How to succeed with garlic planted in spring (with photos)

Did you miss out on planting your garlic in the fall? Maybe you were surprised by early cold weather or simply forgot?

Worry not.

You can plant garlic in spring and harvest bulbs later in the season.

The key is to get a few simple details right. Make sure you plant a suitable variety and type of garlic, plant the cloves as early as possible, use well-draining soil that retains moisture well, and do not harvest too early or late.

My simple process for growing larger bulbs from garlic planted in spring works. Your bulbs may be a bit smaller than the cloves you plant in the fall, but trust me, they are big enough to be worth planting. 

Let’s look at my best 5 tips.

1. Plant the correct type of garlic seed 

Buy garlic seeds from a reputable vendor. And yes, garlic seeds refer to bulbs or cloves from last year’s harvest reserved for planting. 

The Internet is full of people showing how they use store-bought garlic to grow fresh garlic in their gardens.

And it is true. 

You can use garlic bulbs bought at the grocery store. And you may even get a good harvest.

Two varieties of garlic seeds to be planted in spring
Two varieties of garlic seeds for planting in spring

But this does not mean that you should. 

Store-bought bulbs are often treated to prevent sprouting in the store, and you may end up with cloves that simply do not sprout. Also, the bulbs at the grocery store can often be up to a year old so results will vary. 

Furthermore, these store-bought bulbs are not necessarily tested for viruses or diseases, and you risk introducing all kinds of pests into your garden.

And finally, are these store-bought bulbs grown in a climate similar to yours? 

Why risk it? 

Proper garlic seed is not expensive. If you have been here before, you know I am all about cost-saving hacks, but using store-bought garlic bulbs is not worth it.

2. The size of the clove matters

When planting in spring, you want to plant larger-sized cloves for good-sized bulbs. 

Larger cloves hold more energy, helping to build robust root systems quickly. This makes a difference, as the growing period is shorter when we plant in spring compared to fall.

A good-sized Morado garlic seed clove
A good-sized Morado garlic seed clove

Smaller cloves are great for growing garlic greens, but I have had much more success with large cloves for growing bulbs.

3. Cold exposure (vernalization)

Choose softneck garlic varieties when planting in spring. 

Softneck varieties do not need cold exposure, referred to as vernalization [1], to grow bulbs and can be planted directly in the ground from January through March; the earlier, the better.

I plant in early January or February here in zone 7 and find that the low temperatures give me larger bulbs than cloves planted later in the spring. 

Hardneck garlic varieties require cold exposure to grow into full bulbs. Without cold exposure, you will harvest a single clove bulb called a “round. “

If you insist on growing a hardneck variety, place the bulb in the fridge for 1-3 weeks, aiming for a temperature around 0 to -3 degrees Celsius (32-26 degrees Fahrenheit). As this is a problematic temperature range in a regular fridge, you should shoot for as close to zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) as possible. 

If you put your garlic bulbs in the fridge, put them in an open plastic bag and check back every few days to prevent dehydration or mold.

My favorite softneck garlic varieties include: 

  • Messidor: easy-to-grow French softneck variety, bulbs hold between 8-12 cloves
Messidor garlic seed cloves
Messidor garlic seed cloves
  • Morado: easy-to-grow Spanish softneck variety with lots of character, easy to recognize with white and purple cloves, bulbs hold between 10-15 cloves, 
Morado garlic seed cloves
Morado garlic seed cloves

Plant cloves about 10cm / 4 inches apart at twice the depth of the clove

4. Plant early

If possible, always plant your garlic in the fall. Garlic is a slow grower, and the bulbs need time to develop. As an added benefit, you get cold exposure over winter as a bonus. 

Planting garlic early February
Planting garlic in early February

As I have already hinted, earlier is better. January is better than February, and February is better than March. You get it.

In zone 7, plant by early March if you expect to harvest bulbs.

If you plant too late, you can still harvest a bulb, but it will most likely be a single clove bulb, a so-called “round,” 

But remember, there is always enough time to grow garlic greens.

And do not worry about freezing temperatures in early spring. I had snowfall in March, and my garlic did just great. See the video below, taken in my garden on 31 March

Garlic will survive snow and cold weather

5. Location and growing conditions

Raised beds are excellent as the soil drains well and warms up early in the morning.

Raised garden beds are ideal for garlic
Raised garden beds are ideal for garlic

Ideally, protect your plants from the wind and always use rich, well-draining soil with good moisture retention. Bulbs will rot sitting in wet. As with most things growing in the garden, you want moist, not wet.

Do not harvest too late or too early

Wait for about half the leaves to wilt and go brown before you harvest. If you are unsure, harvest a bulb and check it to make sure.

But do not wait for all leaves to wilt and die down, as this will be too late. You want some green leaves on the plant when you harvest.

Garlic plants almost ready for harvest
Garlic plants almost ready for harvest

As a rule of thumb, plan to harvest spring-planted garlic in mid to late summer. Fall-planted garlic is harvested earlier and is usually dug out in early to mid-summer.

How to fertilize garlic planted in spring 

To grow large bulbs, you must feed your garlic regularly.

Garlic is a heavy feeder and wants rich organic soil. 

Improve your soil with compost in spring and add a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer, like chicken manure or fish fertilizer.

Garlic as companion plant
Garlic as a companion plant

Nitrogen-rich fertilizers promote strong leaf growth, which helps the plants develop larger bulbs. 

For best results, keep adding organic fertilizers every two to three weeks. 

How to water garlic planted in spring 

Do not overwater your garlic. Garlic likes even moisture but not wet soil. 

I rarely water my garlic in early spring. As the weather warms up and the soil starts to dry up by mid-March, I start watering about once a week. 

But always feel the soil in your hands before you water. Does it feel dry? If the soil is moist, there is no need to water.

Mulching helps preserve moisture. I mulch using fresh grass clippings for moisture retention, weed control, and a slow-release high-nitrogen boost.

Come late spring and summer, there are hot periods when I water almost daily, but this is rare. Remember, you want moist soil – avoid dry and wet. 

Helpful sources:

[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/vernalization

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of MattMagnusson.com, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.