Garlic: Easy to grow and good for you

By Janice Aulisio
VCE Southside Master Gardener

The first recorded use of garlic was by the Sumarians of Mesopotamia, near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Paintings of garlic have been discovered in Egyptian tombs, including the great pyramid of Cheops, dating back to 3200 B.C. Its scientific name, Allium sativum, came from William Woodsville (Medical Botany) in 1793.
Garlic comes in two types. A. sativum var. ophioscorodon are the hardneck garlics
(Rocambole, Topsetting). They are generally grown in cooler northern climates and typically
produce fewer but larger cloves. They produce garlic scapes or flower heads which coil into a
360 degree turn, then straighten to produce clusters of bulblets (topsets). They are usually cut
off before they open. This allows the garlic to put energy into the bulb rather than into flowers. They are used in cooking and are mild and delicious. These can also be dried for use in flower
arrangements. This type of garlic does best from Virginia northward (north of latitude 37°), but some varieties can be grown in southern areas. I grow a hardneck type, a variety produced by my friend Bob Miller, Allium sativum ‘Bob Miller’. He developed this to find an ideal variety that grows and produces well in colder climates with higher yields and bigger bulbs.

This healthy stand of garlic will be ready to harvest when the tops start to turn brown, usually in early summer.

The second type, A. sativum var. sativum, are the softneck garlics. They do better in hotter climates than the hardnecks, and can be braided for decoration and for storage. This variety of garlic keeps extremely well.
Garlic cultivation probably came about because it was easy to pull up and travel with for
later use. Also, it has the ability to reproduce sexually and asexually. It can make seed to
combine genes with other garlic plants and it is very simple to grow garlic clones from individual cloves. It grows well in a wide range of climate and soil conditions. It is very hardy and susceptible to few diseases and pests. Many gardeners use it as a companion plant to deter certain pests.
Garlic is the most widely recognized medicinal herb and has also played an interesting role for spiritual purposes through the years. In medieval times, it was believed that garlic could ward off evil vampires, for example! Some cultures thought it was an aphrodisiac or held powers relating to love. Monasteries would grow it for healing powers. There is some evidence found in studies that garlic may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, boost
the immune system and help fight off illness and infection due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Today it is renowned for its pungent flavor and is used in so many different recipes. It
imparts much flavor to many different foods in almost all cultures. My friend Bob has over 200
plants in his garden in North Carolina this year. He uses them to make a garlic puree with olive
oil, then vacuum seals and freezes them flat for use in numerous dishes that he and his wife
make. He also dehydrates the cloves and grinds them into a powder for home use.
Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested when the tops turn brown, usually in early
summer. It’s easy to grow plant that deserves a place in your garden.
While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all county buildings are closed to the public, if you have questions gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to or Keep washing your hands and start now to plan to plant some garlic in your fall garden.