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  1. Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family and has been cultivated since ancient times in Asia. 
  2. Botanically, the bulb is not a root but a set of cloves. Each clove consists of a bud enclosed in 2 modified leaves. Since garlic rarely produces seed, cloves are used to propagate garlic.
  3. There are 2 types of garlic: hardneck and softneck garlic. Elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks and is larger in size and milder in taste than common garlic.
  4. Garlic can be grown in spring as an annual, but to get nicely cloved garlic, planting in fall before freeze-up is recommended for the prairies and far north.
  5. The distinctive aroma and flavour of garlic comes from organic sulfur compounds.
  6. Hardneck garlic produces scapes (the stem and flower bud) which are edible. 

Garlic belongs to the Alliaceae family, also known as the onion family. This genus includes garlic, onion, scallions, shallots, leeks and chives. The word allium is the Latin word for garlic. All of these plants are known for the organic sulfur compounds that give them their unique flavours.

Since all of these plants share a common ancestor, they all have very similar growing needs and are prone to similar problems.

While they are quite similar, there are some key differences, so to ensure best success so we've broken these into separate articles for easier instruction.

Garlic is high in vitamins C and B6, as well as calcium, iron, potassium and protein. Check here for detailed information from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends that roughly half of the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables.

Canada Food Guide: What's On Your Plate?

Growing outdoors

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Garlic prefers to grow in a rich, sandy, sandy loam or loam soil.

Garlic needs full sun for best growth. Garlic is not suitable for partial shade or shady areas.

Garlic is best grown outdoors in the ground in unraised/ground level gardens if the soil is suitable.

Raised beds are not recommended for growing fall planted garlic in most parts of the prairies and in the far north because of the risk of cold damage to overwintering bulbs. However, gardeners have reported sucess growing fall planted garlic in raised beds in milder parts of the prairies along with the use of deep mulch.

Raised beds are suitable if growing spring-planted garlic. 

Garlic is not typically suitable for most container, hydroponic, straw bale, or other alternative growing methods.

Garlic should be planted from cloves, either in fall (preferred) or in spring (okay).

Fall planting

The ideal time to plant garlic is in the fall. Exposure to cold temperatures helps to develop cloves. The cloves can survive winter if they are adequately mulched. The cloves start growing again in spring. By late summer the fully grown garlic plants will have developed cloved bulbs.

Garlic cloves can be planted any time between late August and early October, up to three weeks before the ground freezes, which give the cloves time to develop roots.

  • Some studies show that fewer cloves survive when planting is too close to freeze-up, which suggests that late August or early September may be a better time to plant. However, there is a risk that planting too earlywill cause shoots to grow above the soil line if the weather is warm. Watch the weather forecast and use your best judgement about when you plant.
  • Knowing the first expected fall frost date for your location will help you plan when to fall plant. This date is based on averages and varies according to where you live. To find the date of the first fall frost for your area, click on this link and select your location: It takes some time after your first fall frost for soil to freeze completely, so keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Cover fall-planted garlic cloves with a good insulating layer of snow or a 10 - 15 cm (4 - 6") straw mulch to help the garlic survive the winter. Elephant garlic is more sensitive to cold temperatures and may not survive Saskatchewan winters unless very well protected.

Spring planting

It is possible to plant garlic in early spring, but the cloves will not receive the cold temperatures needed for "cloving". Garlic planted in early spring may produce bulbs referred to as "rounds", a small, round bulb that has not cloved. Garlic rounds are perfectly edible. If spring planting garlic, expect small round, uncloved bulbs and a smaller overall harvest.

Garlic can be planted as soon as the frost is out of the ground (early May), usually 2 - 3 weeks before your last expected average frost free date in your area. We've given suggested dates below, but you can adjust these to your local conditions.

  • Knowing the last expected spring frost date for your location will help you plan when to plant. The date is based on averages and varies according to where you live – it is as early as mid-May for Saskatoon, Estevan and Swift Current, SK, while Yellowknife is May 30 and the Moosonee region in Manitoba is June 10. Find the date of the last spring frost at this link: Click on where you live on the map.

Separating garlic into cloves

Preparing the cloves

Garlic must be planted from individual cloves of garlic. Separate or 'crack' the garlic into individual cloves just before you plant. Take care not to damage the cloves as the bulbs are separated. Select the largest, healthiest cloves for planting because large cloves produce the largest bulbs and plant. Use any leftover small cloves for cooking.

Discard any cloves that are damaged or diseased. Check for signs of penicillium blue mould, a common storage disease that causes pitting of the clove and/or an obvious powdery blue-green mould.


Plant individual cloves 5 - 10 cm (2" - 4") deep with the pointed end facing up. Space the cloves about 7 - 8 cm apart (3") within the row. Allow about 30 cm (1') in between the rows.


Don't forget to label what you planted. It's also helpful to draw a map to help you track planting locations and success each year. This information is critical if you're rotating your crops to help prevent insect and disease issues.

There are two main types of common garlic: hard neck and soft neck.
  • Hardneck garlic (also called stiffneck garlic) produces a very stiff stem emerging from the centre of the bulb. Hardneck tends to be hardier on the prairies. Hardnecks tend to have fewer but larger individual cloves than softnecks
  • Softneck garlic stems are soft and is suitable for braiding. This type tends to store longer than hardneck garlic. The bulbs contain lots of smaller cloves.

Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is not a true garlic - it's more closely related to leeks. It contains a small number of very large cloves (usually 4 or 5) and is very mild tasting compared to common garlic.

A note about purchasing garlic for planting:  Some gardeners ask about using garlic from the grocery store. There is a risk that they may carry diseases, or may not be a variety that is well-adapted for growing on the prairies or the far north. Sometimes grocery store garlic  has been treated with a plant hormone to discourage sprouting. It's best to purchase bulbs from online garlic/seed suppliers or at your local greenhouse.

Cultivar recommendations:

  1. Here are cultivar recommendations from the North Dakota State University Cultivar Trials, as they share a similar prairie climate and soils. You may download their list here: North Dakota State University Vegetable Cultivar Recommendations for 2021
      • no cultivar recommendations available
  2. The following cultivars are recommendations from the University of Saskatchewan vegetable program field trials which were conducted from 1989 through 2016. 
    • Hardneck garlic: Atkin Russion, CGP Centre Core, Czech, FL F4, German Red, Russian Red, Music, Stiffneck
    • Softneck garlic: Cedar, WCS Silverskin, Vesseys
  • Fall planted garlic needs winter protection: apply a 15 - 20 cm (4 - 6") layer of mulch over the garlic bed. Pull back the mulch in spring, but leave enough to cover soil around the emerging plants. Use what's left to mulch other vegetables and/or adjacent pathways in the garden.
  • Garlic competes poorly with weeds especially when it is actively growing, so stay on top of weeding and consider mulch for pathways. Besides weeding, garlic is typically low maintenance. It does not require fertilizer and is usually free of insect and disease problems.
  • Garlic does best with an ample supply of water, about  2.5 cm (1") of water per week for most soils. Sandy soil may require additional water during hot dry weather. Garlic grown under moisture stress will have reduced yields, especially when soil is dry during bulb production. Water early in the day to allow time for the foliage to dry before nightfall in order to reduce disease susceptibility. As garlic matures, slow down or cease watering, otherwise bulb rot will occur.
  • Garlic produces scapes in mid summer, which are the stem and flower bud of a hardneck garlic plant which emerges from the base of the bulb. Research at the University of Maine has shown that leaving the scape on hardback garlic reduces the eventual size of the harvested bulb. When scapes are left intact, the plant puts energy into the scapes at the expense of the cloved bulbs. Remove the scapes early - when the scape is young and tender and just as it is beginning to thicken. Scapes are edible, have a mild garlicky flavour and can be sauteed or added to stirfy, soups and stews.

Fall planting garlic cloves is recommended for garlic grown on the prairies. 


You can grow hardneck or softneck garlic in the far north. The hardneck varieties tend to be more cold hardy than the softneck garlic. 

Plant in early spring as soon as soil has thawed. To thaw soil faster, lay a sheet of clear plastic over the soil and anchor the edges to keep it from blowing away. Studies show that clear plastic warms soil faster than black or other colours of plastic. Remove the plastic before you plant.

Plant garlic cloves and install low tunnels to make the environment as warm as possible. Remove the tunnels once the garlic plants are about 10 cm tall if you wish. 

See: Growing garlic in the Yukon - it's a thing!



Forgot what you planted? Not sure if it's a weed? Germination in onion

See our preservation section for more videos.

Growing in containers

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Spring planted garlic can be grown in a container outdoors, although bulbs are less likely to clove and the resulting rounds may be small.

Fall planted garlic in containers would result in frozen bulbs and is not recommended.

See: Vegetable container gardening

Growing indoors in a container is not recommended. 

See our Growing indoors page for detailed growing advice.

Saving seeds

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Garlic is grown from cloves rather than seeds. Purchase fresh bulbs for planting every year.

Although garlic produces scapes, it rarely produces seeds. Garlic is best grown from garlic cloves.


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A sign that garlic is mature is when the leaf tops begin to dry, discolour (yellow) and bend towards the ground. 

Harvest garlic when the lower 1/3 of the leaves are yellow and have died back.

If harvesting is delayed too long after the tops have died back, the bulbs may rot.  A further delay in harvesting may result in the shattering of the bulbs.


Loosen the soil around the garlic plants with a fork and then gently lift the plants.





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Curing garlic

Once harvested, the bulbs must be cured (dried) properly to prolong storage life. Spread bulbs on layers of newspaper for 10-14 days at 27°C in a well-ventilated area. After curing, trim the tops and roots. You may also remove excess dried outer layers of skin to improve the bulb's appearance. Store bulbs in the dark just above 0°C and 60-70% relative humidity in woven "onion" bags or in wicker baskets.

Softneck garlic can be braided and hung up in the kitchen for use throughout the winter. If a braid is desired, the garlic must be harvested while the leaves are still green, as dry leaves are difficult to braid.

Properly cured garlic should store 4-6 months.

You can store properly cured garlic for 3 - 5 months.

The ideal storage conditions for garlic is 16°C in dry, dark conditions. Place garlic in a ventilated container such as a wicker basket. Check garlic frequently for signs of spoilage.

Garlic stored longer than 5 months may begin to shrivel or sprout.

See our cold storage page for detailed advice on finding a suitable storage location and choosing storage methods

Other preservation methods we recommend include freezing, fermenting, dehydrating (drying) or canning.

Cooking and preserving

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Both garlic bulbs and scapes are edible.

Preservation methods we recommend include freezing, fermenting, dehydrating (drying) or canning.


This method for making powdered tomatoes can be used to make garlic powder too

Alternative ways to eat common vegetables



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Garlic are relatively low maintenance. Providing their water, light and soil needs are managed they don't tend to get a lot of issues. Mulching fall planted garlic and keeping weeds picked will go a long way towards preventing most issues.

Onion root maggot are an occasional problem.

See the Common problems tab on this page for advice on this and other specific garlic issues.




Common questions

These are called 'bulbils' which formed on the scapes that appeared in early summer. These can be planted - or eaten if you choose. Plant the bulbils fairly close together - they will get larger next year (more of a simple round bulb) but it will take a couple of years to become fully-cloved garlic bulbs.

This might have been caused by using small cloves when planting. Always use the biggest healthiest cloves for planting. Save the small cloves for immediate use.

Another reason is lack of water during bulb development. Water your patch regularly during the growing season and especially when the bulbs are growing and expanding. It helps to mulch your bed to retain moisture, especially in a dry, hot year. You can reduce water later in the season when it gets closer to harvesting your garlic. 

Research and student activities

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Read about new research from the University of Saskatchewan about using synthetic mulches for garlic production here.