QUESTION: – How do you know when to harvest garlic? I don’t want to pull mine up too soon and I’m not sure what to look for. – Richard H.
ANSWER: – It can be rather tricky to know exactly when to harvest your garden garlic. If you harvest them too early, the cloves won’t be mature enough, and if you harvest them too late, the bulbs may start to split open, which will shorten their shelf life, and make them harder to store. Getting your garlic out of the ground at the right time is essential if you want to get the most out of your harvest. The key to figuring out the perfect time to dig up your bulbs, is to keep an eye on the leaves.
One tip that can help you know when to harvest your garlic is to read up on the particular variety of garlic that you are growing. There are quite a few different types of garlic that you can grow, including early, mid, and late season varieties. Keep in mind that especially warm weather can make your bulbs grow faster, while cold weather periods can stunt your garlic’s growth.
Hardneck garlic varieties become ready for harvest very soon after you take your last garlic scapes cuttings. Once you harvest your last round of scapes, give your bulbs one last deep watering, allowing the soil to dry out completely before harvesting the bulbs.
Perhaps the best way to know when your garlic is ready for harvest is to keep an eye on the leaves of the plant. Most garlic varieties produce plants with six to nine leaves. The leaves of a garlic plant wrap around the plant itself like a ribbon, traveling down the stem and then weaving themselves into the bulb, where they act as protective layers between the garlic cloves beneath the soil. When you notice that the lower two to three leaves of the plant begin to turn brown or yellow, it is time to harvest your bulbs. You don’t have to harvest them at the first sign of the lower leaves changing color, but you don’t want to wait too long after noticing them, as they will lose many of their protective layers if not harvested quickly.
Since it is best to harvest garlic when the soil is completely dry, give your bulbs one last deep watering after you notice the bottom leaves turning color. After the soil dries out, gently dig around the bulbs and remove them from the ground. Don’t pull the bulbs up by their leaves, yanking them out of the earth, as that can damage your garlic. Instead, gently dig around the bulbs until they can be pulled up easily, without doing damage to the plant itself.
Noticing a slight discoloration in the bottom leaves is not a sufficient sign that your garlic is ready for harvest. Instead, the bottom third of the leaves should be showing significant loss of color, and the remaining leaves should show signs of discoloration around the leaf tips. Discoloration of your garlic plant’s leaves is a sign that the plant is switching gears, and instead of sending water and nutrients to the scapes, the plant is now focusing all of its energy on growing its roots. Once your garlic starts showing signs that it has made the shift, it’s only a matter of days before it is ready for harvesting.
Even if the stem is nice, strong, and sturdy looking, don’t be tempted to pull the bulbs up by the stem, as the act of pulling up your cloves can damage the bulbs, ripping apart its protective layers which help protect the cloves during storage. Instead, use a spade, garden fork, or hand tiller to loosen the soil around your plant before attempting removal. Once the soil is loosened and the garlic is easy to pull up, you can then gently pull it up by its stem, or you can take a little extra time to dig up the bulbs entirely, to be sure not to damage the structure of the garlic knots during extraction.
As garlic cloves mature beneath the soil, it is not always easy to tell when they are ready for harvesting. Garlic is typically planted in the fall and harvested anytime between the last few weeks of spring and the end of summer. That’s a long period of time in which your garlic plants might be ready for harvesting, but might still need a bit more time. With a potential harvesting time of May to August, it can be tough to tell exactly when to remove your garden garlic from the earth.
If you pick your garlic too early or too late, you will run into a number of issues, so getting the harvesting time down to a science is essential. Therefore, it’s paramount that you keep an eye on the leaves and extract your garlic when one third of the leaves have changed color. While knowing when to harvest your onions is fairly easy, as you just wait until the onion tops change color completely and flop over before harvesting, garlic is actually ready for harvesting while much of the tops are still green.
The number of green leaves on your garlic plant will directly correlate to how many protective layers will be wrapped around your cloves when you harvest your bulbs. If you harvest your bulbs before one third of the leaves have started to die back, your bulbs will have 10 layers of protective coating between each clove. Optimally, you will want to harvest your bulbs when there are between six and four layers of protective coating between each clove.
Getting your garlic out of the ground when exactly one-third of the leaves have begun to die back is not essential, but the timing is pretty key, and needs to be relatively close to get your bulbs out of the ground when they are ripe for picking. Just make sure that you don’t pick the bulbs before the bottom leaves begin to turn, and be sure to get them all out of the ground before all of the leaves start to turn brown. If the bulbs don’t have any of their protective layers in place, the cloves will start to pull apart from the bulb, and the garlic won’t store very well.
Water your garlic regularly until you notice that the majority of your crop’s lower leaves are beginning to change color. At this point, you can cease watering your garlic for the last week before harvesting them, as you want to harvest when the soil is completely dried out.
Knowing when to harvest your garlic can be a bit tricky, but if you keep a close eye on the leaves, waiting until the bottom third (or more) of the leaves change color before harvesting, your bulbs should be just right. Water regularly up until the final week, then cease watering and carefully dig up your bulbs when the soil has dried out completely.