While most garden tasks are winding down, fall is the perfect time to plant garlic. This flavorful allium favorite operates on an opposite schedule than most of our garden crops: cloves are planted in the fall, anchor their roots before frost, then overwinter, and begin forming shoots and bulbs in spring. If fall is transitioning to winter in your area, you may wonder if it’s too late to plant garlic.
Most fall-planted garlic is harvested mid-summer the following year. However, the optimal time for planting depends on your USDA hardiness zone. If you’re unsure whether you’ve missed your fall planting window, here is a zone-by-zone guide to determine if it’s too late to plant garlic in your region.
Is It Too Late to Plant Fall Garlic?
Garlic is typically planted between September and November, but planting too early can lead to issues.
In most regions of the United States, garlic is planted between September and November. If the ground remains workable and unfrozen, it is probably not too late to plant garlic. However, a deeper layer of mulch protection may be necessary to keep late-planted garlic cozy as frigid nights approach.
The most common mistakes are related to planting too early rather than too late. If you plant too soon, the cloves may prematurely sprout tender green shoots that dry out the clove over winter and potentially kill the plant.
The goal is to find the perfect window of cool, but not frosty, weather where garlic can get established for winter without stimulating too much growth.
- In zones 0-3, September planting is ideal to ensure the garlic can anchor its roots before heavy frosts.
- In zones 4-5, Plant in early October.
- For zones 6-7, late October is a common planting time.
- In zones 8-10, October or November are suitable.
- In zones 11-12, softneck garlic is often pre-chilled in the refrigerator and planted in late December or January to grow during the coolest part of the year.
For northern areas, plant garlic by the end of September to allow root development before the ground freezes.
Frigid northern zones should aim to get garlic in the ground by the end of September. If fall frosts come particularly quickly, early September is ideal to ensure the cloves can develop roots before the ground freezes.
By the time October and November rolls around, the ground is usually starting to freeze and is no longer workable. If you missed your window, I recommend planting in spring and enjoying fresh “green garlic” like scallions. Alternatively, you can try planting in insulated patio containers to overwinter outdoors.
For these zones, frost heaves are a major risk to garlic that isn’t properly buried. Most varieties are planted at about twice the depth of their dimension or roughly 3-4″ below the surface. The cloves must be thoroughly covered with soil and mulch to ensure they don’t rise above the surface when the ground freezes below them.
Plant by mid-October to avoid excessive sprouting before frost.
Growers in zones 4 and 5 have a slightly longer window for fall garlic planting. Ideally, you should have your cloves in the ground by mid-October. You don’t want to plant much earlier than this because excessive amounts of premature sprouting can desiccate the cloves. A small green shoot above the mulch is OK, but you don’t want your plants putting too much energy into tender green growth right before frosts.
If the soil remains workable and unfrozen, you may still get away with planting in late October or early November, but this depends entirely on the weather. The chances of success decrease as the fall continues because a super late planting may not have time to develop roots before the nighttime temperatures dip below 30°F. In this case, the cloves often rot or freeze under the soil and do not come up the following spring.
Generally, 4 to 6 weeks before the ground completely freezes is ideal. If you risk a later planting, generously apply straw or leaf mulch to insulate the cloves as much as possible. Growing in a raised bed may help the plants establish in late fall.
In zones 6 and 7, the ideal planting window extends from late October into November.
As we move toward more moderate weather regions, gardeners in zones 6 and 7 have more flexibility. The prime window for planting is late October and into November in mild years. Mid-November is usually considered the latest limit for planting, but it can still yield decently sized bulbs as long as the cloves have a couple of weeks to form roots before heavy frosts set in.
Your first light frost of the season is another great reminder that it’s time to get your garlic in. When nighttime temperatures start dipping into the upper 30s, promptly prepare your beds and get your cloves in the ground with a nice layer of straw mulch.
Planting at the right time is crucial to ensure good bulb formation.
Gardeners in moderate winter regions can plant from October through December and sometimes even January. These zones have the widest range for fall garlic planting because the winter isn’t usually too intense. Typically, you can plant 2-3 weeks before your expected first fall frost date.
However, you must not plant too early or too late. Planting too early can cause premature exhaustion of the clove, resulting in little to no bulb formation. Planting too late means the garlic may not get enough cold exposure to produce large, healthy bulbs.
If you missed the fall planting window or your winters are particularly mild, you may want to opt for softneck varieties that require less cold exposure. Gardeners in zone 10 specifically can grow hardneck varieties but should choose ones that require less cold exposure, such as Creole Red or Spanish Roja; however, all softneck varieties will work in zone 10.
In subtropical regions without frost, you can grow garlic, but the bulbs may not be as large.
Subtropical regions without frost can still grow garlic. However, it may not form the giant, luxurious bulbs we often see in colder regions. Because these areas don’t typically experience consistently cold temperatures, it’s best to pre-chill your hardneck seed garlic or choose softneck varieties that require less vernalization.
Vernalization is the natural cold exposure period needed to form large bulbs. In southern regions, garlic may benefit from 3 to 5 weeks of refrigeration before planting in early winter around the holidays in December and January.
Zones 11-12 may have more trouble growing hardneck types because they need prolonged winter weather under 40°F for full bulbs. Try vernalizing hardneck types in your refrigerator before planting. In these warm regions, to successfully grow any hardneck garlic at all, you must select varieties meant for warmer-climate growers, such as Spanish Roja or Creole Red. It’s easier to stick with softnecks here!
While you may miss out on the unique garlic scapes more commonly found in the northern zones, southern growers can still enjoy garlic shoots like scallions and nicely sized softneck bulbs for braiding.
For successful planting, select large cloves, plant them properly, and maintain consistent moisture.
No matter what zone you’re planting in, these tried-and-true tips will help you enjoy the most abundant yields with minimal effort:
- Plant only the largest single cloves and discard small, rotten, or malformed cloves.
- Place the root side down and pointy side up about 2-4” deep.
- For the largest bulbs, space 6-12” apart.
- Choose hardneck varieties for cold northern zones and softneck varieties for the south.
- Don’t plant too early. Wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently below 50°F.
- In areas with hard freezes and frost heaves, plant up to 5” deep and mulch generously.
- If desired, pre-soak seed cloves for 8 hours in a gallon of water with 1-2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or baking soda to reduce the likelihood of disease spread. This is not required but may be beneficial if you’re trying to grow garlic you acquired from a market or other uncommon source.
- Fertilize with kelp or fish emulsion in spring.
Remember that garlic has shallow roots and requires consistent moisture during its spring and summer bulbing periods. In most regions, winter and spring rains are enough to irrigate.
However, once dry summer weather approaches, it is helpful to add drip lines or soaker hoses to water plants from the base underneath the mulch if your garlic has not yet fully matured. Water-stress plants will not yield quality bulbs, but overwatered garlic may rot.
To find a happy medium, thoroughly amend your beds with compost for plenty of drainage and regularly check the moisture so the soil is always cool and moist but never soggy.
If your garden soil hasn’t frozen and remains workable, you can probably still plant garlic. November is generally a little late for zones 1-5, but zones 6-12 still have ample time to plant your cloves.
If you live in a cold region, choose a hardneck variety and densely mulch with straw or deciduous leaves. If you live in a warm or subtropical region, choose a softneck variety.
Worst case scenario, you can always save planting for spring and enjoy “spring garlic” just like you would with scallions. When in doubt, opt for a later planting over an earlier one. You don’t want to risk your cloves prematurely sprouting and drying out before winter sets in!