Does Growing Garlic Smell? (Email Q&A)

Here’s another question in our Q&A email series from Anne Holmes in Manchester:

“Hi Brian 

I’m looking to grow garlic in a small plot at the bottom of the garden. Am I going to get complaints from my neighbours about the smell?

Anne Holmes


When envisioning a garden, one might conjure up the fragrances of roses, jasmine, or freshly turned soil. Garlic, on the other hand, is well-known in culinary settings for its potent aroma. But does the act of growing garlic bring with it a strong smell? Let’s unravel this aromatic mystery.

Understanding Garlic’s Natural Aroma

Garlic, Allium sativum, belongs to the Allium family, which also includes onions, leeks, and chives. These plants are known for their pungent aromas when crushed, chopped, or cooked. The smell comes primarily from compounds like allicin, which has strong antimicrobial properties.

In the Garden: Garlic plants, while growing, don’t emit a strong odor. It’s only when the bulbs or leaves are crushed, damaged, or harvested that a noticeable smell becomes evident. Therefore, a garden with healthy, undisturbed garlic plants shouldn’t have a pervasive garlic aroma.  I hope you are happy Anne and will proceed with your planting! Check out our How to plant garlic guide before you start.

Factors That May Amplify the Garlic Scent

  • Pest Damage: Insects or pests nibbling on the garlic greens can lead to a mild scent release. Regularly inspecting plants and using organic pest control can mitigate this.
  • Harvest Time: When bulbs are pulled from the ground and the curing process begins, the aroma can become more noticeable, especially if the garlic is being dried in a confined space.
  • Plant Health: Overwatered or rotting garlic bulbs can give off an unpleasant smell. Proper planting techniques and ensuring good drainage can prevent these issues.

Benefits of Garlic’s Natural Scent

Interestingly, the mild scent that garlic plants may emit can be beneficial. It can:

  • Deter Pests: Some garden pests dislike the aroma of garlic. Planting garlic near roses, for example, can help ward off aphids.
  • Companion Planting: Garlic’s scent can mask the smell of other plants, protecting them from pests. This makes garlic a popular choice in companion planting strategies.

Conclusion: Setting the Record Straight

While garlic has a storied reputation in the kitchen for its aromatic punch, in the garden, it’s a relatively discreet presence. As long as the plants remain undamaged and healthy, neighbours and passersby won’t be greeted by a waft of garlic on the breeze. However, the subtle aroma released during specific times, like harvest, might just be a pleasant reminder of the delicious dishes to come.