Parts Of A Garlic Plant (What To Do With Them & Common Questions)

You might know about using chopped garlic bulbs as an herb to add flavor to food – but did you know that there are other parts of the plant you can use for cooking? There are two basic types of garlic (hardneck and softneck), but they mostly have similar parts.

So, what are the parts of a garlic plant? A garlic plant has bulbs, roots, leaves, and a stem. A bulb is ready to harvest when half the leaves are yellow or brown. Hardneck garlic also has a scape (a woody flower stalk), which you can cut off to get larger bulbs. Softneck garlic has more cloves and stores longer than hardneck garlic.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the parts of a garlic plant and answer some common questions about them. We’ll also talk about how you can (or cannot) use each one for cooking.

Let’s get started.

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The so-called “elephant garlic” is not really garlic all. Instead, it is a type of leek!

What Are The Parts Of A Garlic Plant?

The parts of a garlic plant are:

  • Bulb – this part of a garlic plant grows underground. A bulb has several smaller sections called cloves (4 to 12 cloves for hardneck types; 14 to 20 for softneck types). You can separate the cloves and plant them individually to grow more garlic. After removing the papery skin from a clove, you can chop up the inside and use it to season food.
  • Roots – this part of a garlic plant also grows underground. The roots are somewhat shallow, meaning the plant is subject to moisture stress (yellow leaf tips are one indication that your plant lacks water). So, provide water during dry conditions, especially during bulbing (spring to summer), or else you will get smaller bulbs.
  • Leaves – this part of the garlic plant grows above ground. A garlic plant has several long, thin, flat leaves (just like its cousin, the onion plant). The leaves are green or sometimes bluish-green. A garlic bulb is ready for harvest when half of the leaves are yellow or brown.
  • Stem – this part of the garlic plant grows above ground. The leaves branch off from the stem, which stays soft in softneck garlic types (hence the name!) The stem of hardneck garlic becomes woody and produces a scape (see below for more detail).
  • Scape – this part grows above ground, and it only grows on hardneck garlic plants. A scape is a flower stalk that emerges as the plant matures. The scape curls up as it gets longer, and it has a “bump” (or pod) that grows bigger over time (eventually becoming a flower). You can cut off the scape to get bigger garlic bulbs. You can cook the scapes and eat them – they have a unique garlic-like flavor!
garlic leaves in bucket
Garlic has long, thin green leaves -just like onions.

Garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years by civilizations around the world!

Garlic Bulbs

A garlic bulb is the most commonly eaten part of the plant – but it is not the only part you can eat.

garlic bulb cloves
The garlic bulb grows underground, and it is the most common part of the plant to eat.

Removing the scapes from a hardneck garlic plant will give you larger bulbs at harvest. Below are answers to some common questions about garlic bulbs.

Why Are Garlic Bulbs Small?

Garlic bulbs will grow small if the soil is too dry (especially during bulbing, which happens in spring to summer). Garlic has shallow roots, so be sure to water them enough (drip irrigation can help with this).

Garlic bulbs will also be small if you plant in spring. Normally, garlic bulbs are planted in fall, survive over the winter, and produce full-size bulbs in spring or summer.

Garlic bulbs are normally planted in fall and go through winter to emerge in spring for a summer harvest.

If the bulbs don’t go through winter, they won’t experience enough cold to promote bulb enlargement.

Garlic takes 250 to 270 days (8 to 9 months) to reach full maturity!

Also: you will get smaller garlic if you plant smaller cloves. So, plant the largest cloves you can find to get bigger garlic bulbs to harvest.

garlic cloves
Plant larger sprouted garlic cloves to get bigger bulbs from your plants.

Finally: for hardneck garlic, you will get bigger bulbs if you remove the scapes (flower heads) from the plant early!

Why Do Garlic Bulbs Split?

Garlic bulbs will split if you leave them in the ground too long. This is tricky, since garlic may need 8 to 9 months to grow mature bulbs.

A good rule is to harvest bulbs when half of the leaves are yellow or brown. Some of the leaves should still be green when you harvest your bulbs. Remember: you don’t need to harvest all of the bulbs at the same time!

hardneck garlic with scapes
When the garlic leaves are all still green, the bulb is still growing.

You can learn more about harvesting and storing garlic here.

How Many Cloves In A Garlic Bulb?

Softneck garlic bulbs often have more cloves than hardneck garlic.

garlic bulbs
A hardneck garlic bulb has 4 to 12 cloves. A softneck garlic bulb has 14 to 20 cloves.

You can typically expect 4 to 12 cloves from a hardneck garlic bulb, and 14 to 20 cloves from a softneck garlic bulb.

Typically, softneck garlic does not grow a flower stalk (scape) – but climate makes a difference: sometimes, a garlic variety that is softneck in one location can form a flower stalk in another place!]

Can You Plant A Garlic Bulb?

You can plant a garlic bulb – but you can get more plants if you split the bulb into cloves before planting. Usually, it is best to wait until a clove sprouts to plant it (this ensures viability).

sprouted garlic bulbs
Separate a garlic bulb into cloves, wait until they sprout, and then plant them.

You can learn a lot more about planting sprouted garlic here.

Note that a garlic plant rarely produces seed – remember that softneck garlic has no scapes (flower heads). When garlic does produce seed, it often does not grow true to the type you got the seed from. So, to get more of the same garlic, your best bet is to plant sprouted cloves from the bulb.

Garlic Roots

Garlic roots are edible, and they have a flavor like scapes (more mild than the bulbs). However, there is not much to them!

garlic root
Garlic roots are edible, with a flavor like garlic scapes.

Garlic roots are shallow compared to other plants. So, you will need to keep the soil moist for your garlic plants (drip irrigation can help with this).

Garlic Leaves

You can eat young garlic leaves whole or chop them up and add the pieces to soup or salad (just like onion greens). Just remember that a garlic plant needs leaves to produce energy for a bulb.

garlic leaves plants
You can chop up garlic leaves to flavor food, but the plant needs leaves to produce energy for a bulb.

Why Are My Garlic Leaves Turning Yellow?

At maturity, garlic leaves turn yellow or brown and start to droop (similar to onion leaves). This just means that the bulb is close to fully developed. Wait until about half of the leaves are yellow or brown, and then harvest your garlic bulb.

Garlic leaves will turn yellow at the tips due to a lack of water. Keep them watered during the season, especially during bulbing in spring to summer (sandy soil will dry out faster).

drip irrigation emitter
Drip irrigation is a good way to keep garlic (and other plants) watered in a passive way.

Stop watering after leaves begin to wither (this avoids diseases – see the link below for more information).

There are also various diseases that can cause garlic leaves to turn yellow, including fusarium basal rot, penicillium decay, and white rot.

Garlic Stems

Both types of garlic (hardneck and softneck) have stems. However, hardneck garlic stems become woody at maturity, forming a scape (or flower stalk – see below).

You can eat garlic stems whole or chop them up. Remember that removing the stem early on a hardneck garlic plant will lead to a bigger bulb.

This is because the plant will devote energy the bulb instead of the flower stalk.

Garlic Scapes

Only hardneck garlic has scapesA garlic scape is a flower stalk, which appears in the center of the leaves in late spring.

What Does A Garlic Scape Look Like?

garlic scape
A garlic scape is a green stem that curls over time. It also has a “bump” (or pod) near the growing tip.

Garlic is propagated by bulbs, since it can no longer produce fertile seeds that grow true to type!

What Part Of The Garlic Scape Do You Eat?

You can eat the entire garlic scape, from the bottom of the stalk where it was cut to the “bump” (pod) close to the growing end of the scape.

Watch the growing garlic plant, and harvest the scapes at an immature stage. The scape will be growing above the leaves and it will be slightly curled – but the “bump” at the end will not yet be open (if you wait, you will see flower buds).

You can cook scapes whole by steaming or frying. You can also chop them up and use them just like garlic leaves or onion leaves.

garlic scapes
Cook scapes by steaming or frying, or chop them up and use in pieces for soup or salad.


Now you know about the parts of a garlic plant – from the bulb to the leaves.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

Looking for garlic recipes? You can find a good one for garlic mashed potatoes here.

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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