I firmly believe that everyone should have some garlic growing in their garden.
The plants take up hardly any space, can repel some annoying pests, and just one bulb can yield enough cloves that you can totally replenish your storage supply for planting the following year.
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For those in warm regions, such as USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10, growing garlic might seem out of reach. Au contraire…
While it’s true that these alliums hail from frigid regions and start to complete their life cycle once temperatures climb over 90°F, it’s possible to trick them into thinking they’re in the ideal environment.
Don’t worry, if you want to grow garlic anywhere in the continental US, we can help you find a way. Here’s what’s ahead:
What You’ll Learn
First, let’s clarify our terms.
Though we use Zones 7 to 10 as a broad guideline here, those who are gardening in those areas with cool summers and cool but not cold winters don’t need to worry as much.
I’m looking at you, gardeners in the Pacific Northwest.
This guide primarily applies to those in desert, southern, or subtropical regions with boiling-hot summers and warm winters.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Let’s start by talking about what exactly garlic needs to produce big, healthy cloves.
What Does Garlic Need?
There are a few things that your allium plants need, no matter where you’re growing them.
Loose soil is crucial, or you’ll end up with small, compact bulbs with poorly developed cloves. They also need good drainage and full sun.
Read our full guide to growing garlic for more of the basics you’ll need to cultivate these marvelous bulbs, then come back here. Ready?
To grow well, most garlic needs a certain number of days below a certain temperature, then warm temperatures for a bit, plus the right number of daylight hours.
Most types need 12 hours of sunlight per day before they will start bulbing. Elephant garlic and subtropical types are day neutral and only need about six months to mature.
That makes them ideal for areas that get hot in the summer, because they can be planted in winter and pulled a bit after the spring equinox.
The exact temperatures and number of daylight hours required vary by type. That’s why some do better in warm regions than others.
Most hardnecks, for instance, need about 12 weeks below about 45°F.
Then, they wait until the daylight hours are above 13, the air temperature is above 70°F, and the soil is above 60°F to grow. Hardnecks aren’t bothered by temperatures as low as -30°F or so.
If any of this is out of whack – if the springtime weather gets too hot too fast, for instance – a bulb might de-vernalize early and it will need another cold period to grow well.
What happens if your plant doesn’t get what it wants? Typically, it either won’t form cloves, or the bulbs will be small or compact.
Vernalizing is your best friend if you live in a warm region.
Remember, most garlic needs some cold weather followed by a warm period to break out of dormancy and start bulbing.
But vernalizing in a refrigerator tricks them into thinking they’ve gone through the long, cold winter they crave.
Vernalization is the super complicated process of gathering up your seed bulbs, loading a handful into a paper bag, and tossing it in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Make sure there’s nothing else in the drawer. Leave them there for six to 12 weeks, depending on how warm your climate is. That’s it.
Don’t overcrowd the bulbs, just add a half-dozen per brown paper lunch bag. Toss out or eat any that start to develop mold. High humidity increases mold formation, so if you can increase the air circulation in the crisper drawer by opening a vent, do it.
If you live in Zone 10, aim for closer to 12 weeks. Those in Zones 7 will be fine with six weeks. This requirement may vary a bit, depending on the type.
That means if you naturally have about six weeks of temperatures below 40°F and your garlic typically needs 12 weeks of vernalization, you’ll need to refrigerate it for six weeks before planting.
You’ll have to research how much time your particular type needs since there’s no hard and fast rule.
Then, plant when the temperature will reliably stay below 40°F.
If you never have temperatures that stay consistently below 40°F in your area, just do all of your vernalization in the refrigerator.
Some sellers will vernalize their bulbs for a bit while waiting for shipment. If you can, check with your seller and see if that’s the case.
When in doubt, vernalize longer than you think you need. It doesn’t hurt to overdo it, but underdoing it can result in de-vernalization. This means you might need to plan ahead and buy your seed garlic early.
Tips for Growing Big Bulbs in Warm Regions
Here is our goal when growing in warm regions: we want to create the right conditions to encourage the plant to develop lots of foliage before it starts to develop the bulb.
Once the bulb starts forming, it develops rapidly, so if we get the timing wrong, we won’t produce the big, juicy cloves that we crave.
To do that, we have to establish our mantra: keep it cool!
We’re going to do whatever we can to keep the soil nice and cool so those greens can develop fully before the bulbs start growing. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to install a garden air conditioning system. We gardeners have all kinds of tricks up our sleeves.
First, plant those cloves an inch or two deeper than what’s recommended. That might mean sticking the cloves six inches deep, but so be it.
A lot of us use mulch to keep the heat in the soil during the growing season, but applied at the right time, it can also be used to keep the soil cool.
While the soil is still below 40°F, apply a thick layer of organic mulch.
A few inches of leaf litter, straw, shredded cardboard or newspaper, grass, sawdust, or finely chopped wood makes a good insulator. Stay away from dark mulches since these absorb heat from the sun. Light-colored mulches reflect it.
If you need an extra layer of cool control, buy some shade cloth. You aren’t going to put this over the plants. Instead, support it so that it sits a few inches above the soil and cut holes in it to feed the leaves through.
You can cover the plants completely with another piece of cloth if you have a really hot day over 85°F, to provide even more protection.
Site selection is another thing you can use to your advantage. Although the plants prefer full sun, a little shade during the hottest parts of the day can extend your growing season by weeks.
If you have to choose between full sun and a spot with some afternoon shade, even if it results in partial shade conditions, choose the latter.
Believe it or not, even your watering techniques can impact temperature.
We want to encourage those roots to grow deep because the soil deep down is cooler than the soil near the surface. Water infrequently but deeply rather than often and shallowly.
Best Types of Garlic to Select for Warm Climates
Beyond these gardening tricks, selecting garlic types that are more amenable to warm climates will help.
Softnecks generally do well in warmer climates, especially silverskins, as well as Creoles.
‘Thermadrone’ is a softneck artichoke type that develops earlier than almost any other softneck. The closely related artichoke type ‘Lorz Italian’ is close behind.
You can pick up a half pound of ‘Lorz Italian’ bulbs for planting at Burpee if you want to give them a try.
Silverskins take longer to mature than most other cultivars. They’re some of the longest maturing.
But they don’t need as much vernalization time as many other cultivars and they tolerate heat, which is why they work well in warm areas.
Creole types don’t need a lot of time for vernalization, and they tolerate heat as well.
Elephant, ‘Glen Large,’ ‘Southern Glen,’ ‘Italian Pink,’ ‘Italian Red,’ aren’t daylight dependent and they mature quickly. You can plant these cultivars in the winter and harvest by the time the heat arrives in June.
If you’ve never grown or tasted elephant garlic before, maybe this is your year. The massive, mild-flavored bulbs are a favorite for roasting whole.
Burpee carries them in half-pound bundles.
‘Siberian’ and ‘Bogatyr’ tolerate more heat without shutting down bulb growth, so if you have early heat or need a little extra time for your bulbs to mature, these are good options.
As with all others, they can be planted in the fall or winter, but these won’t stop growing if the hot weather arrives before they’re mature.
Depending on where you live, you’ll need to plant as late as early December to make the most of the cool temperatures.
If you live in the extreme south, December is probably ideal. If you’re in Zone 7, October is better.
Aim to have a majority of growth occur during periods of cool weather while allowing about a month of growth after the daylight hours have reached the appropriate number.
If in doubt, assume the garlic that you choose needs about 12 hours.
The soil should be about 50°F at the depth you’ll be planting.
Garlic for Everyone!
Beyond our motto of “keep it cool,” you should also remind yourself to just have some fun. Try experimenting with new varieties with the expectation that they may or may not work.
If you stumble across an excellent option that thrives in your warm climate, be sure to come back and let us know which works for you!
I hope you get to enjoy your biggest, most abundant harvest ever using the tips in this guide.
If so, we have a few other guides to growing garlic that you might find useful to make the most of your plants, including: