In pasta, stir-fries, curries, on toast or as a delicious creamy dip, garlic – a member of the onion family – always tastes better if you’ve grown it yourself. It’s one of the hardiest crops you can grow, and garlic does really well through the great British winter. With the right care and preparation, growing garlic can be a rewarding endeavour for gardeners of all skill levels.
So if you want to know when to sow garlic in the UK and how to grow garlic in the UK, this article will let you know the best time to sow, how to care for your plants and how to harvest them once they’re ready.
When to Plant Garlic in the UK
Knowing when to sow garlic in the UK is vital for a good crop the following year. The key to a successful crop generally lies in understanding the best planting options and times, as well as the specific care requirements for garlic cultivation in the temperate British climate. So if you’re wondering when to plant garlic in the UK, there are generally two options.
Option One: Autumn Planting
Typically, garlic is planted in the UK between late autumn and early winter, around October to November, before the ground freezes. This timing allows the garlic to establish roots and lie dormant over winter – important for good bulb development – before resuming growth in early spring.
Option Two: Spring Planting
For those who miss the autumn planting window, there’s also a spring planting opportunity, usually around February to March, but it can be as early as January if the weather is unusually mild. This may be preferable if you have heavy soil but can result in a later harvest and potentially smaller bulbs.
The Two Main Types of Garlic
When you’re deciding when to plant garlic in the UK, you’ve also got two main options on the type of garlic you want to grow.
Softneck garlic is known for its versatility and long shelf life, making it a popular choice among both gardeners and cooks. Characterised by its soft, pliable stems that allow it to be easily plaited for storage, softneck varieties typically produce a larger number of individual cloves per bulb and have a mild flavour. They are well-suited to milder climates and are the type most commonly found in supermarkets.
Hardneck garlic is distinguished by its stiff central stalk, or ‘neck,’ and is celebrated for its bold, complex flavours. These varieties produce fewer but larger cloves around the stem and are known to thrive in cooler climates. In addition to their flavourful bulbs, hardneck garlic varieties also produce edible flower stalks called scapes, which are a delicacy in their own right, and are harvested in early summer before the garlic bulbs are ready.
How to Grow Garlic in the UK
Planting garlic is relatively straightforward and can result in a generous harvest. Here’s a basic step-by-step guide to get you started.
Choose Your Garlic
Start with disease-free garlic bulbs from a reputable garden centre or seed supplier. Choose between softneck and hardneck varieties based on your climate and flavour preference. Some of the most popular softneck varieties include Wight Cristo, Maddock Wight, Picardy Wight, and Germidour, and common hardneck varieties include Lautrec Wight, Kingsland Wight, Caulk Wight and German Porcelain. Depending on where you are in the UK, some varieties may perform better based on specific microclimates, so it’s worth doing some additional research about garlic that’s adapted to your local climate.
Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. Work compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve fertility and choose a spot with full sun.
How to Plant Garlic
Break the garlic bulb into individual cloves, leaving the papery skin intact and plant the cloves pointed end up, 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep and 15 cm (6 inches) apart, in rows spaced 30 cm (12 inches) apart. Once the bulbs are in the ground, water them to settle the soil.
Plant Care & Maintenance
Knowing how to grow garlic in the UK is a great start, but like all crops, your garlic will need to be looked after, especially over the winter months. Here are a few tips that will hopefully result in a bumper harvest –
- Keep the garlic bed weed-free, as garlic does not compete well with weeds
- Water regularly, ensuring the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Reduce watering once the leaves start to yellow
- Apply a layer of mulch to retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds
- Use a balanced fertiliser in early spring as the plants start to grow again, and again when the bulbs begin to form
So you know when to plant garlic in the UK and how to grow garlic in the UK, but what about harvesting?
Garlic is usually ready to harvest in summer, when the lower leaves start to brown and die back. For softneck varieties, this is when the stems become soft and can be bent over. For hardneck varieties, it’s when the scapes have curled and can be cut.
Carefully loosen the soil around the bulbs with a fork and gently lift them out. Avoid pulling the stems, as this might damage the bulbs.
Allow the garlic to dry in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight for a few weeks until the outer skin becomes papery. This process, known as curing, is essential for storage.
Store cured garlic in a cool, dry place. Softneck varieties can be plaited and hung up, while hardneck varieties should be stored in a mesh bag or basket.
A Rewarding Harvest
Knowing when to plant garlic in the UK and how to grow garlic is a rewarding and enjoyable experience for all gardeners. If you time the planting correctly, and follow the key steps for planting, care, and harvesting, you’ll usually get a great crop of gorgeous garlic, ideal for all your culinary needs!