Tips for growing bigger garlic bulbs

Graceland Garlic Seeds offers sound advice on how and when to plant garlic for optimal returns.

Tips for growing bigger garlic bulbs
Egyptian white, Egyptian pink and giant garlic have been planted for many generations in South Africa and these cultivars have adapted well to local climates. Photo: Pxfuel
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There are a few varieties of garlic to choose from in South Africa. The most common is the ever-popular Egyptian pink and white variety. This type of garlic is adapted to local conditions, and is a strong grower with a pungent taste.

The Egyptian variety has an exceptionally long shelf life and can be kept in storage for long periods of time. The giant variety is more suitable for areas with higher humidity.

Giant garlic also takes two months longer to grow than traditional garlic. The Spanish variety has fewer but bigger cloves. It is appealing to the eye and its creamy taste makes it popular with consumers.

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Start with good-quality seed

Good-quality seed forms the foundation of a good harvest, and it is impossible to harvest a great crop from poor-quality seed. A common mistake that people make is that they buy cheap, fresh garlic off the shelves and plant those seeds.

Seeds bought off the shelf are often sterile and will not produce sizeable bulbs. It is important to buy seed from a reputable repeatable seed supplier such as Graceland Garlic Seeds.

Plant at the right time

Garlic is a winter crop not only because it prefers lower temperatures, but also because it prefers shorter days, when less photosynthesis takes place. During winter, the plant thus puts its energy towards bulb growth and produces bigger bulbs.

There will also be less vegetative growth of its leaves. Garlic thrives at temperatures of between 13°C to 24°C.  This means that garlic is suitable for just about any climatic region in South Africa.

If you are in the warmer parts of the country, applying mulch on top of your garlic will help to bring temperatures down. Mulch also helps in combatting weeds. The right time to plant in the central and eastern parts of South Africa is February to March.

You can plant up to the middle of May in the western parts of the country. It is important to stay within the right time frame when planting garlic.

Do a proper soil analysis before planting

The importance of a proper soil analysis cannot be overestimated. The pH of the soil for garlic has to be around 6,5 for optimal results. Garlic is a heavy feeder and requires high fertility to do its best.

When nutrients are at their optimum level, plants are healthy and bulb size is maximised. Poor soil fertility is one of the most overlooked factors affecting bulb size at harvest and may very well be prevented by having a proper soil analysis done, as well as adding the correct fertiliser at the correct stage of growth.

Many inexperienced growers wrongly believe that a thin layer of compost will meet the nutritional needs of their garlic plants. They also believe that a good dose of manure should be adequate for their garlic crop to produce its maximum potential yield.

It is true that soil may benefit from adding organic matter, but it does not mean that the nutrient levels will be high enough for producing good-quality garlic.

Each farmer’s soil is unique and one simply cannot copy and paste the fertilising programme that works for someone else. It is essential to get your soil analysed. It is quick and cheap to do and there are laboratories all around the country who will happily assist and advise you.

Often organic or natural growers feel that they need no soil test. This is a guessing game and may lead to nutritional deficiencies or over-fertilisation without the grower being aware of it. Proper fertilisation affects the taste, shelf life, and size of the garlic bulb. By using the right fertiliser, you will be rewarded when taking your product to the market.

While it depends on location, soil is generally low in nitrogen. However, it is important that you don’t over-fertilise with nitrogen. This can cause excessive growth of the leaves of the plants and result in underdeveloped bulbs. The aim of fertilising is to apply just enough nutrients to grow healthy plants and not to cause excessive leaf development.

Be careful when applying fertiliser. Over-fertilisation can cause your plants to burn, especially when they’re young. This can happen with synthetic or organic fertilisers, such as urea or fresh chicken manure.


It is advisable to irrigate plants after fertilising so that the nutrients can move to the roots to feed them. Sprinkle, drip, flood or overhead irrigation is good for garlic. When using overhead irrigation, it is better to irrigate in the morning so that the leaves can dry before the evening comes to prevent rust from forming on the leaves.

When using flood irrigation, make sure the seeds are deep enough so that they won’t wash out of the soil. Drip irrigation is ideal for dryer areas because it saves a lot of water. It is a good idea to get a humidity meter to test how wet the soil is at root depth as it can be deceiving when one looks at the surface of the soil to judge how wet it is. Garlic needs 25mm of water per week.

Harvest at the right time

Garlic goes through a stage of dormancy during the coldest months of winter. Bulb formation is initiated in response to the longer days and warmer temperatures of late spring around September and the garlic bulb grows exponentially during this time.

It is important to decrease irrigation during this time. When 30% of the garlic leaves start to turn brown or fall over it is ready to be harvested.

Graceland Garlic is South Africa’s premier garlic seed supplier and was founded by father-and-son duo Dereyck and Jacques Terblanche. The company is situated in Springs, Gauteng.


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