How can I get bigger garlic bulbs?

lilacs_of_mayJune 26, 2008

I've been harvesting garlic this past week. The bulbs look firm and healthy, but once again I'm kind of disappointed. The bulbs are all fairly small, nothing like the size of the ones I see in the grocery store. Some were just fat, single rounds. I have plenty of garlic. Running out certainly won't be a problem. But how can I grow bigger bulbs?

I planted garlic last fall (October-November) in four different beds. Two of the beds are in-ground. One gets morning sun till about noon, then dappled sun all afternoon. The other gets a little less sun.

The other two were raised beds, filled with bagged soil, and get full sun all day. The plants in those beds were definitely bigger and taller. That might have made some difference in the size of the bulbs, but not that much.

I fertilized about every 4-6 weeks with an organic fish emulsion/kelp fertilizer and watered regularly until about a week ago.

Last year, I harvested during the July 4th weekend. This year, the plants started flopping over and turning yellow about 7-10 days ago, although quite a few are still plenty green, and I'm going to let them go until they get mostly brown.

Am I doing something wrong? Or does homegrown garlic just never get as large as store-bought garlic?

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reba_nc(z 7)

Some kinds are bigger than others, but they all need full sun. Try a variety from seed savers or like Russian giant if you want size.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 8:00AM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

Home-grown garlic should be bigger than store bought, in my experience. Be sure you are starting with the biggest cloves in the bulb only. I generally only use four to six of the biggest cloves in each head and use the "rejects" (and they are hardly that) for eating.

Perhaps you aren't fertilizing enough. I put in a granular organic fertilizer (Dr. Earth's 4-4-4 this year) at planting time and a several inch thick layer of manure at the end of winter when the plants start to look starved.

I used to go the liquid fertilizer route but it didn't seem to be doing the trick the manure does--I would have to fertilize every time I watered and still didn't get the results I had this year with the chicken manure.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 9:18AM
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bloosquall(Wa 6)


One aspect of this the others failed to mention is the size of the cloves you planted. We men have been told forever that size doesn't the garlic growing business size does matter. I am growing some German Red for a fellow grower, He supplied the seed. The seed he gave me to plant was half the size of the cloves I planted of my own stock. His plants are half the size of mine right now and in the next couple weeks when I pull them I'll bet his aren't as big as mine either.

I think the manure idea is good, I use horse manure and quite a bit of it before I plant. I do use fish emulsion a couple times in the spring.

Please don't spend that much money on seed stock, I spent a bunch last year and got some huge Russian and Romanian red bulbs from the garlic store...they were nice but at $22.00lb they better be gold. I think People are starting to figure out they don't have to spend that kind of money on good seed when there are so many great small growers out there at half the price

Check out or for good quality stock without the outrageous prices


    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 11:16PM
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I always made sure to plant the biggest, fattest cloves I could. Any small cloves in the bulb I just ate. The raised beds certainly got plenty of sun. It must be a fertilizer issue. I fertilized once every month or several weeks with organic kelp/fish emulsion, which is a gentle fertilizer. Next year I'll fertilize more heavily and see what that does.

Chesnok Red and Red Rezan gave some respectable looking bulbs. I'll plant the biggest cloves of those this fall. Ontario Giant was misnamed. Miniscule bulbs! The Georgia Crystal, Music, and Polish Hardneck produced some tall plants with thick stems. I haven't pulled those yet. They look like they'll be impressive, but I'll see what they look like when I harvest them.

Thanks for the comments. I'll have to check at Lowes for some bags of manure. I live in a suburb close in to the city. No chicken farms down the street from where I live. :-)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 12:47AM
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I bought 8 types of garlic last year from a garlic specialist at my local farmer's market. I told her why I was buying them; she commented that the clove size doesn't necessarily matter! That kind of surprised me because it seems logical to plant the largest cloves. Anyway, I can't confirm or deny the validity of her statement, I'm just passing it along. And I haven't dug any yet, but pretty soon! Maureen

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 6:39AM
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makalu_gw(z5b NY)


One other thing to mention on fertilizer ... too much, especially nitrogen late in the season, can be as bad for garlic as too little. If there are high enough concentrations in the soil at the start of bulbing, the garlic will delay sizing up or just produce rounds. You might want to get a soil test before you plant this fall and see what you need to add as well as hold off on any nitrogen based fertilizers past late April / early May in your zone.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 7:12AM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

I don't use fresh chicken manure, but rather the composted kind that comes in a bag. The smell is a lot nicer, let me tell you, and it is much more pleasant to use, as well. It simply packs more bang for the buck than does steer manure which is so low in nutritional value that it isn't even taxed here in CA unlike the chicken manure.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 9:34AM
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david52 Zone 6

Lilacs, are you snipping off the scape? That alone will nearly double the size of the bulbs. I'm very familiar with the climate and temps in Denver Metro, and I wouldn't pull the garlic before July. It's during the last couple of weeks that they put on significant size. If you're digging them and they aren't clearly divided into cloves, you're early.

I usually pull mine ASAP after the 4th of July, but this year, its been so cool during the spring that I'll likely wait until late July. I also leave a few scapes in a row, and when they straighten up, then (usually), time to pull in a week.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 7:43PM
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I've been snipping off the scapes (and eating them) as soon as they form the first curlique. And I'm trying to wait as long as possible before I dig them, but when they're lying flat on the ground and are completely brown (or nearly), I figure they're not going to be growing any more.

So far I've dug up maybe 30-35%. Like I said, I'm trying to wait as long as they let me.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 1:21AM
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david52 Zone 6

Ok, then I'd agree with everyone else, it's probably a question of fertilizer, and I'd also agree that manure is the way to go.

Another thing *might* be that the soil dried out sometime over last fall / winter. My garlic isn't what it should be this year, because it was so dry back in Oct. Nov.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 10:38AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

You wrote: "Some were just fat, single rounds."

That indicates a water shortage from one or more reasons. Could be inadequate rain and or irrigation, or too much crowding, or too many weeds.

And as was said, garlic needs sufficient nitrogen.

In any event, those rounds are fine planting stock for next year's crop.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 8:08PM
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I think next year I'll go with more fertilizer. We didn't have a lot of snow last winter, so less moisture in the soil, but I didn't get big bulbs the year before, after the "blizzard of the week" winter.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 9:30PM
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david52 Zone 6

I pulled mine yesterday, and it sure isn't anything to brag about. I'd tilled in plenty of manure and compost last fall, and side dressed them again this spring. But October and November were so dry around here that I was worried I'd lose plants and the garlic was barely above ground, and then we had two inches of rain and two feet of snow on the ground for 3 months. I suppose I should be glad that they survived.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 6:50PM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

Do you mulch them? I get outstanding results which I attribute mostly to a fairly heavy layer of straw or hay or grass clippings mulch. This not only smothers the weeds which rob nutrients from the garlic, but it also keeps moisture even which is important for big bulbs. I don't use much fertilizer because we have chickens which provide plenty of chicken manure compost, but it sounds like you might need to fertilize a bit in your situation. I really like Espoma Plant Tone - it's organic, fairly inexpensive, and widely available. Apply fertilizer in the spring, then cover with mulch. For the past several years, I've also been growing the garlic in no-till beds which I'd also recommend. People love to cultivate the soil, but really there's no need, and in fact you're doing more harm than good. Feed from the top with compost, manure, or organic fertilizer, and then cover with mulch.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 9:22AM
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I had bigger garlic in the raised beds. They had more sun, better soil, and I covered them with leaves last fall and took them off in the spring when the garlic began to poke through.

They were bigger than the in-ground beds with poorer soil, less light, and no mulching, but they still weren't anything to write home about. Golf ball size rather than marble size, but I want them FIST size!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 11:28PM
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Hi Everyone:
My answers are actually questions, factors that might be worth considering:
1) Perhaps everyone was assuming that "Lilacs" was planting in the fall; if it happened in spring, that would be a drawback.
2) The larger store-bought garlic cited for comparison may have been grown in a higher latitude. After the vernal equinox, the farther north you are the longer the days (on a given terrain) and onions, at least, and garlic, I suspect, size up better at higher latitudes. I harvested a nice, but not spectacular, dozen garlic bulbs today (July 30) and the rest will be pulled in a week now that the tops are half-brown. I live in northern Ontario, Canada, latitude 46 degrees, and while here this is rather early to be harvesting, my crop did have the benefit of forming bulbs in some of the longest days (16 hours of daylight).
Happy harvest!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 9:25PM
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bloosquall(Wa 6)


Ron has a good point. If you want biggy bulbs, you gotta go with a garlic that gets that big. Some bulbs will only get 2.5" and not much's in their genetics. Might I suggest Inchelium, it's an artichoke, has a good shelf life and can get pretty large like near 3"


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 12:37AM
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computergardener(z7 NC)

Lilacs of May --

I hope you are still growing garlic! My response is two years after your post but I thought I would chime in with my 2 cents worth.

1) As others have stated, the variety of garlic is going to determine the final size of the bulb. I like large cloves also so I have switched to only growing Hard Necks. I only get 6-10 cloves per bulb but they are always much bigger. I actually weigh each clove before going in the ground and only grow bulbs larger then 8 grams. (I know it sound crazy, but hey.... I want large cloves.)

2) I only grow organically and it seems you are more concerned about adding fertilizer after the shoots are coming up in the spring then the soil you are planting the cloves in the fall. (I might be wrong, it just seems that way.) My suggestion, work on developing good rich composted soil for your raised bed. Bagged Compost is ok, but to me it is "dead" compared to a 5 gallon bucket of worm filled home "live" compost.

3) I don't see anywhere in the post as to whether you are mulching the bed or not. I put down 4-6" of leaf mulch and I think it keeps my bed overall moist and I feel it keeps the garlic growing underground longer in the winter and starts it up quicker in the spring.

4) Plant early.... In Raleigh some people don't plant until Thanksgiving, I plant around the first of Oct. I continue to believe more foliage I get in the fall above ground they more the bulbs will grow underground during the winter.

Best of Luck..... John...

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 4:44PM
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Hi, I have several suggestions.... I am 100% organic. I have made every mistake there is....
1) Use big cloves.
2) Plant early Oct.( zone 5)
3) Take soil tests, make amendments, use huge amounts of well composted organic matter. Add worm casings to your soil as well as sand...You want a rich well drains very loose soil...
4) Space about 8 inches apart. Plant a little deeper 3 to 4 inches..
5) Use a slow nitrogen release fertilizer which includes bone meal.... I use Epsoma Plantone as a base and add 30% feather meal for the nitrogen ( feather meal also has a large amount of dried blood in it.) I put about 1 heaping tea spoon in the hole when planting.
6) Add Mycorhizzae fungi to your hole... Ideally mix with soil and fertilizer a little so roots will grow into it...They claim there is a 21% to 50% increase in size with this fungi alone.
7) Water 1 inch of water per week.. Very important.You will not have large garlic if you do not do this.
8) Mulch heavily.... I found the ground leaves work nicley as well as straw but the best is wood chips! Yes Wood chips at about 3+ inches in thickness.. Do not let anyone tell you different.....The disadvantage is that you have to rake them back once you have harvested the garlic if you intend to replant that bed....
9) Put 3 applications of fish emulstion down begining in March, one in April, and the final in mid May. If you make your own make sure to dilute about 1 cup per 3 gallons of water.

  1. If possible use rain water to water with.
  2. Remove all scapes as soon as they make their first curly cue.
  3. Harvest when you still see two green leaves and the rest is brown and yellow..Do not wait till the plant is totally brown and fallen over.
  4. Choose larger varieties .
    Please email me with your results, I am very interested.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 12:19AM
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John: Great tips. I had not heard of the mycorrhizae fungus, but i will try it next time.Where can I get some?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 10:08PM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

Mycorrhizae fungus is in some fertilizers. I use the Dr. Earth brand 4-4-4 which has that. Have had very good luck all 'round with that fertilizer.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 12:57PM
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Holy crap. Why has no one mentioned sunlight yet?? The original post says about the garlic beds:

"One gets morning sun till about noon, then dappled sun all afternoon. The other gets a little less sun."

Garlic likes full sun. I made the same mistake a little while back. Find a place where garlic will not be shaded at any time of day. Lack of sunlight directly correlates to bulb size.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 4:58PM
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This was my first year planting garlic and just recently pulled several to see how big they were. I was disappointed. My husband and I always plant a container garden and up until now the garlic seemed to be growing gangbusters. We planted the bulbs in pro mix and composted cow manure and I can see from the posts that probably wasn't enough. The bulbs are well formed in to cloves and look great, but they are small. The few I pulled out were still green on the end. Anyway, I take it supplementing the soil with manure is the way to go?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 8:33PM
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