below the rim of your container. Mix in a little more fertilizer to the additional potting mix.
  3. Starting with a head of garlic, split all the cloves apart. Pay close attention to the size and firmness of each one. Larger, firm cloves should be kept for planting while overly small or soft cloves should be skipped. Remove the excess papery sheath surrounding the cloves if you like, but leave the main outer coat intact.  
  4. Push each clove, pointed side up, into the prepared soil about twice the depth of the clove. Leave about three inches between planted cloves.
  5. Once all the cloves of garlic are planted, water the entire container well until the excess moisture drains out the bottom. It's normal for the potting mix to settle and may even expose some of the cloves. If this happens, simply add more to cover.

Tips for Growing Garlic in Pots

Similar to other bulbs such as tulips, garlic needs a chilling period under 40℉ for approximately two months in order to develop properly. In especially cold winter areas, newly planted garlic cloves in outdoor pots should be protected. Cover the pot with a thick layer of straw or fallen leaves to avoid damaging the plants while they grow roots. Remove the protective layer in spring. You could also keep the pot in an unheated space like a garage until spring. Either way, water your potted garlic enough to keep it moist through the winter; don't water if the potting mix is frozen.

When your potted garlic begins to grow leaves after the chilling period, place the container in full sun (at least 8 hours per day) and provide plenty of water. In hotter, drier climates, this might mean daily watering. Every other week, fertilize your plants with a general purpose fertilizer or an organic fertilizer specifically formulated for garlic, such as Keene Garlic’s mix.

Can You Grow Garlic Indoors?

It’s possible to grow garlic in pots indoors. However, without the use of supplemental lighting, indoor garlic is best grown for its edible leaves rather than for the bulbs. Simply place planted cloves in a south-facing window once the leaves push through the soil surface, and keep the pot well watered. Fertilizing indoor garlic is not necessary as the cloves will have enough stored nutrients to support the leaves. Cut garlic leaves as soon as they’ve reached a few inches in length. The cloves may send up a second flush of leaves for one more harvest.

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