Growing garlic in pots is a good place to start if you are new to vegetable gardening. Homegrown garlic is very easy to grow as well as having some amazing health benefits.
Along with being easy to grow, garlic also takes up very little space and is rarely affected by any pests or disease.
In this article, you’ll discover how to grow garlic in pots successfully and how easy it is to care for garlic plants.
Some people plant garlic cloves bought from the supermarket in their garden and this is a mistake that should be avoided. Cloves bought from the supermarket for eating may not be suitable for our climate and may well carry diseases that could cause problems for years to come.
So let’s have a look at which varieties are best for growing garlic in pots.
Best Varieties To Grow
First, you should know that there are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck garlic.
The main difference between these two varieties is the production of a stem. Hardneck varieties grow a stem with an edible flower, called a scape. The flowers are great for salads or stir-fries. Hardneck garlic will produce bulbs with fewer cloves, around 10.
If you are surprised that you can eat the garlic scapes, so was I! But they are really delicious and can add a lot of flavour. I use them to add to vegetables, like roasted carrots.
Softneck varieties don’t grow a stem, however the bulbs store much longer than hardneck garlic bulbs. And they also have more cloves per bulb.
Which of the two varieties you grow is up to you, depending on whether you want a flower or not.
In terms of which varieties are best, if you are growing garlic in pots, well, the good news is, it doesn’t matter. Any variety will work well in containers, so you can choose whichever you want.
But here are some varieties that we would recommend:
Elephant Garlic: as the name suggests, this hardneck variety will give you huge garlic bulbs. They have a milder taste, so if you like garlic, but aren’t a hardcore fan, this is the variety for you.
Germidour: this softneck variety has a sweet, peppery taste. It originates in France, but is well adapted to our British weather conditions. You should get quite large bulbs with pink skin, which is why it’s sometimes called Pink Germidour.
Carcossonne Wight: this hardneck variety has a fragrant rich flavour and produces pink gloves. It will need full sun to do well.
Growing Garlic In Pots
To make a success of growing garlic in containers or pots, you have to choose the right container first. Garlic needs a bit of space to develop well, so if you have a 12in (30cm) wide pot, you can plant 6 cloves. Make sure your pot is at least 7in (20cm) deep, to give the roots enough space too.
Put 5 cloves in a circle in the pot, 10 cm apart from each other and also away from the edge and the final one in the middle. That has worked well for us in the past.
Garlic requires well drained soil to prevent the bulbs from rotting, so start off by checking that your pot has drainage holes. If not, just use a drill to make some yourself.
Then put a layer of stones in, to make sure that the water can drain away well. Fill the container with compost.
Now you are ready to plant your cloves!
How To Plant Garlic Cloves
Garlic is best planted in late autumn or very early winter. October and November are the best months for planting, but it’s possible to get a fine crop from garlic planted in December and January. I find early autumn gives the cloves a few weeks to get established before the really cold winter weather comes in.
Some varieties of garlic are suitable for spring planting. Your packet will tell you when it is best to plant your garlic. However, most varieties will need to be planted in autumn, as they need the cold temperatures to bolt (develop into bulbs).
Take out the individual cloves from your bulb and push them pointy side up into your container. You want to plant them about 1in (2.5cm) deep.
Give them a good soak but don’t overwater them.
Looking After The Crop & Harvesting
The good thing about garlic is that they really do not need watering. In many cases, watering garlic regularly can lead to rot rather than improving the crop. That’s why drainage holes are so important. You do also want to prevent dry soil though, so if there is a dry spell, you want to give your garlic plant some water.
As with onions, regular weeding is important. The lack of leaves that garlic plants have does mean that weeds can quickly compete against the plants and steal the nutrients that the garlic plants really need to thrive. Pulling weeds as soon as you see them is the best method, but a good weeding every one and then is fine if a more hands-off approach is desired.
When you see the first spring growth (probably beginning of April), start feeding your garlic plants. This will give them the nutrients they need to grow big bulbs.
Top Tip: Feed them with a fertiliser that is high in nitrogen and do so until mid-May.
Garlic bulbs are harvested when the leaves of the plant have died off and turned a crispy yellow. Depending on the planting time, this can be in June, July or into August.
The plants should be kept somewhere dry for several weeks to dry out. Removing as much moisture from the bulbs as possible is important as this prevents rot that may happen in storage.
When it comes to storage, the bulbs can be tired together by their stems and should be kept somewhere free of damp and with good ventilation. Checking the bulbs once a month to remove any that may have rotted will stop this spreading to the other bulbs.
Pests And Diseases Affecting Garlic Plants
Garlic is one of these plants that aren’t massively affected by pests or diseases and especially if you are growing garlic in pots.
In fact, they repel quite a lot of pest insects, not just vampires, due to their smell. And because of this, they are used as a companion plant to keep other plants pest free. If you want to learn more, read our compete guide about companion planting for vegetables.
There is really only one pest that will attack your garlic plants and that’s birds. Clearly, they are not put off by the smell.
In particular, pigeons love to steal the freshly planted cloves, even when they have germinated.
Thankfully, this is an easy problem to solve, especially if you are growing garlic in pots. Just put some netting over your pot and the pigeons won’t get to your garlic.
One disease that could affect garlic is leek rust. This is a fungal disease that thrives in wet weather.
It is quite easy to see if your plant is affected, you will see orange spots on the garlic leaves.
The bulbs are still fine to eat, but you want to harvest them as soon as you see any sign of leek rust and consume them as soon as possible. Dispose of the leaves and don’t compost.
Once your plant is affected, there is nothing you can do, however, there are some things you can do to prevent an infection:
- leek rust is most common in wet weather, so over watering can increase the risk of an infection. Water from below, keeping the foliage as dry as possible.
- Ensure there is good air circulation, by spacing the individual plants out. This will ensure that the leaves will dry off quicker after rain.
- If you spot any signs on one of your plants, remove it immediately to stop the disease from spreading to the other plants.
- Always buy garlic bulbs from a reputable supplier to ensure you don’t buy infected bulbs
Another disease that can affect garlic is onion white rot. This is a soil-borne fungal disease. It affects the garlic head, so it’s difficult to spot an infection. It will cause the leaves to go yellow, but this will happen when the garlic is ready to harvest, so the first thing you will know about it, is when you harvest your crop.
Infected garlic bulbs will have a fluffy white fungus on the bottom and small black growths. The bulbs could also be rotten.
The good news is, if you are growing garlic in pots, you can prevent this disease fairly easy, as long as you use fresh soil and don’t reuse any potting soil, you will be fine.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you still have questions about growing garlic in pots, you might find the answer in our FAQ section.
Does Garlic Need A Lot Of Water?
No, garlic likes moist soil, but does not do well in wet soil. Most of the time you don’t need to water garlic, unless it doesn’t rain for a period of time.
If you overwater your garlic plants, you risk the bulbs rotting and destroying your crop.
Put a thin wooden stick in the pot, ideally long enough to reach close to the bottom. If you pull it out, and it is dry, you need to water your garlic. If it is still moist, you can leave it.
Once the foliage starts to go yellow, there is no need to water your garlic any more.
Does Garlic Like Sun Or Shade?
Garlic does thrive in full sun, so if you have a sunny spot that’s great. Keep in mind, that if you are growing garlic in pots, then being in full sun all day, might dry out the soil quicker than if planted in a bed.
So keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil. You want to keep the soil moist but not wet.
Because garlic plants won’t grow very high, weeds might outgrow it and cast a shadow. To avoid this, weed regularly, even when you grow garlic in containers.
What Is The Best Month To Plant Garlic?
Most garlic varieties are planted in autumn, this gives the roots time to establish good root growth. Garlic needs cold weather in the winter months to develop a bulb.
They will then go dormant over winter and start growing in spring when the weather gets warmer.
There are varieties that you can plant in spring, mostly ones that originate from countries with warmer climates. When you buy your garlic bulbs for planting, the packet will tell you when you should plant the cloves.
For most garlic varieties, I would say before Christmas.
Overall, garlic is really a worthwhile crop to grow. The taste of the fresh garlic from your garden is usually far superior to those bought in the supermarket, and they will last all year. It’s hard to find an easier crop to grow. And growing garlic in pots makes it ideal even for small gardens.