How to Plant and Store Garlic

By: Gayle A. Alleman  | 

Rocambole, purple stripe, silverskin -- there are many options when it comes to garlic. The type you choose and how you prepare it combine to determine its healing properties and flavor. You can even grow your own, and you don't have to be an expert to do it. This article will show you how to make the most of your garlic, and enjoy every bit -- and bite -- of it. Here's a preview of what you'll learn:

  • Types of GarlicChefs all over the world put garlic to use in their kitchens. But not all varieties have the same health-affirming properties as the kind you find in the store. And even the type, known as culinary garlic, is separated into different subsets, all of which differ in flavor, clove size, shelf life, and use. On this page you'll learn the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic and the different varieties of each.
  • How to Grow GarlicGarlic grows well under most conditions and requires little maintenance, so expert gardners and green-thumbs in all climates can grow it in their gardens. The hardy little bulb is tough enough to make it through the winter, so you can plant it in late fall and forget about it. This page will teach you when to plant garlic, how to plant it, and how to know when it's time to harvest.
  • How to Store GarlicDon't bother with the refrigerator -- whole bulbs of garlic will keep for several months or more when stored at room temperature in a dry, dark place that has ample air circulation. In fact, you don't want to put whole bulbs in the fridge because they might grow mold. The same goes for plastic bags -- keep your garlic in wire mesh or egg cartons. Get more tips on how to store garlic, before and after you remove the cloves, on this page.

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Types of Garlic

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The type of garlic you buy in the store, also known as "culinary" garlic, is the most common.

Beautiful garlic braids decorate many kitchens. Some are adorned with peppers or dried flowers while others sport a country ribbon. But garlic's role in the kitchen shouldn't be limited to wall decor. With a peel and a chop, garlic adds an aroma and flavor that few ingredients can match. This modest herb enlivens a kitchen, enchanting at least three of our senses.

Chefs all over the world put garlic to work in their kitchens. And a little clove really gets down to business. Not only does garlic boost the flavor of other foods but it also possesses many healthful and healing properties.


Garlic plays the role of star or supporting cast member equally well, whether it's used in appetizers, main courses, side dishes, drinks, or even desserts. Don't be shy about adding it almost anywhere. If you're not sure how, where, and when to use garlic, keep reading! The tips on this page will help you get to know garlic in the most intimate and delicious ways.

Garlic Varieties

Garlic, garlic, hanging on the wall, which of you is the best of all? The first step to a perfect meal is selecting the ideal bulb from the more than 400 species and varieties of garlic. Allium sativum is the most common type of garlic; it is the one you'll typically find in the grocery store and is often called "culinary" garlic. Fortunately, this is the species that also offers the most healing properties.

You might occasionally find Allium ursinum in specialty or farmer's markets. Allium ursinum is a type of wild garlic native to Northern Europe that does not possess the same healing properties as Allium sativum. You might also come across Allium vineale, a garlic with very small cloves that is commonly called "crow garlic." This variety is nothing more than a weed.

Allium sativum has two subvarieties: softneck and hardneck. The two types have similar healing properties because they belong to the same species, but they differ in flavor, clove size, shelf life, and use.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the type you'll most likely see in the produce section of your grocery store. Its name comes from the multilayered parchment that covers the entire bulb, continues up the neck of the bulb, and forms a soft, pliable stalk suitable for braiding. Its papery skin, or sheath, is a beautiful creamy white color.

">Softneck garlic typically has several layers of cloves surrounding the central portion of the garlic bulb. The outermost layer's cloves are the stoutest; the cloves of the internal layers become smaller closer to the center of the bulb. Of the several types of softneck garlic, two are most abundant:

Silverskin garlic. This easy-to-grow variety has a strong flavor and stores well when dried -- it will last nearly a year under the right conditions. The Creole group of silverskin garlics has a rose-tinted parchment.

Artichoke garlic. Artichoke garlic has a milder flavor and may have fewer and larger cloves than silverskin. You can store it as long as eight months. Artichoke garlic may occasionally have purple spots or streaks on its skin, but don't confuse it with purple stripe garlic, a hardneck variety that has quite a bit of purple coloring.

Hardneck Garlic

Unlike softneck garlic, hardneck varieties do not have a flexible stalk. When you buy this type of garlic, it will typically have an extremely firm stalk protruding an inch or two from the top of the bulb.

Hardneck garlic sends up scapes from its central woody stalk when it is growing. A scape is a thin green extension of the stalk that forms a 360-degree curl with a small bulbil, or swelling, several inches from its end. Inside the bulbil are more than 100 tiny cloves that are genetically identical to the parent bulb beneath.

Many people call these "flowers," but they are not really blooms. If left on the plant, the scape will eventually die and fall over, and the tiny cloves will spill onto the ground. However, most never make it that far.

Cutting off the scapes keeps the plant's energy from forming the bulbil and therefore encourages larger bulbs. But don't throw out the scapes. They can be a delicious ingredient in your cooking.

There are three main types of hardneck garlic:

Rocambole. This variety has a rich, full-bodied taste. It peels easily and typically has just one set of cloves around the woody stalk. It keeps for up to six months.

Porcelain. Porcelain garlic is similar to rocambole in flavor and typically contains about four large cloves wrapped in a very smooth, white, papery sheath. People often mistake porcelain garlic for elephant garlic because its cloves are so large. Porcelain garlic stores well for about eight months.

Purple stripe. This hardneck variety is famous for making the best baked garlic. There are several types of purple stripe, all with distinctive bright purple streaks on their papery sheaths. Purple stripe garlic keeps for about six months.

Another member of the Allium clan, elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), may look like a good buy because it is so large, but its flavor is very bland. Elephant garlic tastes more like a leek; in fact, its garlic flavor is slight and its healing properties are inferior to those of other garlic varieties. Use elephant garlic more like a vegetable than a flavorful herb.

The Brightest Bulb

Once you've decided which variety of garlic to use, consider the following tips to find that perfect bulb:

  • Select bulbs that are completely dry.
  • Choose bulbs whose cloves are plump and firm.
  • Look for plenty of papery sheath.
  • Avoid soft or crumbly cloves; spongy or shriveled cloves; bulbs or cloves with green shoots (they are past their prime); and preminced garlic, which has a weak flavor.

Now that you know what the types of garlic are, why not pick your favorite and grow it yourself? The next page shows you how easy it really is.

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How To Grow Garlic

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Remove the cloves from a bulb of garlic and plant each individually.

It's easy to grow your own garlic. It's hardy, tolerates cold weather well, and does not need pampering. Whether in a garden or a patio pot, garlic grows well under most conditions and requires little maintenance.

Many gardeners, especially those in northern climates, plant their garlic in October. Others prefer to do it on the shortest day of the year -- the winter solstice in December. Planting in the fall lengthens the growing time so bulbs get a jump start on spring and can grow larger. Some gardeners in more southern climates prefer to plant garlic four to six weeks before the date of the last frost.


Garlic is robust enough to survive the frigid months, but if the winter seems too cold or the snow doesn't form a thick enough blanket over the plants, you can cover the bulbs and emerging shoots with straw or other mulching material for insulation.

You can try planting the garlic you buy from your local grocery store, but some grocery store garlic is treated with a sprout inhibitor that disrupts the natural growing cycle. If you don't know whether your store-bought garlic is treated this way, visit a plant nursery or garden center to purchase naturally grown garlic that is suitable for gardening. If you prefer to try your hand with specialty garlics, visit a garden center or check a seed catalog.

How to Plant

To plant garlic, gently remove the outer skin from the entire bulb and separate the individual cloves, taking care not to damage them. (Leave in place the thin papery skin that covers each clove.) Choose about eight to ten of the largest cloves from the outside of the bulb for planting.

Place the cloves in the ground, tip up, in a place that gets about six hours of direct sunlight per day. Garlic needs to grow quickly to form large bulbs, and full sun fosters fast growth. You'll also want to be sure the area in which you plant will not become waterlogged in winter.

Work the soil about ten inches deep, adding organic matter and perhaps even sand to improve drainage. Bury the cloves in this loose, fertile soil so the tips are about two inches beneath the surface of the soil and the cloves are four to six inches apart.

Apply a weak organic fertilizer every two weeks or so. Water the plants regularly so the soil is moist but not overly soggy, and pluck out weeds that would otherwise compete for nutrients and possibly overgrow the garlic.

Garlic prefers hotter and drier conditions as it matures. If you water the garlic less frequently near the end of the growing season, it will dry out a bit and its flavor will be better. Of course, the amount of water your garlic needs depends on your area's climate, so keep a close eye on your soil.

Harvesting Garlic

It's time to harvest your garlic when the green tops dry out and turn yellow-brown. This is typically about three to four months into the growing season -- late summer or early fall. Some gardeners prefer to harvest their garlic on the longest day of the year -- the summer solstice in June.

Harvest too early, and you get small bulbs. Harvest too late, and the bulbs may split. This indicates that they have already started their next growing season and diminishes their culinary quality.

Before you harvest all your plants, carefully dig up one bulb and examine it. Check its size, and count the layers of papery skin. If the bulb seems well formed, the cloves are plump, and there are about three layers of papery covering, harvest your crop.

If there are four or more layers, let the plants grow a bit longer. When you're ready to harvest, use a small garden trowel to loosen the soil around each bulb. Then dig up the entire plant and shake off loose soil.

Some gardeners save part of their crop for planting again. Others believe that doing so heightens the risk of disease and results in smaller bulbs the next year. Because you can easily buy garlic to plant at a garden center, there may not be a need to save any cloves, unless you cultivate unusual varieties.

After the harvest, your garlic can last for months -- just don't pack it in plastic. Get more tips on the next page.

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How To Store Garlic

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Garlic needs lots of air circulation to last in storage.

Whether you buy it from the store or bring it in from your garden, you'll want to make the most of your garlic bulbs. Storing it is easy, although there are a few tips to keep in mind, particularly for storing garlic after you've broken open the bulb. And when you're ready to use it, you'll want to know how to prepare it to maximize its health benefits.

Storing your garlic in favorable conditions helps to maintain its healing properties and flavor. Properly stored garlic can last for months, ensuring that you always have some on hand for the next recipe.


"Young wet," or "new season," garlic is an immature garlic that is harvested in early summer. Immature garlic needs to be stored in the refrigerator and used within a week or so. It has a fresh, mild flavor and can substitute for onions and leeks or lend a subtle garlic flavor to a recipe. Some cooks consider this the best, most flavorful garlic. As an added bonus, it may be more easily digested than dry garlic. Experiment with some of this "fresh" garlic and see how you like it.

You'll need to dry your homegrown garlic before you store it for a prolonged time. After harvesting, carefully wash the bulb and roots. Let the garlic dry in a shady, well-ventilated, moisture-free area for a week or more. You can hang the freshly harvested bulbs from their stalks if you like.

Thoroughly drying garlic bulbs develops and concentrates their flavor, so don't rush the process. Once dry, trim or break off the roots and rub off the outer layer of parchment. If you've grown softneck garlic, consider braiding it for an attractive storage option.

Whole bulbs of store-bought garlic will keep for several months or more when stored at room temperature in a dry, dark place that has ample air circulation. Keep in mind, however, that garlic's lifetime decreases once you start removing cloves from the bulb.

Storing garlic uncovered, such as in a wire-mesh basket inside your cupboard or beneath a small overturned clay pot, is ideal.

You can also store garlic in a paper bag, egg carton, or mesh bag. Just be sure there is plenty of dry air and little light to inhibit sprouting. To avoid mold, do not refrigerate or store garlic in plastic bags.

If you've prepared more garlic than you need for a particular recipe, you can store minced garlic in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. Although the most active sulfur compound diminishes within a few hours, refrigeration will slightly slow the process. Use refrigerated garlic as soon as possible. Some people are tempted to freeze garlic, but this is not recommended because its texture changes, as does its flavor.

Garlic in the Kitchen

The first thing to remember about cooking with garlic is the difference between bulbs and cloves. The average teardrop-shape garlic bulb is about two inches wide and two inches tall. It typically contains about 10 to 20 individual cloves about the size of your thumbnail. Most recipes call for one or more cloves, not bulbs.

To separate the individual cloves from the bulb, place the bulb on a flat surface. Use the heel of your hand to apply firm but gentle pressure at an angle. The parchment layers will separate, allowing you to carefully remove as many cloves as you need.

Then, tenderly remove the thin covering on each individual clove. Most people reach for the plumpest cloves, but the smaller cloves have a more intense flavor.

Because one of garlic's most beneficial ingredients, allicin, is partially destroyed by cooking, you'll get the greatest health boost if you use it raw or only lightly cooked when you can. However, cooking garlic forms other healthy sulfur compounds, so you still receive benefits when you cook it.

Plan ahead so you can cut, crush, or chop your garlic and let it sit for 15 minutes or more before using it to activate the enzymes that turn alliin into allicin.

Giddy for Garlic Around the Globe

Garlic adds the spice of life to foods in countries all around the world. Along with ginger and onions, garlic flavors many of the foods of Southeast Asia. Teamed with tahini, it makes Middle-Eastern foods dining delights. Combined with chili peppers, garlic adds spark to Latin cuisine.

Garlic is a low-maintenance, high-flavor herb that is very versatile. Bring garlic's robust flavor and health benefits to your own kitchen by adding it to your favorite foods. Now that you've seen how easy it is to grow and store your own garlic, there's no excuse to not at add this healthful food to your diet.


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Gayle Povis Alleman is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in traditional nutrition from Western Washington University and a master's degree in alternative nutrition from Bastyr University. This varied background allows her to bring together the best of both approaches to offer research-based, holistic information about wholesome foods, nutrition, and health. As a writer, educator, and speaker, she encourages people to achieve optimum health through food, nutrients, and physical activity.