Top 10 Garlic Planting Mistakes To Avoid

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Fall is one of my favorite seasons as the leaves begin to fall and the garlic cloves go into the ground! Garlic is an incredibly easy and rewarding crop to grow. With garlic’s many uses, from medicinal to garden beneficial, this plant is definitely one you need to at least consider growing this year. If you have ever heard someone say that growing garlic is difficult, you most likely will find that they have fallen victim to at least one of these top 10 garlic planting mistakes. That’s why we’re bringing them to you all in one place, so you won’t fall victim as well and can come out next year with an abundant garlic harvest!

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1. Planting Time

Knowing when to plant your garlic is an important step in garlic cultivation. For most places, fall is the best time to get garlic in the ground. You want to aim for about 2-3 weeks before your first frost. The garlic bulbs need enough time to begin putting out roots, but not so much time that they begin sprouting through to the surface.

If you ask most garlic growers, they will tell you that fall is garlic time. However, this is not always the case. It is for me here in southwest Missouri, however, not everyone lives in the same climates. Therefore, it’s best to plant your garlic based on the type of garlic you’re planting, hardneck or softneck, and you’re specific conditions.

Hardneck Garlic

  • Cold Adaptation: Hardneck garlic varieties require a period of vernalization, which means they need exposure to cold temperatures (usually around 32-50°F or 0-10°C) for several weeks to stimulate bulb formation. Planting in the fall allows the garlic cloves to experience this cold period over the winter.
  • Bolting in Spring: Hardneck garlic typically sends up a central flower stalk called a scape in the spring. Planting in the fall allows the garlic to establish strong root systems and undergo vernalization before sending up the scape. This ensures that most of the plant’s energy is directed towards bulb formation rather than flowering.
  • Variety-Specific: Some hardneck varieties are better suited to cold climates and are more adaptable to the fall planting schedule.

Softneck Garlic

  1. Mild Climate Adaptation: Softneck garlic is more adaptable to milder climates. It doesn’t require a long vernalization period and can tolerate warmer winters. Planting softneck garlic in the fall in regions with mild winters may lead to premature sprouting and reduced bulb development.
  2. Shorter Growing Season: Softneck garlic matures faster than hardneck varieties. By planting in the spring, you can take advantage of the warming temperatures and a longer growing season, which is particularly beneficial in regions where winters are not severe.
  3. Storage Qualities: Softneck garlic has the advantage of longer shelf life and better storage qualities. This makes it a preferred choice for many, as it can be planted in the spring and harvested in the summer, providing garlic for use throughout the year.

2. Variety Selection

Another garlic planting mistakes I often see people make is not choosing a garlic variety that aligns with their local climate and growing conditions as well as culinary preferences. It’s important to take into account the climate in your region as different garlic varieties have varying cold and heat tolerances. Additionally, some garlic varieties have different growth cycles, meaning they will mature at different rates. Make sure the variety you plant has enough time to mature properly. If you have a shorter growing season, opt for early maturing varieties. Taking this into account will ensure that your garlic will develop successfully and produce healthy, big bulbs.

Additionally, consider the flavor profile of the garlic. You don’t want to grow a variety that ends up being way too strong for your taste and having it all go to waste. Garlic flavors can range from mild and sweet to strong and spicy, so select a variety that complements your culinary creations. Some varieties are better for roasting, while others excel when consumed raw in dishes like salads or salsas. Furthermore, some varieties are claimed to have more medicinal benefits than others due to their variation in compounds such as allicin.

3. Clove Sprouting

how to plant garlic

Another garlic planting mistakes I often hear is the need to sprout your garlic cloves before planting. I believe this one came around whenever people realized they could sprout cloves in some water and have a little countertop experiment. However, garlic cloves do not need to be sprouted before going in the garden. Garlic plants have an internal clock, and they’re naturally adapted to sprout and establish roots after being exposed to a period of cold or winter-like temperatures, a process known as vernalization. Pre-sprouting cloves indoors or during warmer weather can disrupt this natural timing, potentially leading to irregular growth patterns and smaller bulbs.

Additionally, when planting sprouted cloves, the roots become disrupted. Even if you are careful and don’t break any roots in the process, the plant will still need to start putting energy into reestablishing those roots in soil. This can further delay the process and puts the clove at a higher risk for fungal or bacterial diseases.

For best results, simply separate the cloves from the garlic bulb and plant them individually, directly in the ground.

4. Unhealthy Cloves

A garlic planting mistakes I see quite often is people just planting any clove in the ground, no matter what it looks like. Choosing cloves that are soft, contain mold spots, or that are rotting is a recipe for worm food. Additionally, planting garlic cloves from store bought garlic is often a bad idea as a majority of them contain anti-sprouting chemicals. This will leave you empty handed and defeated come spring when nothing is sprouting through the ground.

It’s always best to choose cloves from an organic or seed specific source that are firm, healthy and still have their paper skins intact. Additionally, you’ll want to plant the biggest cloves you have as the genetics on the plant are already programmed to give big, beautiful bulbs. With these specifications in mind, you’ll set yourself up for an abundant harvest of garlic!

5. Location

Not choosing the best location for garlic plants is a mistake that could cost you your large bulbs! Garlic bulbs require full sun, 6-8 hours, in order to photosynthesize properly and create big garlic bulbs. Due to this, be sure you not only select a spot with adequate sunlight, but make sure tall crops are not planted in front of garlic come spring. Garlic requires 6-8 months to fully mature. This means that it will be established by the time spring crops roll around. Make sure the sun is not blocked as other crops mature.

Additionally, it is best to practice crop rotation and ensure that garlic is not being planted where it was the last season, or in a spot where any allium once was. Plants in the same family, such as garlic and onions, have an increased risk of spreading disease, attracting unwanted pests, and depleting nutrients when successively grown.

garlic planting mistakes

6. Adding Nutrients

Another huge garlic planting mistakes I see is a lack of soil preparation before planting garlic cloves. Not ensuring that garlic plants have adequate nutrients will leave your plants struggling and produce tiny bulbs. Amend the planting area with a few layers of compost to supply an overall balance of nutrients.

A huge game changer for me as far as the size of my garlic bulbs, was when I started adding wood ash to the holes before placing my cloves in. Wood ash, also called potash, is an essential nutrient for plant growth. It plays a crucial role in various physiological processes within plants, including the development of larger garlic bulbs. Because of this, adding a little extra to the soil will help boost bulb growth and development, as well as produce a healthier plant overall.

7. Planting Depth

A huge garlic planting mistakes I often see people make when planting their garlic is the depth at which they plant it. It’s important to get the planting depth right. If planted too deep, garlic cloves may struggle to break through to the surface come spring time. Additionally, if planted too shallow, the cloves may receive too much cold and moisture from the dreaded winter temps. This in turn could cause the cloves to begin rotting underground, leaving nothing but worm food.

Garlic cloves should be planted approximately 2-3 inches into the soil. Be sure to remove the dirt from the hole and then place your clove in. As opposed to forcing the clove into the earth which can cause soil compaction and cause the garlic’s roots to struggle.

8. Clove Orientation

garlic sunlight

A simple garlic planting mistakes I often see is planting the cloves in the wrong orientation. I’ve seen the cloves just being dropped in the hole, planted upside down and sideways. This could cause the plants to struggle, not reach the surface, or just become unable to grow and rot.

Ensure that your cloves are planted with the pointy side up. The flat end where the garlic roots once were will be the same location the new roots will emerge, and therefore need to be facing down.

9. Spacing

Spacing of garlic cloves was almost one I didn’t want to put on this list. Primarily because I test the boundaries of plant spacing every season! However, there are some important aspects to consider when it comes to proper garlic spacing. Taking these guidelines into consideration will help give each plant enough space to receive adequate nutrients and have plenty of room to make nice, big bulbs.

fall garlic planting

The general recommendation is to plant garlic cloves 4-6 inches apart. However, if you know your soil is healthy and rich, you can probably get away with squeezing them closer together. I always follow the triangle method of high density planting. This basically puts side by side cloves 4-5 inches apart, but places another clove in-between but higher into a new row (see picture). This gives the bulbs plenty of nutrients, room to get big, and I’m able to plant more cloves in a smaller space.

One thing you definitely don’t want to do when it comes to space is plant the whole garlic bulb. Each clove on the garlic bulb is going to turn into a new plant. Leaving them all intact and together will leave them struggling for space and nutrients. You’ll want to separate each clove from the bulb and plant them in their own space.

10. Mulching

Hands down the biggest garlic planting mistakes I see is not mulching the newly planted cloves. Garlic has to survive in the ground for 6-8 months before it’s ready to harvest. Not providing a thick layer of mulch on top could cause moisture loss and allow weeds to grow.

Provide your newly planted garlic cloves with 2-3 inches of mulch. You can use wood chips, straw, or crushed leaves. Basically anything that is going to provide cover and protection for your new plants.

sprouting garlic


By avoiding these common garlic planting mistakes when planting your garlic cloves, you can ensure a big, beautiful garlic harvest! Remember, a mistake for one might just be a blessing for another. So even though these are garlic planting mistakes that can impede your crop’s growth or health, it’s important to asses your individual situation and experiment with what works best for you in your garden. Everyone’s gardening journey is different and very rarely is it a one size fits all mantra.

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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