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How to Grow Garlic in Pots Like an Expert

How to Grow Garlic in Pots Like an Expert

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Growing garlic is an endeavor that beckons the home gardener with its simplicity and rewarding harvest.

Garlic, with its robust flavor and myriad health benefits, is a staple in kitchens around the world, and what’s more gratifying than using homegrown bulbs in your cooking? But what if your space is limited, or you prefer the tidy confines of container gardening?

Fear not, for garlic is as accommodating as it is flavorful, and growing it in pots can be both feasible and fruitful.

Does Garlic Grow Well in Pots?

The answer is a resounding yes! Garlic is remarkably adaptable to container gardening, making it a joy for those with just a balcony or small patio to flex their green thumbs.

When grown in pots, garlic’s requirements are straightforward: ample sunlight, consistent watering, and nutrient-rich soil. This trifecta of care will coax your potted garlic to yield a bountiful crop.

One might wonder if the potted environment influences the quality or taste of the garlic. From personal experience and the collective nod of countless urban gardeners, the flavor of potted garlic is just as pungent and pronounced as its ground-grown counterparts.

The key to success lies in the pot size and the soil composition — get these right, and you’ll be well on your way to harvesting your own spicy bulbs.

Best Garlic Varieties for Pots

Not all garlic is created equal, particularly when it comes to container gardening. Some varieties are better suited to the constrained space and soil volume that pots offer.

Let’s explore a few that have proven their worth in the realm of potted planting.

1. Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the type commonly found in grocery stores, and it’s beloved by growers for its longer shelf life and the fact that it typically produces more cloves per head.

Within this category, varieties such as ‘Silverskin’ and ‘Artichoke’ perform remarkably well in containers. They are robust, less fussy about temperature changes, and tend to be the best option for those living in warmer climates.

2. Hardneck Garlic

For those in cooler regions, hardneck varieties are the go-to choice. Not only do they thrive in colder weather, but they also produce the delightful bonus of garlic scapes — curly, edible shoots that precede the bulbs. ‘Rocambole’ and ‘Porcelain’ hardneck varieties are renowned for their complex flavors and are well-suited to pot cultivation.

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3. Elephant Garlic

Although not true garlic — it’s more closely related to leeks — elephant garlic is a favorite for those seeking a milder flavor. Its larger size and impressive cloves make it a conversation piece in any garden.

Don’t let its grand stature fool you; it can thrive in a deep enough pot, rewarding the patient gardener with its sizable cloves and subtle taste.

In choosing the right variety for your container garden, consider your climate and taste preferences. A pro tip: source your planting material from reputable nurseries or garden centers to ensure you’re starting with healthy, disease-free cloves.


How to Grow and Care For Garlic in Pots

Growing garlic in pots requires attention to detail, but the process can be very rewarding. With the right conditions and care, you’ll find yourself harvesting garlic right from your balcony or patio.

Here’s a detailed guide to help you become an expert in growing potted garlic.

Planting

The journey of potted garlic begins with planting. Select the healthiest, largest cloves from your chosen garlic variety and plant them in the fall, about six to eight weeks before the hard frost sets in.

This timing allows for root development before the winter dormancy period. Plant cloves upright and space them about 4 inches apart, sinking them 1 to 2 inches into the soil.

Pot Size

When it comes to pot size, bigger is better. A pot that’s at least 8-10 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter can accommodate multiple cloves, allowing for ample root growth.

Ensure the pot has good drainage holes because, while garlic needs moisture, waterlogged soil could spell disaster.

Light

Garlic demands full sun, so place your pots in a spot where they can bask in at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. If you’re growing garlic indoors, a south-facing window or a grow light may be necessary to meet these sun-loving plants’ needs.

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Soil

Garlic favors well-draining, fertile soil with a neutral pH. A mix of potting soil amended with compost and a bit of sand for improved drainage makes an ideal home for garlic cloves.

Good soil not only supports robust growth but also ensures proper drainage, which is crucial in a container setting.

Water

Regular watering is crucial, especially during the growing season. Garlic in pots can dry out faster than in-ground plants, so monitor the soil moisture and water when the top inch of soil feels dry.

However, be cautious not to overwater, as soggy soil can lead to rot. As harvest time approaches and the leaves begin to yellow, reduce watering to avoid moldy bulbs.

Temperature and Humidity

Garlic isn’t too picky about humidity but needs a cold period to initiate clove development.

Average outdoor conditions in the fall and winter provide this naturally. In warmer climates, you might need to refrigerate your garlic cloves for a few weeks before planting to simulate a cold snap.

Fertilizer

Feed your garlic plants with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at the time of planting to give them a strong start. Then, supplement with a high-nitrogen fertilizer early in the spring to support vigorous growth.

Once the bulbs begin to form, ease up on feeding; too much nitrogen late in the game can encourage leaf growth at the expense of the bulb.

Pruning Potted Garlic

Pruning garlic might not be as intensive as it is for other plants, but it does have its place in the garlic-growing process, particularly when dealing with garlic scapes. Garlic scapes are the curly stalks that emerge from the center of the garlic plant and will eventually flower if left unattended.

For hard-neck garlic varieties grown in pots, it’s essential to remove these scapes early in their development. This directs the plant’s energy back into bulb growth rather than flower and seed production.

Snipping scapes is simple: once they’ve formed a loop or two, use scissors or your fingers to pinch them off. Not only does this benefit the garlic bulbs, but garlic scapes are a culinary delight in their own right—tender and milder than the garlic bulb, they are perfect for sautéing, pesto, or pickling.

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Softneck varieties, typically, do not produce scapes and thus require no pruning. The only other pruning necessary for potted garlic is the removal of any yellowing or dead foliage, which can help prevent disease.

Overwintering

If you live in a region with harsh winters, overwintering your potted garlic is crucial to protect it from freezing temperatures. Garlic is cold-hardy and actually benefits from the winter chill; however, the soil in pots can freeze more solidly than ground soil, potentially damaging the cloves.

To overwinter garlic, follow these steps:

  • Once the temperatures start to drop, move your garlic pots to a sheltered location, like against the house, where they’ll benefit from residual warmth.
  • Insulate the pot by wrapping it in burlap or placing it inside a larger container filled with mulch or straw. This helps to mimic the insulating effects of being planted in the ground.
  • Reduce watering, but don’t let the soil become bone dry. Garlic in the dormant state still needs some moisture to survive.
  • If you’re in a particularly cold climate, consider moving the pots into an unheated garage or shed to offer protection from wind and extreme cold. However, be aware that garlic does need some exposure to cold to develop properly.

As the winter ends and the weather begins to warm, gradually reintroduce your garlic plants to the outside world by removing any insulation and placing them back in a sunny location. With the onset of spring, you can resume regular care as the garlic resumes active growth, preparing for a summer harvest.

By properly pruning and overwintering your potted garlic, you’re ensuring that your plants remain healthy and productive throughout their lifecycle.

These steps are key to maximizing yield and enjoying the robust flavors of homegrown garlic.