Garlic Growth Stages

Understanding the life cycle of garlic will help you be a better gardener. What are the growth stages it goes through?

Of all the plants you can grow in your garden, garlic may be one of the easiest. Sadly, many gardeners don’t attempt to grow it even though they may frequently use it in the kitchen. Garlic has additional benefits as a natural insect and fungal repellent, making it an excellent companion plant for herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees. 

All parts of garlic are edible, and knowing its growth stages will help you identify when to harvest these parts and add them to your favorite dishes.

a man's hand planting whole garlic in soil


In most regions in the United States, garlic is sown in the fall and harvested mid to late summer of the following year. Planting occurs between September 15 and the end of November. 

Garlic is seldom grown from seed. It is produced from one of the 6 to 15 individual cloves that make up a garlic bulb. Each clove will mature into a whole bulb. 

Germination starts underground when a sprout emerges from a garlic clove. The sprouts appear aboveground as small green leaves within 4 to 8 weeks after planting. Most of the growth during this stage happens underground, giving the plant a healthy foundation. 

new planted garlic started to grow

Green Garlic

Around April or May, some of the garlic may be harvested as green garlic. The stalk is about the size of a pencil, and the plant looks like a green onion, with a hint of pink on the white bulb and flat green stalks. 

Green garlic does not store well. It can be used in cooking, similar to green onions.

green garlic leaves in the farm


Scapes appear three to four weeks (usually late June) after the green garlic harvest. They look like curly tendrils and are easy to recognize. Garlic scapes are typically removed because they divert energy away from bulb growth and could result in smaller garlic bulbs. 

Scapes are frequently referred to as garlic flowers; however, they are not true flowers because the reproductive parts are only partially formed and are not viable.

Scapes can be used in cooking in the same ways as you would use garlic cloves.

garlic leaves with growing curly tendrils

Young Bulbs

Fresh or young garlic can be harvested about eight months after planting before the bulbs are fully mature. Young bulbs have a crisp, juicy flavor and texture that enhance the flavor of meals. 

Mature Bulbs

Mature bulb heads are covered in white, pink, or even purple papery skins. It’s difficult to determine how large the garlic bulbs have grown until they’re removed from the ground. Generally, garlic is ready to harvest when the stalks are firm, and the plump leaves appear yellow before turning brown about 9 months after planting.

Mature garlic has a more robust flavor than its earlier stages. Harvested bulbs can be used right away or saved for later use.

a man pulling the garlic plant


Any scapes not removed from the plant will straighten. The buds open to reveal a globe of tiny flowers, often mixed with miniature bulbils. Bulbils are genetic clones of their parent.

Growing full-size heads of garlic from bulbils takes patience as it can take two or more years. The benefit of doing so is that the bulbils have not been exposed to soil diseases or fungi. 

Occasionally, garlic is grown from tiny, black seeds, like onion seeds. It is rare for garlic to produce true seed.

beautiful purple allium flower in the forest


The mature garlic bulbs should be ready to harvest in about nine months. Harvest the whole plant, removing as much dirt as possible, and store the bulbs in a well-ventilated, shaded, and weather-protected area. 

If bulbs are left in the ground for too long, they will break, allowing dirt and water to enter, increasing the risk of rotting.

Before storing, remove the stems by cutting 2 inches above the bulb. Store the garlic in mesh bags in an area with an average humidity of 50% and at temperatures around 60ºF. The drying process known as curing enhances the life and health of garlic bulbs.

freshly dug garlics from the farm
Carley Miller
Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at Bustling Nest. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.
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