How to Plant Garlic In Pots

Three weeks ago, a brown paper bag sat on my desk, quietly waiting for me to open it. I was both excited and dreaded opening the bag. You see, I knew that opening that bag meant I would be opening Pandora’s box.

“What if it’s a lot of work?”

“What if I ruin it?”

“What if, it goes so well that I can’t go back to the regular stuff?”

In that bag was the gourmet garlic seeds I purchased for planting in our balcony garden.

When I finally opened the bag, 4 smaller brown paper bags greeted me, each containing its own variety of garlic. The cute little bulbs were the opposite of intimidating, Each has its own coloring and character.

Over two weekends, Alex and I got to work planting these little cloves. It is unbelievably easy that I’m surprised I waited this long.

This is my guide for how to plant garlic, intimidation and perfection free.  

How Do I Plant Garlic?

In the last article, I wrote about different garlic varieties and which ones we chose to plant in 2017. If you’d like to follow along without shelling out forty bucks for gourmet garlic seed I wrote about in that previous article, I have 2 solutions for you:

Visit the local farmers market and see if you can find garlic at the market. Many farmers who grow garlic do care about the variety and could tell you a thing or two that’s special about the variety they have chosen.

  • Visit your supermarket or local hardware store (I saw garlic seeds at Orchard Hardware Supply when we went in to buy our soil).
  • You can grow garlic using the garlic that you buy in the supermarket.

This is one thing I love about garlic and how unfussy it is. All you need is a bulb of fresh garlic. Of course, it is nicer to know what variety it is, where it comes from, special traits, etc. But the essence of garlic is that it is a bulb and one clove can turn into an entire adult garlic plant if planted in soil and watered. It’s simple, unlike flowers or herbs like basil and cilantro where I need seeds or seedlings to get going.

When to Plant Garlic?

From the guides I’ve seen, it is best to plant garlic around:

  • October – November in the North where it is colder and gets frost during the winter. You want to give the plants a chance to establish root growth before the ground freezes over, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
  • November – January in the South where it is warmer. “2-4 weeks before the coldest time of the year”, according to instructions I received from Filaree Garlic Farm where I purchased my garlic seeds.

The rule of thumb I have consistently run into is:

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”‘Plant garlic between Thanksgiving and Christmas.’ Learn more about planting garlic.” display_tweet=”Plant garlic between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”]

So, last weekend, we finally got ourselves busy planting our cloves. That was approximately December 10th so well within the range of recommended planting times.

What Kind of Soil Does Garlic Like?

Well-draining, nitrogen-rich soil.

I asked the Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) customer service clerk who recommended the regular OSH potting soil. It was the cheapest, store-brand soil, and it’s worked out great.

According to Alex, any potting soil is well draining. What is not well draining is clay soil so as long as you avoid clay or any other kind of soil that expands when you add water, you will be fine.

Alex pouring a bag of potting soil into a pot. Stories from
The regular store-brand potting soil is well-draining and usually rich in nitrogen. Bonus points if you find one with slow-releasing fertilizer.

Alex is much more knowledgeable about soil types. He says that adding some coconut husk to the bottom of the gardening pot might help with drainage around the roots.

What Kind of Pot to Plant Garlic In?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a backyard where we can garden. Our community garden plot requires we remove all our plants every year in February which would destroy our garlic if we planted there. So, we are stuck with planting garlic on our balcony garden in pots next to our herbs.

We found some medium-sized pots with bottom trays which catch drained water. Ideally, we would have liked larger pots to give the plants more room. But we could only find these medium-sized pots.

Alex patting the soil in the pot. Stories from
Our pots span approximately two adult hands. We would have preferred slightly bigger pots. But these ones worked just fine.

How Do I Plant the Cloves in the Pots?

You break the bulbs apart. Choose only the cloves that are plump, healthy, and firm. Discard any cloves that are mushy, dried out or moldy. It’s OK if the cloves have started sprouting.

Alex's hands breaking garlic cloves apart. Stories from
Alex is breaking apart the garlic bulb into the cloves. We’re looking for the healthiest, plumpest, largest cloves for planting.

The biggest cloves will produce the biggest garlic plants. You can leave the skin on the cloves.

We are saving the smaller cloves, found clustered together near the stalk, for eating.

Alex used his thumb to make an indentation in the soil to plan out how to position the garlic cloves to make sure we spaced them equally.

Alex leveling the soil in the pot. Stories from
Alex is leveling the soil to get ready for planting.

The recommendation is to space the cloves about 6 inches (15 cm) apart with 9 inches (23 cm) in between the rows. I also read a recommendation to plant the cloves 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart.

Alex planting a clove, root side down, into the soil in the pot. Stories from
Make sure to plant the cloves root side down.

As I mentioned above, we ended up having to plant the cloves closer together because our pots are smaller. Next June, when the garlic matures, we will see whether the pots were too small and whether there are negative consequences of planting the garlic cloves too close together.

How Deep Do I Plant the Cloves?

You plant the garlic root side down. Alex pushed each clove about 2 inches (5 cm) deep.

Alex planting multiple cloves, root side down, into the soil in the pot. Stories from
Alex first spaces out the cloves. Then he pushes them about 2 inches (5 cm) deep into the soil.

Is it Easy to Mess Up?

No! Have confidence in yourself! Even as a first-time garlic grower, I found this planting experience to be very easy. I know this looks like a lot of words on one page, but it took about 1 hour from start to finish for us.

Once it is set up, there’s little maintenance required other than watering and the periodic weeding. It’s much less work than having a pet ?

There’s nothing to do until the spring when we can add some nitrogen to give the plants a boost and then get ready for harvest.

Last-Minute Tips

Drip Irrigation to the Rescue!

Drip irrigation has been a game changer for us. Our herbs used to die from forgetful neglect. No more!

Alex set up drip irrigation with a timer that automatically waters our plants at the same time every day.

Drip Irrigation timer connected to our faucet connected to tubing. Stories from
Drip irrigation has saved us headaches and heartbreaks. 

I recommend you invest in a drip irrigation system too because it saves you time, mental energy, and it is more water efficient.


Since we have different varieties of garlic, I created little tags for each pot. It makes it much easier to keep track of which pot contains which variety considering the pots all look identical at the moment.

Closer view of the pots with soil and garlic planted showing the labels. Stories from
Labeling the pots removes the guesswork. We’ll be able to tell the different varieties we planted once they start to grow.

Any other questions? Please leave a comment!

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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