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How Much Water Does Growing Garlic Need?

Garlic is a surprisingly easy crop to grow. It can tolerate lots of sun, cold and mild temperatures, and it requires pretty infrequent watering. Not to mention, a couple of garlic cloves can go a long way, with tons of flavor, and dense in essential nutrients. Garlic is a great addition to any garden, especially for gardening novices, or those who just like a low-maintenance crop. However because garlic is so low maintenance, we can sometimes overcompensate by overwatering. Keep reading for tips on how to avoid over and underwatering, and to learn how much water growing garlic really needs.

Gardener watering a field of garlic plants with a watering can

How much water does growing garlic need?

Garlic is a relatively low-maintenance plant in that it doesn’t require excessive watering. Garlic grows its best in soil with good drainage[3] and plenty of nutrients. A well-draining soil will prevent overwatering, which can cause your garlic buds to rot. Garlic should be watered thoroughly, but not too often. Ideally, you should water your garlic to the depth of the root, so the soil surrounding the roots becomes moist but not wet. If your water is pooling at the surface of the soil, or the soil is wet for more than a day, you’re either providing too much, or too frequent watering or your soil is not draining well.

To prevent over and underwatering you should observe the soil before you apply water. If the surface appears dry, it’s usually okay to water, but you should check beneath the surface with a wooden trowel, a moisture meter, or your finger to ensure it is not wet beneath the top layer. Additionally, if you observe the top of the soil is wet, you should hold off on watering for another day, and then check again. 

Person wearing a black shirt watering a small garlic plant in a terracotta pot with a mason jar full of water

How often should you water garlic plants?

You should water your garlic to a depth of about 1 inch[2] in the spring while the garlic has still not sprouted. This can be done anywhere from once a week to once every few weeks depending on the rainfall, and soil type. If your garden gets rain every 10-14 days[2] you can typically skip watering. When garlic begins to sprout, it can be watered more frequently, about every 3-5 days[1]. If the soil is extremely dry you can up your watering, but always check the soil first. It’s always better if the soil is on the drier side, so if you think you are underwatering your garlic, you probably are not. 

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Mistakes to avoid when watering garlic

Poor drainage:

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when growing garlic is using the wrong kind of soil. Garlic needs well-draining soil to avoid rotting bulbs. If soil is too tightly compacted, it can hold onto water for too long, which can waterlog and kill your garlic buds[2]. Use fast-draining soil in a raised bed for the most efficient drainage, or prepare the soil in your garden thoroughly before planting garlic. 

Overwatering:

Garlic is typically planted in the fall, lays dormant in the winter, and grows in the spring, all three of which are typically rainy seasons in many regions. During periods of heavy rainfall, it’s imperative to protect your garlic plants from the natural overwatering that rain brings. To prevent your garlic buds from being drowned out by the rain, avoid watering altogether after periods of heavy rainfall, and be sure to use well-draining soil. If the rain is especially relentless, use raised garden beds for the best drainage. 

Watering too late in the season:

Garlic grows predominantly between the months of May through August. Depending on the variety, climate, and planting time, you can harvest garlic anywhere from late June to August[1]. During the spring garlic will grow quickly, sprouting long greens and it will drink up lots of water. As garlic grows into maturity, however, it’s important to lay back on watering. If there is excess moisture in the soil before harvesting it can “increase the chances of root or bulb rot and can expose the cloves if the bulb wrappers have broken down”[4]. To prevent this, you should stop watering your garlic plants around 1 to 2 weeks before you plan on harvesting[4]. If unexpected rain arrives close to your harvest, you may need to dry out your garlic cloves post-harvest. 

Society Garlic - 60 Live Plants - Tulbaghia Violacea Ground Cover Perennial

What is the best watering technique for garlic plants?

Because garlic is quite susceptible to bulb and root rot, it’s important to tread lightly when watering. Garlic can tolerate tons of sun, and cold weather, but it can fall quite quickly if overwatered. Typically, the best way to water garlic is with drip irrigation[3]. Drip irrigation slowly adds water to the soil over a longer period of time, keeping the soil moist, but never soaking wet, and never bone dry. Drip irrigation can be easily installed in your garden before planting your garlic.

If drip irrigation is not an option for you, use a watering can at least a few inches away from the soil to evenly distribute water across the garden bed. Try to distribute the water evenly without soaking areas too deeply. You should typically soak the soil to a depth of one inch so as to reach the roots without soaking the buds of your garlic. In the spring you can water more frequently, being sure to stop watering 2-3 weeks before harvesting. 

 

Article Sources:

  1. Almanac. “How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic
  2. Backyard Vegetable Gardening. “Curious About Fertilizing and Watering Garlic?
  3. Garden Zeus. “Watering Tps for Softneck Garden Garlic
  4. John Boy Farms. “Harvesting Garlic