Garlic growth happens in 6 stages starting with germination and ending with bulb maturation and harvest.
Not just garlic, every plant follows certain stages of growth that occur over a period of time. These processes dictate the growth and well-being of the crop.
The garlic growth cycle is common to most other vegetables with slight differences. The most notable difference you see in the garlic growth is the odd season in which garlic is planted. Unlike most summer crops, garlic requires planting in the fall and takes a long time to grow.
Stages of Garlic Growth
The garlic growth timeline is the time taken by garlic to grow from individual cloves to fully-grown garlic heads that are ready for harvest. Throughout this time, the cloves proliferate and grow by attaining specific stages of growth along the way.
It is vital to watch your garlic grow and understand how it should be at each stage. With this, you would be able to diagnose any ill condition affecting growth and correct it immediately assuring superior garlic quality.
Stage 1 – Germination
For most other plants germination occurs from a seed. In the case of garlic, germination occurs from a single clove of garlic which is a propagative substitute for garlic seeds.
Planting garlic from seeds could take an extra year for harvesting! This is why many people accept garlic cloves as a substitute seed for garlic growth.
Germination is when a shoot arises from a garlic clove. This small green shoot is commonly called a sprout and will not be visible as soon as it emerges.
This is mostly due to the planting schedule in which fall to winter is a dormant stage of growth for the garlic. Instead, the garlic exhibits vast growth of its root system first. These hardy roots will help the plant survive cold frosty conditions.
Germination only occurs from healthy garlic cloves that have a hard to firm composure. Soft garlic cloves will not germinate and are more likely to rot before sprouting.
Garlic germination should appear within a month or two. The first shoot will emerge as a single green shoot from the soil or mulch layer.
To facilitate garlic germination, enough water and nutrients should be provided. The lack of these factors can delay growth or lead to stunted growth
Stage 2 – Green or Spring Garlic
After several months of adequate growth, garlic cloves will develop into many green shoots forming a distinguishable garlic plant. At this early stage, there are few parts of the plant that are ready for harvest.
Although the garlic is not fully mature, you can still harvest it to enjoy the perks of young garlic. What you will get is fresh young garlic with a soft wrapping. Apply them in the same way spring onions are, this spring garlic is flavorful with a crisp texture.
Unfortunately, this early harvest garlic has a lifespan of just a week because it does not remain good for long. It lacks a hard outer covering that protects it from the rotting elements. This is what differentiates it from mature cured garlic bulbs.
You could preserve it for a bit longer by freezing them peeled, or chopped. The best parts of this plant to use are the bulbs and light green shoots and discard the roots and leaves.
Stage 3 – Garlic Scapes
Many people are unaware of how to use garlic scapes, the curly tendrils that appear a few weeks ( 3 to 4 weeks) before garlic harvest is ready. First-time garlic growers may not even know these scapes are edible. Scapes are nothing but a modified shoot that if left alone will become a flower.
Garlic scapes can be identified by their distinct appearance. These flowering shoots can be harvested before they become flowers and can be used in the same way as a herb.
Apart from its unique garlic and a bit onion-like taste, there is another reason why you must remove your garlic scapes before flowering.
These scapes usually drain energy and resources away from the garlic bulb. This is undesirable since it would result in smaller garlic heads that have not undergone complete development.
Harvesting garlic scapes is the best way to re-route all resources back to the roots where the garlic head is in development.
If however, you are not too worried about garlic head size, and also want seeds you can go ahead and let the flower bloom. The mature flowers will yield bulbils that possess garlic seeds that you can grow in the next fall.
Scapes are a fresh vegetables and consumption should happen immediately or within a week. Any longer and you will need to freeze your scapes to last longer.
Stage 4 – Young Bulbs (Premature Garlic)
Young bulbs are those bulbs that you will harvest before the garlic growing period is complete. This could apply to garlic that you will harvest after just 7 or 8 months of growing. These bulbs lack the large mature appearance of garlic that is full-grown and mature.
Instead of having a white dry papery outer skin, their outer skin is rather fleshy. At least you will not need to peel off too many layers as you need to do with mature garlic.
These young bulbs are full of moisture and are noticeably more juicy and fresh than mature garlic. Many home gardeners praise them for their strong flavor and the unique taste they add to any home-cooked dish.
One drawback is that these fresh premature bulbs rot very soon and do not last long. They may stay fit for consumption for a short time of just one week!
Stage 5 – Mature Bulbs
It will take garlic a long 9 months to be mature and harvestable. These garlic heads have undergone maximum growth and leaving them in the ground any longer will not be beneficial.
Mature bulbs naturally have a larger bulb size than young garlic and the main purpose of growing the garlic is for harvesting these large bulbs. Each bulb will have several (between 8 and 20) ideal size garlic cloves that can be separated and used.
This garlic can be used straight away but requires further processing if you wish to keep it for many more months. Mature hard neck garlic bulbs that have undergone curing can last 3 to 4 months whereas soft neck garlic can last between 6 to 8 months after curing.
Stage 6 – Flowering Stage
As the garlic begins to mature, any scapes left on the plant will develop into seed-bearing flowers. These flowers also make a scenic appearance which is why some farmers leave a few of them on the plant.
Garlic plants that have scapes help you to identify the right time to harvest your garlic. These flowers are also important for agriculturists since they are a source of garlic seeds! Seeds are slow-growing but are helpful for farmers for storage purposes.
The disadvantage of not removing flower scapes is that they can result in small garlic head size. This is because energy is drained to grow the scape and develop seeds.
Stage 7 – Harvesting Stage
The blooming of flowers is a sure sign that your garlic is ready for harvest. Another way of knowing the right time to harvest garlic is the browning and drying of leaves. There should be an equal number of dry brown leaves and live green leaves.
Pull the plants out of the soil without damaging the bulbs or stems. Remove the leaves and proceed to curing stage of the garlic. Curing is a drying process that helps to greatly improve the shelf-life and well-being of the garlic bulbs.
To cure your garlic, place the garlic in a single line outside in the shade or in a well-ventilated room. Allow them to cure for around 1 to 2 weeks to dry up and expel moisture which would normally make the garlic bulbs rot when stored indoors.
After the garlic is dry and has a papery outer wrapper, you can remove the outer layer, snip off leaves and stems and store them in a vegetable rack or mesh bag. This applies to hardneck garlic. Softneck garlic can be made into a braid and hung up on a string.
Garlic is a perennial plant meaning it can remain alive in the soil for around two years. After harvesting, any garlic bulbs which have been accidentally left in the soil will sprout and grow into completely new plants the following year.
Depending on the variant of garlic you are using, it will germinate but will not resemble typical garlic grown during the fall. Spring grown garlic will be much smaller than the fall ones. They will not be as big as fall garlic and may not have any cloves!
We advise growing garlic in the spring if you are not very interested in large garlic heads. Instead, you will be able to harvest garlic scapes, green garlic, and young garlic.
When grown from garlic cloves, they generally take a time period of 8 to 9 months in various Stages of Garlic Growth. From the time of planting till the time of harvest, it will take the full 8 to 9 months. It might take a month extra if you decide to harvest your garlic slowly.
This is assuming you use garlic cloves (seeded garlic) as the starting product. Using real garlic seeds will take much longer than this!
Knowing the various Stages of Garlic Growth is an advantage since it will let you know when to harvest your garlic and will provide insights as to how well your garlic is growing.