Why plant Garlic?
Garlic is a good repellent for rabbits and other pests. Garlic is an easy crop to cultivate
and is a wonderful storage crop, (lasts months in the pantry), and kitchen staple.
When do I plant garlic?
To achieve large garlic bulbs, the garlic plant requires a period of vernalization, or cold treatment, which is why bulbing garlic only grows well in regions that have winters with over 40 days of temperatures below 50F and explains why we plant garlic in the FALL in these regions!
In regions with cold winters, that are suitable to grow bulbing garlic, it is best to plant garlic mid to late October with a general rule of thumb of being to plant garlic bulbs 2 weeks before your average first frost date.
Now, if you’ve taken my course, you know how I feel about “rules of thumb”. It’s best to understand the why behind any rule of thumb so you can always make an informed decision as a gardener.
Consider this when thinking about when to plant your garlic:
- We want to plant garlic with enough time to put down a few roots, but not enough time to sprout before the freeze comes.
- Garlic bulbs are ALIVE but DORMANT during the winter. So giving the garlic seed, (which are actually individual garlic cloves), a week or two to establish roots before the freeze comes is perfect timing.
- A prolonged or warm Fall can cause your garlic to sprout before the ground freezes, this can be detrimental to bulb size and formation as the plant is expending valuable energy putting up leafy growth (sprouts) in the fall, only to have it nipped by the coming frost.
- Check the forecast in the few weeks leading up to the first average frost date in your region. If it seems warm temps are in the forecast for a few more weeks than normal, hold off a week or two to get your garlic in the ground.
- If it looks like a cold snap is coming, with warm temps for the following weeks, hold off
- If it looks like temps are going to be consistently colder sooner than normal, plant your garlic about 1-2 weeks before this colder season begins.
Where can I get garlic to plant?
There are 3 main ways to procure what is called “seed garlic”. Seed garlic refers to large and clean bulbs that are grown specifically to use for cultivating (growing) MORE GARLIC!
Garlic is widely NOT planted by actual seeds, but what is planted are the individual CLOVES of a seed garlic bulb.
Here’s where you can find quality seed garlic to order or purchase for planting in your garden:
- Online seed supply company. My favorites are High Mowing Organic Seed Company groworganic.com, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Johnnys Select Seeds. Order early for the best selection, your seed garlic will ship when it’s planting time in your region.
- Local nursery or local farm. Local nurseries will often carry seed garlic for customers. Generally, you’ll start to see seed garlic available at nurseries around September in cold-winter regions. Local farms or growers may also carry seed garlic for sale, just do a quick internet search and support local whenever possible 🙂
- YOUR seed garlic, saved from last year. Purchasing seed garlic from one of the above vendors can be expensive. However, once you make the initial purchase, you can continue to grow your own seed garlic stock and replant the biggest bulbs that were harvested from your garden each season! This helps to adapt the garlic variety to your specific region and saves you money in not having to purchase new bulbs each year!
What types of garlic can I plant?
There are two main distinctions when selecting garlic: Hardneck garlic varieties and softneck garlic varieties. Both are great to try and you can’t go wrong! Here a few key things to consider when choosing the garlic varieties you want to plant
Hardneck Garlic Varieties:
- Hard top stem
- Generally more intense flavor
- Generally more cold-hardy
- Generally fewer , larger cloves (4-8 cloves per bulb)
- More exotic/heirloom varieties available
- Produce a scape (long flowering stem that can be harvested to eat; delicacy)
Softneck Garlic Varieties:
- Is said to store longer
- This is what you see at the grocery stores
- Generally more cloves (8-12 cloves per bulb), but cloves are smaller in size
How do I plant my garlic?
Now that you’ve got your garlic ordered or purchased, it’s time to think about planting your garlic! Consider the steps of preparing a space to plant into, preparing the bulbs for planting, and planting depth and spacing to ensure a good crop with big bulbs!
Selecting and preparing an area to plant garlic into:
- Garlic needs at least 6-8 hours of sunlight; choose a sunny spot
- Garlic should be spaced 4-6 inches apart PER CLOVE, so depending on how many cloves you will be planting (cloves turn into bulbs), plan for that. (example, a 2’ x 3’ space will yield about 34-36 bulbs with cloves spaced at 6”)
- Plant into tilthy/ loamy, friable soil. This means LOOSE, well-amended soil
- Garlic is a heavy feeder when it starts to grow. Add plenty of compost and organic amendments like worm castings to the planting site.
o Prepare the garlic:
- Break apart your seed garlic bulbs into their individual cloves when you’re ready to plant
- Use the biggest cloves (you can plant the smaller ones too..)
- Be SURE to label the location that you planted so you remember exactly where your garlic will be popping up in the spring and note the variety (e.g. Chesnok Red, Music)!!!
o How to plant:
- Plant cloves 4-6 inches apart at ~3” deep (Don’t overcrowd! Overcrowding leads to poor bulb formation)
- Plant with pointy tips up
- Cover holes with soil
- Cover entire planted area with leaf mulch (dried/fallen leaves). This will:
- Protect the cloves during winter
- Retain moisture in the area
- Prevent weeds in Spring
It’s very important that you remember to water your garlic each MONTH! Unless you are having a very wet winter (lots of rain or melting snow), you need to water your dormant garlic patch 1x/month. Do this on a sunny day.
Garlic will start to sprout in the spring. Check your garlic patch for succulent green shoots coming up through leaves. At that time, pull back the leaf mulch so the garlic plants don’t rot out and can find sunlight.
- Once sprouted and exposed to sunlight, start watering your garlic patch more regularly, ~1-2x/week
- Garlic dosn’t like competition, keep the area free of weeds
- Hardneck garlic varieties will produce “scapes” which will start to form in June
When can I harvest my garlic?
Garlic is generally ready for harvest in July or August depending on your region. But here’s what to look for so you know your garlic is ready for harvest no matter where you live!
- Look to harvest when about 75% of the leaves have yellowed (yep, your garlic plants are NOT dying when you see yellowing leaves, rather they are putting all of their energy into bulking up the bulb, which causes yellowing and dried up leaves).
- PRO TIP: Stop watering a couple of weeks before harvest if you can. This allows the bulb to start “curing” in the ground, and makes harvesting easier
- Use a hand trowel or gentle shovel to dig up bulbs! (You can’t harvest garlic by pulling them up like a carrot).
Garlic needs to be “cured” before storing.
Garlic bulbs need to dry out and “cure” before storing. Skipping this step may result in rotted garlic bulbs that are no longer edible. Proper curing will help your garlic bulbs last in the pantry for 1-5 months depending on variety.
- NEVER rinse your freshly harvested bulbs with water. Also, don’t cut off the leaves yet. Simply brush any soil off and lay the plant (blub with leaves still attached) on a rack out of direct sunlight, in a cool well ventilated area for about 2 weeks. (Garage? Basement?) Ensure good airflow.
- Turn garlic every few days while curing to ensure good airflow. After about 2 weeks,, trim off the dried leaves down to about 1” above the bulb and trim down the roots.
- Your garlic is now ready for storage!
o Storing garlic:
- Store cured garlic bulbs in a COOL, DRY, DARK, well ventilated place (Basement? Cool cupboard?)
• Store in a mesh bag or paper sack,
Remember… Save a few bulbs to plant in the Fall:
- Choose a few of your most robust bulbs and keep these separate to use for your Fall planting!
- Try to keep them labeled so you can experiment with new varieties!
- Your garlic will adapt to the climate and get better and better each year