A common question asked by the new gardeners about garlic is when to harvest garlic or when it is ready for harvest. Though there has been a debate among the growers, it generally depends on the planting time and variety.
Generally, garlic is ready to harvest when most plant leaves have dried and turned yellow. Some growers harvest when ⅓rd of leaves have turned yellow, and some harvest when ⅔rd of leaves become yellow. However, the only way to be sure is by digging up a few bulbs and checking them.
While harvesting garlic, many things require consideration and understanding. I will explain everything in this guide. Besides, I will also share how to harvest garlic.
When is garlic harvested?
While planning to grow garlic, when and how to harvest garlic is a subject of concern.
Because if you are unaware, you will face two situations:
- Either you dig them up early to have tiny bulbs.
- Or, you dig up too late and receive overripe bulbs.
In general, garlic is harvested three times a year:
The first harvesting is done in the early spring.
The plants get one foot tall.
You can pull out the whole plant to collect the scallion or the fresh garlic for cooking.
You can also cut some leaves to use in your cuisine.
The second harvest is done in June, i.e., late spring or early summer.
It is the time to harvest the scapes. It grows from a woody stalk at the center.
Removing the scapes helps in forming bigger bulbs.
You can also store them in the refrigerator for three months.
The third and final harvest is done in the late summer or mid-July to late August.
However, you might have to push the timing a bit ahead if the weather is very warm or it has been warm for long stretches.
Softneck vs. Hardneck
Softneck varieties are native to warmer zones.
They have two layers of small cloves and one layer of big cloves.
It comes with a good flavor.
The common Softneck varieties are Silverskin and Artichoke.
The former has a stronger flavor than the latter and can be stored for one year.
On the contrary, Artichoke is stored for 8 months only.
The final harvest of the Softneck varieties is done in the late spring.
They do not have any second harvest because they do not grow scapes.
Hardneck varieties are great for the colder zones.
Their deep roots help the garlic plants to survive the frost and thaw in the ground.
They have one layer of large cloves.
Hardneck varieties are harvested three times because they have scapes.
When is garlic ready to harvest?
Garlic ready for harvest depends on many factors:
- Spring planting
- Fall planting
- Seeds or bulbils
- Garlic varieties
Depending on these factors, you have to determine when garlic is ready to harvest.
Garlic takes at least 8-9 months to prepare for harvesting.
But depending on the above various aspects, the timing can vary.
For example, you can harvest fall-planted garlic 4 weeks earlier than the spring-planted garlic.
Here also, the timing varies depending on the varieties.
Signs that garlic is ready for harvesting
When the garlic bulbs are ready for harvest, the plant will show signs like most of the leaves becoming dry, weak, and yellow during the late summer or fall.
Though the timing may vary, the signs will tell you when garlic is prepared to get harvested.
When is the spring-planted garlic ready to harvest?
Garlic planted in the spring season is ready to be harvested from the summer until fall, i.e., from July to September.
The months may vary depending on the hemispheres.
Again, it also depends a bit on the weather.
If it is too warm for too long, wait for some more days to harvest the garlic.
Sometimes, Softneck garlic planted in the spring will be ready for harvest in the early summer.
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When is fall-planted garlic ready to harvest?
Garlic planted in the fall gets ready to harvest from spring or the end of June.
Some Softneck varieties get ready in May.
Fall planted garlic gets ready to harvest 4-6 weeks earlier than the garlic planted in spring.
When is garlic ready to harvest from seed or bulbils?
Most people grow garlic from the cloves as it is easier.
Very few people grow from seeds.
However, if your planted garlic has developed scapes or flower heads, you might grow garlic from the bulbils.
The young bulbs coming out from the center of the scape will take time to develop roots.
However, it will have signs like the normal bulbs grown from fall planting while harvesting.
The garlic bulbs from seeds will take 4-6 weeks more than those grown from cloves to reach maturity.
It is because they need the winter cold to trigger germination.
When is Hardneck garlic ready to harvest?
It would be best to plant Hardneck varieties in the fall.
So, the signs and dates for harvesting are usually the same worldwide.
Once you get familiar with growing garlic plants, you can identify the signs indicating that they are ready for harvest.
When the Hardneck garlic is ready to harvest, the garlic plant leaves will be limp.
The leaves will also become weak and yellow at the tips.
Wait for at least 3-4 weeks after you see scapes.
But don’t let the plant have brown leaves more than ⅔rd.
When you see discolored leaves, stop watering the plant and observe it for a few days.
When you see that half of the leaves have become dry, yellow, or brown from top to the base, Hardneck is ready for harvesting.
When is Softneck garlic ready to harvest?
You can plant Softneck garlic cloves either in the fall or in spring.
Some Softneck garlic takes time to get harvested depending on the different varieties.
But most Softneck takes a shorter time to become mature.
Though Softneck garlic is native to warmer zones, it will also require some winter cold.
Softneck garlic planted in the fall is ready for harvest in late spring.
Some Softneck varieties get ready in the late summer.
Softneck varieties have tight and stable leaves and can handle the stress of drying leaves better than Hardneck varieties.
So, even if the leaves become brown more than ⅔rd, it won’t cause much harm.
However, it is better to lift the plant before all the leaves have died.
When is wild garlic ready for harvest?
Wild garlic is low in flavor and even small, so it is more about the leaves.
Wild garlic leaves can be harvested any time from March until they leave brown and die back in the summer.
Make sure to leave behind some leaves to let the bulbs feed for the next year.
Wild garlic is a perennial and comes back every year.
You have to control the plants a bit as they can spread widely.
Garlic maturity level depends on varieties.
In general, garlic takes 8-9 months to reach maturity and is ready for harvest.
There are some variations.
Sometimes, some garlic will take 4 weeks to mature even if you plant them together.
Most of the Softneck garlic reaches maturity 6 months after planting.
Some may take a shorter time because of the warmer temperatures.
It will begin to grow vigorously once the temperature gets warm during the spring and summer.
Hardneck varieties take a full 8-9 months to reach maturity level.
Before it starts growing, it needs the winter cold for vernalization.
That is why it takes more time.
Despite taking time, it is more flavorful than Softneck varieties.
How to harvest garlic successfully?
Harvesting garlic is very easy. However, a little bit of care and observation is required.
It might be tempting to pull out the plant to get the bulbs, but you might end up with a broken stem and early digging, which is not recommended.
Let’s go through some simple harvesting guides.
How to water the garlic before harvesting?
Before you plan to harvest garlic, you should be careful about watering.
Garlic will require good watering for consistently moist soil during the growing season.
The soil should neither be too dry nor too wet and soggy.
Besides, it would be best not to water them in the winter because the plants will remain dormant due to the frozen ground.
Stop watering them when you see garlic plants beginning to show yellow or dry leaves in the spring or summer.
It is the time when the garlic bulbs will begin to develop their outer skins.
Also, stop fertilizing.
How to harvest?
Now comes the main part.
In general, garlic has to be planted over loose, well-drained soil in the ground, raised beds, or big pots.
It would be better if the soil remained loose.
Harvesting will get easier.
If the soil is loose, you can pull out the bulbs by holding the base of the stem and dragging it gently upward.
But, if the soil is not that loose, you have to use a fork to dig the bulbs out.
Make sure not to hurt the garlic bulbs.
Now, remove the excess soil from the bulbs’ bodies and let them dry for 1-2 weeks.
Wait until the whole stem has turned brown and the outer skins have dried.
Don’t trim the roots or the leaves when you harvest garlic.
That can encourage the bacteria to enter the bulbs, reduce storage capacity, and increase mold growth.
Avoid dropping or bumping them. Since garlic is sensitive, sudden dropping can reduce the bulbs’ flavor.
What to do after harvesting garlic?
Once harvesting is done, it is time to cure and store the bulbs.
Garlic will last for a long time, provided you store and cure them well.
As mentioned earlier, you must let the bulbs dry for 1-2 weeks.
If there is any soil sticking to the bulbs, let it stay.
Over time, when the outer skins dry, the soil will fall off on its own.
Keep the bulbs in a dry and shady location with lots of airflow around for drying.
You can hang them in bunches or bundle them in the greenhouse.
Do not ever think of trimming the roots and the leaves, as I said before.
It is because the bulbs will still draw energy from them.
So, the leaves and roots keep them healthy and help them cure.
The leaves and the roots won’t let any bugs or diseases enter your bulbs while they are curing.
Garlic will take at least 2 weeks to 2 months to get cured.
Not all the bulbs will need to be cured.
You can take out some and use them fresh to make garlic spray.
If you wish to plant the bulbs again, save the larger, healthier, and cured bulbs.
Cleaning the bulbs
Before you store them, cleaning is essential.
When all the leaves have turned brown, and the roots have withered, trim them around ¼ or ½ inches.
Since they have dried and withered, some will fall on their own and get separated.
Don’t wash the bulbs.
Don’t remove all the leaves as they will be protecting the cloves.
Remove only the messiest ones.
Storing the bulbs
Keep the garlic in a cool and dry place with temperatures around 40-60°F.
Usually, they are stored at 32°F storage.
But, maintain only 40-60°F during home storage.
You can keep them in your cupboard or storage shelf.
Do not store them in the refrigerator.
The humidity around the stored bulbs should range around 60%.
Please don’t keep them in air-tight or damp areas.
That will give rise to fungal diseases.
What happens if you harvest garlic early?
If you harvest garlic earlier than the usual time or before the leaves turn yellow, the bulbs won’t form the outer skins.
The cloves will be smaller and have excessive moisture.
When you cure them, they will take more time to dry.
Garlic grows at its best during the final growing months.
Taking them out early will be a waste of time and effort you have put in for months.
Even one week earlier harvesting can have a great effect.
The skin that protects the bulbs from diseases won’t get hardened, for which the bulbs might rot at the time of storage.
So, always get ready for harvest when half of the leaves have turned yellow or brown.
What happens if you harvest garlic late?
If you are late to harvest the garlic bulbs, the bulbs will grow out of the outer skins and split open into halves.
Once they break out of their outer skin, they will become vulnerable to fungal infection.
As a result, you will see the bulbs rotting during storage.
If you grow a small number of garlic plants and you know you can get the ideal bulbs within a few weeks of drying, you can keep them under the ground for a little longer.
These garlic bulbs may cook fine but might create problems at the time of storage by rotting.
Harvesting garlic is not a very difficult job. It is only a matter of time and patience if you plant them and take care of them well. The right time to harvest garlic is 8-9 months after planting. Some may get ready to harvest before that.
Instead of following these timings, try to look for the signs signifying that garlic is ready; for example, half of the leaves become weak, brown or yellow, and dry.
If the weather remains warm in stretches, wait for a few more days. Don’t be too late or too early. Always watch for the signs.
Reference: The Pennsylvania State University, Garlic Production for the Gardener, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Ohio State University Extension.