Encyclopedia of Houseplants

Learn How to Grow Garlic in Pots and You Might Never Have to Buy the Store Stuff Again

updated Sep 13, 2022
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garlic plant
Credit: WENDY TSANG/Shutterstock

Garlic is the MVP of the edible plant world and can make nearly any savory dish taste better. There are festivals dedicated to it, cookbooks that wax poetic about its abilities, and garlic enthusiasts who may have tried too many culinary experiments with it. While it and many other herbs are easily accessible at nearly any grocery store, growing your own hydroponic garlic is fun, rewarding, and fairly simple.

If you can’t get enough of this tasty allium, you can learn all about how to plant, grow, maintain, and harvest its greens, below.

Selecting a garlic variety

There are tons of garlic varieties to choose from, and they are divided into two basic categories: hard neck types, which have a hard central stock with a single layer of cloves around it, and softneck types, which have swirling layers of cloves and no defined neck. 

Hardneck varieties produce a flower bud called a scape in late spring, and scapes have a delicious mild garlicky flavor that tastes amazing in things like pesto. In theory, you could plant garlic purchased from the grocery store, but it is often treated to prevent it from sprouting. 

For the best results and a more interesting array of varieties, buy garlic grown locally at a farmer’s market or buy bulbs at a nursery.

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Growing garlic is a great way to keep your garden productive during the long winter months. (Image credit: Willi Galloway)

Can you start garlic in pots?

Growing garlic in pots is completely doable, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you do so. Garlic is prone to fungal root diseases, so it is important that the soil you plant the cloves in drains well.

Don’t be tempted to put regular garden soil in the containers. It is too heavy and tends to get soggy over the winter. Instead, use a high-quality soil-less potting mix. These mixes typically contain a blend of coconut fiber, peat, compost, and vermiculite or pearlite to help keep it light. I use a brand called Black Gold.

Get the potting mix as damp as a wrung-out sponge before placing it in the container. Fill the container to within about 2 inches of the rim. You’ll also want to make sure you select a pot that drains well, preventing it from rotting—but more on that later. 

Can you grow garlic from a clove?

Yes, you can! If you have a head of garlic or a few cloves still intact, follow these steps to plant it properly. 

  1. Break the garlic heads apart, being careful to keep the papery wrapper around each clove intact. Only plant the largest cloves (you can use the smaller ones for cooking with).
  2. Plant the garlic 2 inches from the rim of the container, spacing the bulbs 5 inches apart in all directions. 
  3. Use a piece of bamboo to make planting holes that are 3 inches deep. Plant one clove per hole, with the flat side down and the pointy end up. 
  4. Backfill the hole with soil, making sure that the tip of the clove is about 1 inch below the surface. 

Keep in mind that the garlic may sprout and then die back over the winter, but don’t worry. It will re-sprout again in the spring.

What kind of container is best?

Garlic has fairly shallow roots, but it is important to make sure they have plenty of room to stretch out in the soil. These tips will be helpful when you’re searching for the right container for your garlic:

  • Choose a pot that is at least 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide.
  • Half barrels and wooden crates work well, but you certainly do not need to buy a container for your garlic. The large black plastic containers that trees come in are a great choice, as are contractor buckets. 
  • Whatever container you use, make sure that it has drainage holes in the bottom. 

How much light does it need?

When growing in a container indoors, garlic likes bright direct sunlight, and it will need at least six hours of it a day in order to grow properly. If your home isn’t blessed with endless sunshine and tons of open windows, that’s fine! A fluorescent bulb or growing light can be equally as useful and sometimes even more efficient.

How do you water a garlic plant?

These bulbs prefer moist soil, but be sure your pot is getting enough sunlight and has good drainage to help keep the water moving through. If garlic sits in too much water, it can rot or simply die. To water garlic, simply fill a container with room temperature water and gently pour it into the soil.

How do you harvest the garlic?

Once the garlic sprouts, you can trim the greens after they get to be four inches or taller. Then use these greens within a day or two to keep them as fresh as possible. If you’re looking to grow and harvest a head of garlic or cloves, you’ll have better luck planting garlic outdoors. It’s rare to get full bulbs from indoor growth, and garlic needs overwintering outside if you’re looking to get more than just the greens.