While most plants are planted in the spring for fall harvest, garlic is just the opposite. Usually, garlic is planted in the fall and harvested mid-summer the following year. Why is garlic so different?
Because garlic is actually a perennial, that gardeners choose to grow as an annual. Garlic can be grown as a perennial in a permaculture garden, or as a unique edible addition to your perennial flower gardens.
Growing garlic as a perennial means less maintenance, year-round harvests and never buying seed garlic again.
Growing garlic as a perennial is pretty simple. Just plant garlic as you normally would in the fall, and then ignore it for a few years. Occasionally, that happens by accident. You intend to harvest garlic, but the stem snaps off or a bulb or two get forgotten in the ground.
The following year, each clove of that garlic plant will send up a new sprout. When you plant garlic, you plant individual cloves, but since these were never separated they’ll come up as dense patches of garlic shoots. After two or three years, a single garlic clove will have dozens of garlic shoots sprouting from a small patch of ground.
Individual stems can be pulled off the edges of this garlic mass at any point during the summer and eaten as green garlic. Normally, you can only get “green garlic” bulbs uncured at the farmer’s market for a few weeks a year.
They have a milder flavor than cured garlic, and they taste a bit more like a vegetable. That’s because they haven’t been cured, which dried down the bulb and concentrates the flavor.
As the summer progresses, this patch of hard neck garlic will produce garlic scapes. We don’t grow the braid-able type of softneck garlic up here in Vermont, so I can’t speak to growing soft neck varieties as a perennial.
The hardneck varieties have better flavor anyhow, and the only reason soft neck is sold in the grocery stores these days is due to the fact that it can be planted mechanically and is grown without bothering with garlic scapes.
When growing garlic at home, hardneck is the way to go. If you’re still confused about the difference between types of garlic, here’s a rundown on the difference between hardneck and softneck, and details on all of the 10 types of garlic you can grow at home.
Either way, I think a patch of garlic scapes coming out of the perennial flower bed fits in beautifully. If you’re not a gardener, you’d never know they weren’t some kind of exotic flower bud. And in essence, they are just like any other perennial flower bud.
Most people that grow enough garlic to supply their family all winter have trouble using up all the garlic scapes. There are countless garlic scape recipes, each trying to use up a huge surplus each year. We make garlic scape pickles, and a good bit of garlic scape pesto for the freezer each year.
Still, using up a few hundred garlic scapes is near impossible. They’re cute at the farmer’s market, but that’s in tiny farmer’s market quantities. Once you’re growing a boatload of garlic, most of the scapes go to the pigs.
When you’re growing garlic as a perennial, the garlic scapes aren’t a problem. Harvest as many as you like, and just leave the rest. They’ll bud out, and pop into clusters of tiny baby garlic cloves hanging in the air.
Normally, garlic scapes are cut so that the garlic plant puts all its energy into forming a large bulb. The bulb mass at the bottom of these scapes doesn’t need any extra mass, so the scapes can do as they please.
In the fall, those garlic scape bulblets will dry down into miniature garlic cloves. These can be used just as you’d use any garlic clove, or they can be planted as seed garlic.
In this way, you’ll have an unlimited supply of seed garlic produced right in your own perennial bed. Garlic plants grown from garlic bulblets may take a bit longer to mature, and can sometimes take an extra year to fully bulb out.
While these perennially grown green garlic will supply you from snowmelt through the end of fall, but what about the wintertime? For winter garlic, I pick out one of these clumps of perennial garlic each spring or fall and divide it up. A single bundle will have many individual garlic cloves, and once they’re divided out they’ll grow into full-sized garlic bulbs for harvest the following July.
This clump of garlic was harvested in the spring, divided out into individual plants, and then grown out as usual. Since it was spring-planted garlic, it took a bit longer to mature but was ready a few weeks after fall-planted garlic would have been.
Simply use a shovel to dig up the whole clump, making sure there’s plenty of dirt intact around the root ball. Carefully separate the individual garlic plants, and plant them deep in fertile soil.
Since there’s already a green top growing from each garlic bulb, you’ll need to be careful not to damage them in planting. This patch of curing garlic will also need scapes cut to mature properly.
The bulblets harvested from the garlic scapes are also great for planting. Those bulblets dry down just in time for fall, and then they can be fall planted just like regular seed garlic.
Either way, with spring-divided garlic plants or fall-planted bulblets, the harvest comes out just like any annual garlic planting.
In truth, the “cured” garlic for winter use is still being grown as an annual. In a milder climate, a secondary annual garlic plot might not be necessary, but up here in Vermont we have roughly 6 months of winter. It gets way too cold to dig garlic outdoors in February.
So why do I keep perennial garlic? Lots of reasons:
- I know I always have garlic that can be propagated if need be. If my annual patch has a crop failure, I have seed garlic here for the next year. It’s also handy in case of a zombie apocalypse.
- Perennial garlic patches are part of our permaculture pest control strategy. We plant a clove or two under trees and near fruit bushes, and then just ignore them. The tree mulch keeps the garlic mulched, and the garlic keeps away pests and trunk borers.
- It’s just plain pretty. Who needs fancy flowers when you can have a beautiful curl of garlic scapes in the perennial bed?
It’s really great idea. Going to try it. Thank you
Ashley, thank you for this GREAT article on garlic as a perennial! I planted my garlic bulbs for the 3rd time in the fall of 2017. We were having great success, and the harvested garlic never made it past December. It was sooooo good. Unfortunately, my husband was ill last summer and I never got to dig up the bulbs in July 2018. Now I have these grand green bunches coming up where each bulb was left. I was lamenting over the thought that I “messed up” our little garlic routine. Now, after reading your blog, I am ecstatic! I just need to adjust my “annual” mindset and change it to “perennial” mindset. Yay!!! Thank you so much!!! I plan on separating some out to be “annual” and then leaving others to become our perennial patch.
Wonderful! So happy for you =)
Do the bulbs actually get large when grown thus way? I am assuming not, though plentiful. Thanks
Depends on how densely they’re grown. We get plenty of good-sized bulbs. That said, if we want a big crop of storage garlic, we’ll dig these up in late July, separate the cloves and plant in the fall with good spacing (just like planting any row crop garlic). It means we alway have garlic on hand, and always have a source of seed garlic in the ground.
Do you have a recommendation on how many plants to leave when harvesting so that you get substantial crops the following year? Thanks
When we do harvest, I dig up a whole clump and replant maybe 1/4 of the cloves individually. It seems we have more and more each year, so that’s enough for us.
Do you prune back the foliage in the fall and just leave the bulbs in the ground?
Honestly? I just ignore them. They take care of themselves. I’m sure pruning them back in the fall might help, but they die back in the early fall anyway, and then in late fall they’ll send up many new shoots, one from each clove.
Hello I am working in a garden and recently dug out many bulbs that were forgotten and not dug up in the summer. Its October now here on the BC. Coast and time to plant the garlic. My question is now what to do with them? as they have already sprouted and the roots are long, if they are separated and replanted will they survive? thanks for your suggestions.
Yes, carefully separated and planted they should still have time to root in before winter fully sets in (ie the soil freezes for the year). Good luck!
I see that garlic is good for fruit trees. Since I have quite a few bulbils from my scapes, I’m planning to surround each fruit tree with a planting of young bulbils: I don’t want to give a whole bed to these young bulbils that will not be big enough next year.
Apparently, garlic can repel deer, and since weeds want to grow right next to the tree trunk anyway, why not clean this area in the fall and plant these bulbils. I might as well * choose* the ‘weeds’ that will grow around my fruit trees, right?
Garlic is not a good companion for asparagus, [Yeas, that was my plan A] so I’m switching to plan B and plant them around fruit trees.
I harvest bulbils from mine every year and plant them around my fruit trees. Whether or not it helps with pests of any sort I can’t say, but I do it anyway.
Would you recommend a compost to feed the garlic once the leaves have died back?how to apply eg like Rhubarb over the top or dug in around? & how much?
I’m sure that would help, as our tended rhubarb beds yield much bigger bulbs when fed with compost at planting time. That said, our perennial patches are completely neglected and they still multiply every year. Compost in the late summer/early fall would likely be really helpful for them.
About a month ago I read this post from you and FORGOT TO SAVE IT. Today, while planning my garden and on to garlic (I moved and this is my first spring) I wanted to reread this about perennial garlic. Literally, I spent over 2 hours searching everywhere and finally found it! I now know everyone else’s perennial garlic ideas/plans/whatevers. Only yours is tried and true. I’m so happy I refound you! I also love the idea of using bulbils to plan around trees. Anyway, I am hoping my family will start complaining about too much garlic (HAHAHAH! Is there such a thing?!) a few years from now.
Great info and I see fantastic comments. Thank you, thank you.
Brenda Collins in Thomasville, NC
I just learned today about growing garlic as a perennial when I traded some extra plants I had for a bunch of clumps dug out of a perennial garlic patch. I am new to gardening and have no idea what to do with them…will they grow cloves this year or not until next year? They are not from a fancy garden bed they qerw just growing in heavy soil. Can I plant them in freshly rolled ground or do they need to be in an area with loose soil to grow cloves?
What varieties would survive as perennial in zone 3?
I think just about all? To the best of my knowledge, garlic is considered hardy in zone 3 in general.
Thanks. ASHLEY. I’m probably too late for this year, but definitely next season!
Thankfulness to my father who informed me regarding this blog, this web site is
We harvested our garlic 5 days ago.
Is it too late to try perennial garlic
With one of them?
Just cure it as you would normally and then re-plant in the fall. Good luck!
Thank you Ashley. I look forward to trying perennial garlic!
Is it possible to plant garlic cloves around fruit trees in July without curing the garlic bulbs? I would not be planting for a harvest, just to help the fruit trees.
Yup! That’s fine.
It’s just August here in Toronto and our garlic plants have all dried to yellow stalks. Is that okay? Should we harvest or leave them?
You can harvest the garlic if you want or you can leave it and grow it as a perennial as discussed in this article.
Love your articles!
I have cured bulbils seeds from last June when I moved. Now in early Feb, I want to plant them in grow bags. Should I keep them indoors to get them started? How soon do they need cold? My patio is 32 degrees. There is still snow on the ground. I’m hoping I can separate and plant these seedlings in the late Fall.
Garlic likes to go through cold stratification so I think I would go ahead and plant them.
This is a great post! Our house backs onto a bike path that used to be a farm decades ago. I realized a couple years after living here that there was garlic growing all around the walnut trees on the path behind the house. I started cutting the scapes to use and last year dug some up when the leaves started to die. They were tiny little bulbs and this year I am going to try what you suggested and dig up a couple patches in the Spring and separate them out into our vegetable garden. I assume I should cut the scapes off to encourage bulb growth on those ones? Does cutting the scapes off the perennial patches make the bulbs bigger or will they just be too crowded to get big? There is so much garlic growing there that it could feed our whole neighbourhood. Thanks!
Cutting the scapes will allow the garlic to put more energy into growing bigger bulbs but only if they have enough room to grow. I would suggest thinning them out and then cutting the scapes to allow for bigger bulbs.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have an 8+ years of neglected garlic in my garden and I am so happy to have found this article. Question: If I separate out a clump this spring for storage garlic in the fall, at what point do I cut off the scapes? As soon as they start to form or do I let them grow to a certain stage first?
If you want storage garlic, cut them off as soon as you can. The earlier you cut them, the less energy the plant puts into them and the more it puts into the bulb. Some people let the scapes grow a bit so you can eat them too, but honestly, there are so many scapes at my place I have trouble using them all (and you always miss some anyway). Good luck!
You made my day! I’m going to grow garlic all over my property! I can’t wait to see it coming back every year! Great article!
Thank you 🙂
This is so exiting! Thank you! Do you ever harvest the foliage in early summer when it is still tender? If so, when and how much? Tender garlic foliage is so good in stir fries etc. And it makes an excellent herb salt!
The harvesting of foliage weakens the bulb so perhaps the best approach is to select a few clumps go harvest foliage from and then leave alone (i.e. not dig up the bulb to eat. Like with chives.
Some others would have to be harvested as green garlic for sure and the foliage plus trender bulb eaten. Yum! The bulbils should be perfect for that.
I just love this, I need to come up with an extensive plan for how to seize all these opporunities for better food.
Yes, you can cut it early and use it just like chives or leek greens, delicious! The bulbs won’t develop properly that way, but it is a good way to use it as a perennial green.
I have raised beds on legs and am new to vegetable gardening. I planted garlic in the spring and it mostly receded in the summer. It started coming up in October. Some is now in clumps and some spaced. I think I should leave the spaced plants alone but am not sure what is best to do with the clumps. Dig up and transplant? I live in South East Virginia very near the James River and 45 miles inland from Virginia Beach. Thanks so much for all of your information.
Yes, you can dig up the clumps and divide them out and replant them.
That’s great to know I can divided them now on November 2 in my zone 7/8 of Virginia. Thanks so much for your knowledge and encouragement.
Does letting garlic grow as a perennial work if you grow it in a large container? I love the idea of planting bulbils in my rose beds and Daylilies, mainly to battle against the awful Japanese Beetles we get here in Maine, Zone 5b. I spend my mornings knocking them off into a pot of soapy water, but it would be great to have garlic working on my team too! 🙂
I have had garlic growing in one of my beds for several years. If you want bigger bulbs, you will want to divide them but otherwise they should keep coming back.
I had several clumps (just like those pictured in this article) due to having a disappointing garlic crop last year that I just didn’t bother harvesting. I’m so glad I found this article! I planted out 98 of them last weekend, then started worrying that I might not get bulbs because of alliums being biennial. I noticed in your photo you generally planted 2-3 together (I did mine separately!) Here’s hoping mine turn out ok.
Hi – thanks in advance for any help. I bought a home with “perennial” garlic in one of the flower beds. I would like to cultivate it. As of right now (May) there are many bunches of green garlic. My goal would be to harvest some green garlic and let some grow to full size. Should I separate them all in order to grow mature garlic? Separate some to replant but leave the others? Is it not possible to get any full sized garlic this year?
You will definitely want to divide it if you want to grow full size bulbs. I have some that I leave in the bed and then I pulled some out to transplant in another area of the garden.
Does this apply to Zone 4b where it isn’t unusual for wintertime temperatures to reach -20°F/-29°C or colder? I mean, next to nothing grows as a perennial in this climate. It’s just too cold!
Ashley is in 4a so yes, it should still work for you. I would definitely mulch them with a good layer of straw to protect them. Usually the snow does a pretty good job of insulating them as well.