How to Harvest and Cure Garlic (A Simple 5-Step Guide!)

What not many newbie home gardeners know is that harvest is relatively easy to grow. But if you’re like me and you want to make the best of all the garlic bulbs you’ve grown, then you need to know how to properly harvest at the right time and cure them. Don’t just pull garlic out of the ground, you have to be delicate with it!

Harvest garlic by carefully 1) loosening the soil around the bulbs, 2) digging them with their leaves intact, 3) air-drying them for about 3 days, 4) brushing off excess soil on them, and 5) curing them for at least 1 week. Freshly harvested garlic can be eaten right away, but it’s best to cure them for better, stronger flavor and longer shelf life.

Even before harvesting garlic bulbs in your garden, there are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind. Find out how to prepare your garlic for the biggest-cloved bulbs when it’s time for harvest!

1. Loosen the Soil

It is recommended to loosen the soil around garlic bulbs during harvest to minimize possible injuries and maintain great quality heads for long shelf life.

Start working the soil at least 6 inches or so (approx. 15) from the very base of the plant and gently work your way to the space directly around the bulbs.

Digging too near the heads comes with the risk of directly piercing, and thereby spoiling your garlic bulbs.

Injured garlic bulbs won’t store well and you’ll have to use them immediately. Otherwise, they’ll go to waste.

It’s best to harvest garlic on a dry sunny day as excess moisture from rain can easily shorten its shelf life.

You can use a clean hand-held gardening fork for this. I know some people who enjoy doing all this dirty work with their hands but that can be time-consuming.

Harvesting and Drying Hardneck Garlic

If you planted numerous rows of garlic in the garden, it’s best to opt for a mechanical harvester or undercut your garden bed faster.

Find out when is the best time to harvest garlic! 

2. Dig Out the Bulbs

Because fresh garlic bulbs are still tender and bruise easily, home gardeners have to carefully dig out bulbs with their leaves and skins intact for protection.

Others may tell you that it’s perfectly fine to pull out the garlic head from the ground using their leaves. However, doing so puts them at risk of contracting mold spores and diseases.

When you pull out garlic bulbs from the soil by yanking on their stems and leaves, there’s a high chance that you’re going to sever the connection between them.

When Harvesting Garlic, Dig Don’t Pull
When Harvesting Garlic, Dig Don’t Pull

Such open wounds will serve as entry points for microorganisms. Once the damage has been done, you’ll be left with moldy and infected heads—a waste of both money and effort!

As such, you can instead use a spade or fork to dig up your garlic bulbs from the soil without injuring its stem—which is necessary for braiding softneck garlic.

When you need to harvest several plots of garlic bulbs, you can also opt to use a one-row potato digger. This will be more efficient than carefully hand-digging each bulb.

3. Air-Dry the Bulbs

Air-dry freshly harvested garlic bulbs for around 3 days in a well-ventilated, warm, and shaded area. Drying them under direct sun can lead to sunscald and reduce yield.

Once your garlic bulbs are dug out of the ground whole, it’s best to have them air-dry for a couple of days—soil and all—before cleaning them up and finally curing them.

Lay out all your garlic in a single layer on a wooden pallet or screened tray like the one below from Amazon to allow as much air circulation around every single bulb.

You could keep them in your garage or front porch. Just make sure they have a roof to protect them from the elements.

Cover the garlic bulbs with their leaf tops or a shading cloth in the morning or afternoon sun has the possibility of directly shining on them.

Leaving garlic heads out in the sun for just a couple of minutes with temperatures over 90°F (32°C) can quickly result in sunburn or sunscald.

4. Clean With a Brush

When the excess soil covering the garlic bulbs has dried thoroughly, it will be much easier to clean them with a soft-bristled brush. Freshly harvested garlic bulbs should not be washed to avoid mold growth and fungal development.

You can shake or rub off the dried soil on your garlic bulbs once it has been air-dried with your bare hands. Don’t knock them against and hard surface as this will bruise them.

However, using a soft-bristled brush will help you get rid of all the dirt more thoroughly. You also won’t have a lot of soil stuck under your nails—which can be a pain to remove—with this method.

Don’t wash garlic bulbs by cleaning them under running water as this moisture might enter the cloves and make it much more prone to molding and disease.

Once the garlic heads are clean from the soil, trim the roots and tops. Gardeners can also do this after curing but I prefer doing it beforehand to save on space.

Trim and Inspect Harvested Garlic Bulbs
Trim and Inspect Harvested Garlic Bulbs

While trimming garlic bulbs, inspect each one. Bruised and pierced bulbs may not survive the curing process so they are best consumed immediately.

Leave at least 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) of the leaf tops on your garlic bulbs. Cutting them too short can expose the bulbs to spores and pathogens which can greatly reduce your yield.

5. Cure the Dry Bulbs

Cure cleaned and dried garlic bulbs for 1–6 weeks in an airy, shady, and warm area like a well-ventilated barn or garden shed. Hang or thinly lay them on a screen.

You can bunch together 8–10 heads of hardneck garlic together if you kept their leaf tops intact after cleaning them up. For softneck garlic, I’d recommend you braid them.

How To Plant, Harvest & Cure Hardneck Garlic 🧄

Pro Tip: Have fans running while oscillating in a more closed-off drying area to keep garlic bulbs ventilated.

Depending on where you live, curing garlic can be as quick as only 1 week if you live in a dry region like Arizona or Utah.

Conversely, it can take as long as 6 weeks to cure garlic in more cool and humid areas like New Jersey.

A completely cured garlic is dry and firm. If the bulb still has a give to it when held, it’s best to let it cure for a couple more days.

Then, you can keep cured garlic heads in mesh bags or wicker baskets to keep them dry as possible and make them last for months on end.

Cured garlic heads store best at cold temperatures around 32–40°F (0–4°C) and humidity levels within 60–75%, such as in the vegetable compartment of a fridge.

Keeping garlic at cool room temperatures, or 40–50°F (4–10°C), can shorten its shelf life by about half and induce sprouting of your garlic!

How to Prepare Garlic for Harvest (3 Tips for Massive Bulbs!)

Gardeners can prepare garlic for harvest and improve bulb and clove size by 1) side-dressing it with Nitrogen about 1 month beforehand, 2) removing the scapes before it starts to curl, and 3) not watering 2 weeks before the target harvest date.

Way before harvest time, there are a few tricks home gardeners have to do to ensure a good yield of garlic bulbs with massive cloves!

1. Add Nitrogen

Garlic is a moderate/heavy feeder. So for it to grow a generous-sized head, you need to give it plenty of nitrogen-rich fertilizer around spring, about a month before harvest.

You can use chicken manure, soybean meal, or blood meal (like the one below from Amazon) in its soil to ensure high yields of sizable garlic bulbs.

2. Trim Scapes

Although garlic scapes are a treat in and of themselves, allowing them to grow long, uncurl, and flower before trimming them can greatly reduce the maximum size of your garlic bulbs.

Garlic in the Home Garden: Removing Scapes

Research has shown that leaving scapes on garlic during cultivation can reduce the size of garlic bulbs for harvest by up to 48%!

Moreover, removing scapes earlier in the season doesn’t have any negative effects on the overall growth and development of garlic heads.

So if you’re growing garlic specifically for its bulbs, you can trim these false flowering stalks as early as possible.

3. Stop Watering

Stop watering your garlic when it’s about 2 weeks before your expected harvest time. At this point in time when they’re almost fully mature, their skin is starting to dry out.

Doing otherwise would wet the skin, and possibly the cloves within, inducing staining at best and diseases at worst.

Is It Okay to Eat Garlic Immediately After Harvesting Them?

Freshly harvested garlic bulbs are safe to eat even if they haven’t been dried or cured for at least 1 week. They must be consumed immediately as they don’t store well.

Here’s the deal: it’s perfectly alright to use garlic right after your harvest them.

In fact, some actually sell freshly harvested heads of garlic in farmer’s markets. Just keep in mind that they tend to taste much milder than cured garlic bulbs—even when eaten raw.

You can quickly toss them into a pan on the stove and get started on cooking your favorite pasta sauce or vegetable stir-fry, among many other delicious dishes!

Also, it’s much better to not keep fresh garlic for too long as they haven’t cured properly. Personally, I like using them on the day of harvest or in just a couple of days.


Can I save some garlic bulbs for planting the following season?

The best and biggest garlic bulbs from every harvest can be saved for the following season so that each clove can be planted. Keep them under 40°F (4°C) to prevent premature sprouting. Only select smooth, firm, and blemish-free cloves for seeding. Cultivating garlic at home this way is much more cost-effective than buying garlic sets each time.

What happens if you leave garlic in the ground too long?

When left in the ground for too long, garlic bulbs will start splitting their cloves on their own. They naturally do this to propagate themselves without human interference. Once this happens, their skins are likely to break as well, exposing the cloves to pests and diseases. Even when harvested pest and disease-free such bulbs don’t store well.

How do you braid garlic?

Harvest garlic while about half of its pliable leaves are still green to easily braid. Use about 10 garlic bulbs per braid. Start by braiding together the stems of three garlic bulbs and add more as less and less of each stem shortens, keeping 3 sections for proper braiding. Secure the end with twine and store them away from heat and light.

Summary of How to Harvest Garlic

Once garlic bulbs are ready for harvest, start by loosening the soil around each one. After that, carefully dig each one out together with its roots and leaves. Let them air-dry for a few days and brush off the soil on them. Then, trim off the stems and roots and cure them for about 1–6 weeks in a well-ventilated, dry, warm, and relatively dark area.

Let maturing garlic bulbs grow sufficiently by side-dressing the soil with Nitrogen around spring. Remove the escapes while they are still short and straight as well. Then, at the 2-week mark before the expected harvest time, watering must be stopped completely.


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