Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow in a home garden and to encourage the biggest bulbs, it’s important to pay attention to garlic spacing. If the cloves are planted too close together the bulbs won’t size up. Too far apart and you’re not maximizing your garden space. Below you’ll discover recommendations for the best spacing for hardneck and softneck varieties in an in-ground garden, raised bed, or container. You’ll also learn more about the factors that impact how far apart to plant garlic.
What factors affect garlic spacing?
Garlic is a member of the Allium family and related to vegetables like onions, leeks, and elephant garlic. There are a number of factors that can impact garlic spacing in raised beds, in-ground gardens, and even containers. Here are 4 points to keep in mind when you’re deciding how far apart to plant garlic cloves.
1) How garden size affects garlic spacing
Gardeners with plenty of growing space can afford to plant garlic at a distance that encourages big bulbs. Those with small gardens or who grow in pots have a choice. They can plant garlic at the ideal spacing for big bulbs or they can plant a little closer. Planting garlic cloves close together results in smaller sized bulbs and cloves, but a larger overall harvest.
If you’re going to plant garlic closer than the recommended distance, be sure to provide ideal growing conditions. Like most alliums, the ideal soil for growing garlic is a fertile, well-draining loam with a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. First, add several inches of compost or aged manure, as well as a granular organic vegetable fertilizer to the soil. Next, provide consistent moisture to the plants throughout the growing season. Also remove any weeds that sprout to reduce competition for light, water, and nutrients.
2) Type of garlic impacts garlic spacing
There are two types of garlic you can plant: softneck garlic and hardneck garlic. They vary in cold hardiness, clove size and formation, and the production of garlic scapes. Softneck garlics are not as cold hardy as hardneck varieties and therefore grown mostly by those living in a mild climate. Each bulb of softneck garlic is packed with cloves and, unlike hard neck varieties, they don’t develop a central flowering stalk, called a scape. Softneck garlic has a long storage life with the bulbs often lasting up to a year when stored at the right temperature and relative humidity.
Hardneck garlic is the type of garlic that I grow in my cold climate garden. It’s very winter hardy and produces a row of cloves that encircle the scape. Garlic scapes are clipped in early summer so that the energy of the plant can focus on bulb formation. Scapes are delicious and can be used in recipes as a substitute for garlic cloves. Hardneck garlic varieties typically have fewer, but larger cloves per bulb than softneck garlic.
Certain types of hardneck and softneck garlic produce jumbo sized bulbs. Porcelain garlics, like Music, yield large bulbs and are best spaced at least 6 to 8 inches apart. Rocambole cultivars, like Spanish Roja, are also beloved for their large bulbs and produce the biggest bulbs when spaced 6 to 8 inches apart. Certain softneck cultivars like Western Rose and Nookta Rose grow into small to medium sized bulbs and can be spaced 4 to 5 inches apart.
3) How you weed your garden can impact garlic spacing
My weeding strategy is to pull weeds as soon as I spot them. I’ve tried to learn the immature stages of the weeds common to my garden so I can remove them very early in their lifecycle. I pull many by hand, but I also use weeding tools like a Cobrahead or a collinear hoe. If you’re weeding by hand, you can plant garlic cloves a bit closer together. If you’re going to use a garden hoe, or other weeding tool, you may want to leave a bit more room between garlic plants to accommodate the tool. You don’t want to damage the stalks or leaves of garlic plants when weeding as this can impact growth as well as introduce plant diseases.
4) Plant diseases can affect garlic spacing
If you’ve had past issues with garlic diseases like white rot, downy mildew, or botrytis rot don’t skimp on spacing! Give the plants ample room to ensure good air circulation through the foliage. Overcrowded plants are more prone to diseases as the leaves take longer to dry off after rain or irrigation. If disease has been an issue in previous growing seasons, also be sure to mulch the plants with several inches of straw. This can minimize the spread of soilborne organisms.
The best site to plant garlic
Ok now that we know some of the factors that affect garlic spacing, let’s look at the best site for growing garlic. Garlic cloves can be planted in in-ground gardens, raised beds, or in containers. Check out our in-depth article on how to grow garlic in containers. Look for a site that offers 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight and fertile soil. Garlic is a heavy feeder and requires lots of organic matter. I like to incorporate a slow-release organic vegetable fertilizer at planting time to ensure fertility and provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. If grown in soils with low fertility, both plant health and bulb size is impacted. Providing ideal growing conditions also supports closer garlic spacing which is important if you’re planting in small spaces like a raised bed or container.
Prepping garlic for planting
For the biggest bulbs, garlic is best planted in autumn, with most gardeners planting garlic cloves between late September and November. I aim to plant my garlic cloves about 4 weeks before the ground freezes. Garlic is a vegetable that requires a long growing season and is ready to harvest the following summer. If you’re growing hard-necked garlic you’ll also enjoy the bonus harvest of garlic scapes, or flower stalks which emerge in June. They can be roasted, sautéed, or turned into garlic scape pesto.
When you’re ready to plant, prepare your garlic for planting by breaking the bulbs apart into individual cloves. Each clove will yield a bulb. I plant the medium to large sized cloves, keeping small ones for immediate use in the kitchen. You can plant small cloves, but they don’t produce large garlic bulbs.
Garlic spacing in raised beds and in-ground gardens
My spacing strategy is to plant garlic cloves in a grid formation spacing each clove 6 inches apart. My soil is very fertile and this spacing yields plenty of medium to large sized bulbs the following summer. If you want to grow the biggest bulbs you can, plant garlic cloves 6 inches apart with 10 to 12 inches between rows. Keep in mind that a tighter spacing, 4 to 5 inches apart, results in smaller bulbs and cloves, but a larger overall yield. When considering garlic spacing you need to evaluate your goals. Do you want a large harvest or do you want big individual cloves?
How far apart to plant garlic in containers
Gardeners who live in apartments, condos, or rental properties may wish to plant garlic in pots or fabric garlic beds. You can grow garlic in containers for bulbs or even for garlic greens, the flavorful leaves of the garlic plant. Either way, be sure to fill your pots with a rich mixture of a high quality potting mix and compost. Also work in a granular organic fertilizer to provide a steady supply of nutrients. If growing garlic in pots for bulbs, space the cloves 4 inches apart. Once the pot is planted, insulate the surface of the soil with 3 to 4 inches of straw or shredded leaves and move the pot to a spot with full sun. Once the temperatures drop in late autumn, cold climate gardeners need to insulate around the pot with straw or leaves. You can even use bubble wrap!
I often use some of the smaller cloves from my planting garlic to grow garlic greens indoors. I plant them in a pot or small window box inside on my kitchen windowsill or under a grow light. They’re spaced 1 inch apart. Clip the aromatic greens often sprinkling them in stir-fries, pastas, or over scrambled eggs for a garlicky kick.
How far apart to plant garlic bulbils
As noted above, hardneck types of garlic produce scapes, or flower stalks in early summer. Most gardeners clip these off to promote large bulbs, but you can allow some to grow and harvest the bulbils. Bulbils are the tiny cloves that form at the top of the scape. These can be eaten or planted. Bulbils take two to three years to grow into a full sized garlic bulb, but it’s an easy and inexpensive way to produce a lot of garlic. Prepare the garden bed as you would for normal sized cloves, adding compost or aged manure as well as vegetable fertilizer. Plant the bulbils so that they’re about 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart. Mark the bed well because when they sprout in spring the plants are quite small – like a blade of grass – and you can easily miss them. Mulch with an inch or two of straw to protect the bed over winter.
Carefully pull back the mulch in spring to allow the shoots to grow. Harvest in mid-summer, when you harvest full-sized garlic bulbs, and store until you’re ready to plant again in autumn. When you harvest the bulbils they should have sized up to ’rounds’ which is a single garlic clove about 1/3 to 1 inch across. Re-plant in mid to late autumn, planting them 4 to 6 inches apart.
Here’s a quick and useful video with additional tips for garlic planting.
How deep to plant garlic
Spacing between each clove isn’t the only consideration. You’ll also want to plant garlic at the right depth. Garlic cloves should be planted so that the top of the clove is 1 to 2 inches beneath the surface of the soil. I aim for a depth of 2 inches as this provides good winter protection in my Northern climate. If I plant the cloves too shallow, I often see winterkill. Gardeners in milder zones where frigid temperatures aren’t an issue may wish to plant their garlic cloves just 1 inch deep. Once planted, mulch the garlic bed with 3 to 4 inches of straw or shredded leaves to insulate the bed for winter.
The following spring, I side dress my garlic plants with an application of blood meal when they’re about a foot tall. Provide consistent moisture and deep water weekly if there has been no rain. If you’re growing hardneck garlic, clip the scapes with garden snips once they curl. Harvest the bulbs when about half of the leaves have yellowed. Cure garlic for at least 3 to 4 weeks to develop flavor and long term storage quality.
Where to buy garlic for planting?
You’ll find planting garlic available online, as well as in garden centres and farmers markets. Don’t buy garlic for your garden from grocery stores as they’re often treated to prevent sprouting. There are a lot of cultivars of garlic available with varying degrees of pungency and flavor. Don’t be shy about experimenting with both softneck and hardneck varieties. My favorite hardneck garlic varieties include Music, German Extra Hardy, Marino, and Korean Purple. As for softneck garlic varieties, I tend to grow the most cold tolerant like Polish Red, which is hardy and long storing.
For further reading on growing a bumper crop of garlic, be sure to check out these detailed articles:
- Garlic varieties: The best ones to grow in your garden
- Planting garlic in the spring: When and how to plant for big bulbs
- When and how to harvest garlic
- Hardneck versus softneck garlic: Learn the best type to grow
What garlic spacing do you use in your garden?