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How to Grow Garlic in Zone 3 (and other cold climates)


Garlic is an easy to plant vegetable that’s perfect for beginners. The catch? If you want to eat garlic this July, you need to plant it this October. Unlike most vegetables, garlic should be planted in the fall instead of spring. But don’t worry, the process is really simple! I’ll show you what you need to know to decide each year when the best time to plant garlic is, where to get garlic, and how to plant it in a zone 3 garden (or other cold climates) so it grows in the Spring.

The garlic growing advice I’m giving is best suited to zone 3b in Saskatchewan, but should be relevant for most other zones as well.

If you like to watch videos instead or see it done, here’s how I plant and harvest my garlic in raised garden beds:

When is the right time to Plant Garlic?

Garlic can be planted anytime after the first fall frost. Where I live in Saskatchewan, that tends to be around September 15th. Check your area’s first fall frost date and adjust accordingly.

However, just because the first frost happens, doesn’t mean that the weather is going to stay cold! A week or two of unusually high temperatures can signal garlic that its time to start growing–which you definitely don’t want. It can be a bit tricky to find that magic window of cold weather-but-the-ground-isn’t-frozen.

I’ve heard of gardeners having success planting garlic anywhere from early September to late October. Most gardeners in my area seem to favour planting anytime from October 1st-15th. If you’re from another area, try to plant your garlic 2-4 weeks after the first frost date.

What is the best Spacing for Garlic?

Garlic should be planted 3-4 inches deep, 5-6 inches apart. Even though the garlic bulb is small, the stalk and leaves get quite large.

How to Prepare the Soil for Garlic

Before you plant your garlic bulbs, remove any plant matter that was there, add some compost, and lightly mix the soil (if you’re planting in a small area) or rototill if you’re gardening in a large garden. Those of you who use no-till methods can plant directly into the ground.

In zone 3 and other cold climates, cover the area with a 2 or 3 inch thick layer of leaves. If you’re worried about keeping the leaves in place before the snow flies, put a net over the leaves (like the kind you’d use to keep birds out of your berries) and stake it down or weigh it down with rocks or bricks at the edges.

Related: 6 Ways to Store Carrots all Winter Long

Where do I buy Garlic bulbs?

In Canada, you can order garlic online from larger seed companies like Veseys and T&T Seeds. There are a couple of niche growers around the country, such as

Local garden centres that are open year round usually also stock garlic, and sometimes you can also purchase bulbs at your local farmer’s market.

Garlic goes on sale at the beginning of September and often sells out quickly–especially if you are purchasing from niche growers who specialize in unique varieties. If you are reading this in October, most varieties will be sold out by now, but the larger seed companies and possibly your local garden centre will still have some.

After you buy garlic cloves once, you can easily set aside the largest bulbs in your harvest for your own seed.

Plant garlic with the pointy end up and the other end down.

How to Plant Garlic

  • Once you have your garlic bulbs, separate them into individual cloves.
  • Plant the cloves with the pointed side up in a hole that’s approximately 3-4 inches deep, and spaced 6 inches away from another garlic clove
  • Cover the garlic with soil and cover that soil with 2-3 inches of dried leaves or grass clippings for insulation. This step is probably not necessary in warmer areas, but it’s a good idea in zone 3.
  • Secure the leaves by layering a sheet of landscape fabric or bird netting overtop. This step is not necessary, and the fabric should be removed in spring. The fabric or netting keeps the leaves from blowing away before it has snowed for the year.
  • In the Spring, remove the leaves once the garlic starts poking through with green shoots.

Related: How to Harvest Onions so they’ll last until Spring

Should I Plant Hardneck or Softneck Garlic?

You can plant either kind of garlic, but there are a few things to consider. Hardneck garlic is best suited for Northern climates (such as my zone 3 garden!) and will generally do best in the Northern United States and Canada. The purple striped and rocambole varieties are especially hardy.

Softneck garlic tends to be better suited to warmer climates and generally has a longer shelf life. These rules are not hard and fast, as there have been gardeners who successfully grow soft neck varieties in a northern climate and hardneck varieties in a southern climate.

However, only hardneck garlic produces garlic scapes–a flowery growth that must be removed and can be used in cooking. I find garlic scapes have a beautiful garlic flavour and I love adding them to eggs, soups, and any recipe that calls for garlic or onions.

What is the Best Variety of Garlic to Plant?

There is no one-best-variety of garlic to plant. Read through the seed catalogues description of each variety to see if you think it would be a good fit for you and your family. Each variety will have its own benefits, such as long storage life, larger bulbs, stronger flavour, or milder flavour. Or you might be silly like me and buy the Music variety simply because its called music and that’s a big part of your life. To each their own.

If you buy locally or from a seed seller who lives in your geographic region, they will likely only offer varieties that work for your area.

Buying from a big box store is risky, as they are more likely to sell something that might not work where you live. (This is more of a concern for those of us in lesser populated areas in zone 2 and zone 3. You can probably take your chances if you live in a large metropolitan area in zone 5, 6, or 7.)

Will you plant garlic this fall?

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!