Learning to grow garlic indoors is a good idea for a lot of reasons. Let’s say that you love garlic and homegrown food and don’t have a big bin full of garlic you grew last year.
Perhaps you’re under stay at home recommendations like we are and would rather not go to the grocery store right now.
If you planted garlic in the fall it won’t be ready until summer. Or maybe you don’t have access to a garden plot at all.
For us, growing garlic inside is a way to make our shelter in place time more enjoyable and healthier. Along with microgreens, garlic leaves are bringing us through the gap until the garden greens are ready.
It’s fun to harvest food from your container garden when it’s cold and grey outside, and homegrown garlic leaves are a quick tasty crop that adds needed greeneery and nutrition to a pandemic pantry.
Garlic, Allium sativum, is a health food, high in nutrition and in compounds such as allicin, which have been shown in some studies to improve cardiovascular health and blood sugar levels.
Homegrown garlic tastes more potent and has better flavor than supermarket garlic. You know how it was grown and that it is free of the chemicals and fumigating agents that conventional or imported garlic have been subjected to.
You can easily grow garlic indoors in pots or any container. If you want a quick indoor crop, use the garlic leaves, which have a more delicate garlicky goodness taste. Growing whole garlic bulbs in containers is doable over months instead of the couple of weeks it takes to grow garlic leaves.
It’s never too late—when to start growing garlic indoors
I like to start indoor growing in the fall or winter when the days are cold outside. But you can do it anytime. It will take two to three weeks for the bulbs to grow leaves big enough to harvest more than a couple of snips.
Wait, what is that called again? Garlic plant parts
For such a small plant, garlic parts can be confusing.
The round part that you buy is called the bulb, or is sometimes called a head of garlic.
The bulb may be separated into smaller bits called cloves. These are the things you peel and cook. People sometimes mistakenly call the cloves bulbs.
The roots extend from the bottom of the bulb and are usually trimmed before the bulb gets to the supermarket or before storing homegrown garlic. The roots are just called roots.
The stem attaches to the top of the bulb. Garlic leaves grow from the stem, and are also edible but more delicately flavored.
Some types of garlic grow a fleshy bud in the spring, called a scape. The scape is a seasonal delicacy that gets cut off so the plant can put more energy into growing a bulb.
If the scape doesn’t get cut off the scape will mature into a flower that will eventually produce bulbils, tiny garlic clones that can be planted like seeds.
While you can use garlic bulbils to grow garlic, it’s much faster to grow garlic from cloves.
Collect them all—A world of garlic varieties to grow
Garlic comes in three types, though only two of the types are really garlic. Within each type there are multitudes of varieties and strains. Different varieties are best suited for different climates and soil types.
The different varieties have various flavor profiles, and garlic lovers (yes, there is such a thing) can get as particular as wine lovers about their favorites.
Or, you can order some from the supermarket or online and be fine.
Softneck garlic is the most common grocery store garlic. It grows best where winters are mild. Because it lacks a hard stem, this is the kind that is braided. It has a mild flavor, numerous cloves that range in size, and it stores well because of the multitude of papery wrapper layers.
Hardneck garlic grows best in colder winters, cannot be braided, and has a stronger flavor. Because the bulbs lack as many outer wrapper layers, hardneck garlic doesn’t store as long as softneck. There are fewer cloves in a hardneck garlic head but they are more uniform in size.
Elephant garlic is officially a leek, Allium ampeloprassum, but is commonly called a garlic. Elephant garlic has a few huge cloves and has a very mild taste. It’s not as cold-hardy but grows to garden zone 5.
Since you will be growing garlic indoors, you won’t need to worry about cold hardiness but still need to chill hardneck varieties before planting to grow bulbs. If you are growing a quick crop for leaves or scallion-like green garlic, you don’t need to chill the bulbs.
What you’ll need—Materials for growing garlic indoors
Garlic cloves: You may use organic garlic from the grocery store, from your local farmer’s market or CSA box, or buy “seed garlic” from a garden supplier.
Conventional supermarket garlic is sprayed with growth inhibitors that keep it from sprouting, along with other chemicals. You may even find some organic garlic sprouting at the store, which is a bonus if you are starting your own. For this post I used supermarket softneck garlic, plus some softneck and hardneck seed garlic from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Growing smaller cloves from garlic in your pandemic pantry or cloves that have started to sprout is a good way to avoid food waste.
Softneck varieties meant for warmer climates will be easier garlic to grow indoors since you won’t need to chill it to make bulbs. All varieties will work for leaves and green garlic.
Container: Garlic has shallow roots so you don’t need a deep pot. The Garlic Grow Bag sold by Gardener’s Supply is 12″ deep but you can grow in a container as shallow as 6–8″. You can repurpose buckets and containers to give them a second life. Be sure the container has drainage holes.
Soil: Garlic likes consistent moisture-not too much and not too little. Your soil should be pretty light, with vermiculite or perlite to keep the soil loose and allow drainage. Choose a potting soil that has some compost or other balanced fertilizer in it to give your baby garlic plants a good start. People also like to try growing individual cloves in a shot glass or hydroponically in a special set up.
Fertilizer: Fertilize with a liquid fertilizer like seaweed or fish emulsion or diluted liquid from under a worm bin. Or, sprinkle a fertilizer like worm castings or compost or a balanced fertilizer (10–10–10) on the soil surface.
Sunny spot: Garlic does best in a sunny spot but will tolerate shade outside. When growing garlic indoors, put it on a sunny window ledge or under grow lights.
Put it all together—How to grow garlic indoors in pots
Prepare your container: Be sure the drainage holes are open but not so big that the soil washes out. Sometimes I put a bit of bark or a pebble across a hole so that the holes are smaller but still provide drainage.
Fill the container: If you are using fluffy potting soil, the soil will compact down over time. Fill the container to the top and then tamp the surface down a bit so that you have room to water.
Prepare the cloves: If you want to grow bulbs, refrigerate the cloves for at least 40 days, especially if you are growing hardneck varieties.
This gives them the cold spell that they need for full expression. This step is not needed if you will grow the garlic for some quick edible leaves.
Gently separate the cloves from the bulb. The largest cloves will produce the largest plants, though even the smaller cloves will produce edible leaves.
There is no need to peel the cloves, as the covering protects the clove and you could potentially damage it yourself by peeling.
Plant the cloves: Garlic is planted approximately 3″ deep. In the outdoor garden, cloves sown for bulbs are spaced 6” apart. You can get more garlic out of your indoor space by planting all the cloves 2″ apart and pulling immature “green garlic” or baby garlic to leave space for the remaining plants to form bulbs.
Poke a hole with your finger or a stick to approximately twice the depth of the length of the clove. Place the cloves with the growing tip or pointy side up.
Fill the holes and tamp the soil down over the planted cloves so they don’t push themselves up once roots start growing.
Water and wait: Water the pot so that the soil is moist but not sopping wet. The first time you water will take up the most water to thoroughly moisten the soil.
Keep watering, but only when needed: The primary danger is overwatering. Garlic will rot if watered too much. Water when a finger poked into the soil reveals dryness, not when only the surface is dry.
Fertilize regularly: When the garlic cloves sprout and the shoots are about 6″ high, fertilize lightly. Repeat about every two weeks until the plant is mature.
What to expect when growing garlic indoors
After about a week, the shoots will emerge from the cloves. After two to three weeks, the leaves will have some nice growth.
If you are growing bulbs, leave the leaves to give energy to the bulb. If you are growing for leaves or for baby garlic, you may start harvesting leaves anytime.
You can harvest all the leaves, and the plant will regrow until the energy in the clove is exhausted, or pull the smallest plants to use for baby garlic. Use immature baby garlic and leaves like garlic-flavored green onions.
To keep the plant going, harvest the outside leaves and let the inside leaves keep growing to provide energy.
If your plants produce a fleshy, curved scape, cut it off to use in cooking. If you let the scape turn into a flower, the plant will stop putting energy into leaves and bulbs.
Get the good stuff—Harvesting bulb garlic
If you are growing garlic for bulbs it will take a few months. Fall planted garlic produces larger bulbs but spring planted garlic will also succeed.
The plant is done growing when half or more of the leaves turn brown. Stop watering for at least a week until the soil is dried out. This prevents the bulbs from rotting.
Harvesting garlic from containers is easy. Just dump the container and pull out the bulbs. If you have an outside garden, put the spent soil in a place where you won’t plant alliums (onions, shallots, leeks) that season.
Keep some of the largest bulbs for seed garlic and can start your next batch for free.
Cure your garlic bulbs by hanging them up in a cool, dry well-ventilated place for a few weeks. This step is essential for your garlic to store well.
You are done curing when the leaves and roots are dry and the outer wrapper feels papery. The larger the bulb and cloves the longer it will take to finish curing.
When the curing is complete, clean your garlic for storage by brushing off dirt with a soft brush. You can remove a layer of outer wrapper for cleaning but try to remove as little of the wrapper as possible in order for the garlic to store longer.
Leave the stalks on softneck garlic if you want to braid the garlic, otherwise cut off all but a couple of inches. Trim the roots if you want to have a clean appearance.
Your cured garlic should last for months.
How to use your home grown garlic
You already know how to use garlic cloves and you probably know how to use baby garlic like green onions or scallions.
However, if you have lots of garlic leaves I have two favorite ways to use them up. My most favorite way is to make pesto. Pesto uses up lots of leaves and can be frozen in quarter cup portions to use the rest of the year.
My second favorite is to make pan-fried flatbreads or pancakes. Use any scallion pancake recipe and use your garlic leaves in place of scallions.
Immature garlic can be used like scallions and preserved by freezing or drying.
Small immature garlic bulbs are time-consuming to peel but pack a powerful taste punch that is worth the effort.
If you end up with too many garlic bulbs or need to use up cured garlic, you can make garlic powder by dehydrating in a dehydrator or low oven and then grinding the dry bits to a fine powder with a food processor or grinder.
I like to preserve garlic cloves by chopping and freezing them in tablespoon portions on a cookie sheet. Store the little garlic pucks in the freezer and take them out as needed.
When you peel garlic, you can save the skins for stock or broth. Keep them in a bag in the freezer along with other bits of vegetables and make slow cooker vegetable stock when you have enough.
Don’t forget to label and date all your frozen goodness so your harvest doesn’t end up rattling around in the freezer on the mystery shelf.
Growing garlic indoors is worth it
Once you try it, you’ll find it’s easy to grow garlic indoors. Plant it, water it and harvest as needed. That’s it.
You’ll have your own homegrown garlic, free of chemicals and mystery contaminants, for close to free, with better taste than anything you can buy at the supermarket.
It’s fun to serve up a savory meal with your own organic home grown ingredients, and to feel like you eat like royalty for pennies.
If all this sounds good to you, just get started. Before you know it you’ll be harvesting your own garlic crop like a real microfarmer.