Gardening: How to Plant and Grow Garlic
No gourmet garden is complete without a row or two of garlic. Easy to grow, and full of essential flavors, garlic is one of my favorite components of my garden.
When to Plant Garlic
In mild climates, garlic can be grown year round. But for those of us in the north, garlic is planted in Fall. Depending on the climate and weather, this can be in early September or as late as November. I usually plan for early to mid October and play it by ear. The nice thing about planting in early to mid Fall is that you get the pleasure of watching your garlic sprout and begin to grow when nothing else will in the garden. Then, as the snow hits, the growth slows down, but those little garlic sprouts stay nice and green. After the heavy cold and snow is replaced with warming weather, those little sprouts suddenly sprint upwards. How very very cool to look out your window in January/February and see something growing in your garden! What a blast!
It is possible to plant garlic in the early spring as well, as soon as the soil is able to be worked. But this isn’t nearly as fun so I don’t recommend it.
Where to Buy Garlic to Plant
You can’t expect to go to the grocery store, buy a $0.50 head of garlic, and think it will grow into garlic plants if you stick it in the ground. Commercial garlic distributors spray their garlic with sprouting inhibitors, which in turn, limits the ability for these grocery heads to grow into a plant. You may have some luck doing so occasionally, but there is much better garlic to be had at your local seed store and/or garden supply store.
They typically offer several varieties of hardneck and softneck to choose from, and may charge between $2 – $3 per head. But that is pretty cheap when you realize that each clove on that head (12-18 cloves per head) will turn into a garlic plant which will produce a clove dense head of its own. But if you judge your quantity to plant correctly, this first time purchase will likely be the only purchase you’ll ever need to make because you can save some of your grown garlic for the next season’s planting.
What is the Difference Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic
The garlic sold in grocery stores is almost always a softneck variety. Softneck garlic varieties originate in warmer climates closer to the equater. The entire stalk is soft, kind of like an onion stalk, and can easily be braided into garlic ropes for drying and storage. Hardneck garlic varieties on the other hand have a hard center tube that runs up the stalk, which results in a hard “stick” in the center of the garlic head. This also prevents them from being braided together, but you can still tie them in bunches to store. They originate in colder climates North and South of the equator.
When choosing which to plant, think about your climate and plant appropriately. Throughout most of the continental United States, either can be successfully grown.
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic is very easy to plant. It can be planted in rows or squares in garden planting beds, mixed in with flowers in a flower bed, or simply grown in containers on a patio.
To plant garlic, simply separate the individual cloves of a head of garlic from each other. Place the largest cloves (the larger the clove the larger the end head will be), tip side up and root side down, and press into soil with your finger. Plant 2-4 inches deep, cover with soil, and pat soil down with your hand.
Alternately, you can grow garlic from the little bulbils that form from the garlic blossoms, but I have never tried this and just stick with planting the garlic cloves from the garlic head.
Care of Garlic when Growing
Garlic doesn’t need much attention after planting. It just takes care of itself for the most part. It is naturally disease and pest resistant, and if planted in good soil, doesn’t even need any fertilizer. Like all plants in the Allium (onion) family, it likes a lot of water, so just remember to water regularly and you’re good to go.
Spring is an important time for garlic, as it continues to grow upward and develop leaves. My garlic usually seems to be nearly a foot high about the time I plant my onion sets This is another reason it’s such a joy to grow: you already have a row of growing crops when you go to plant the rest of your garden!
As the plants mature, the underground bulbs will begin to develop their individual cloves.
In early summer, you will start to notice garlic scapes appearing at the tops of the garlic stalks. These scapes grow in fun corkscrew shapes and have a forming blossom on the end. If you leave them alone, the blossom will eventually open and will form little bulbils. These bulbils can be saved and planted in the Fall for next years crop. However, I recommend that you cut the scapes off where they meet the top leaves. By removing them, all of the plant’s energy goes towards the development of the underground head, which will make for bigger and more flavorful garlic cloves. But don’t throw away the garlic scapes…… they are delicious!
When to Harvest Garlic
Harvest time can vary depending upon your climate. But for most, early to mid July seems to be the time to dig up the plants. The plants themselves will tell you when it’s time to harvest, as several of the leaves will begin to brown and dry. You can also dig a little around the base of the plant to look at the head to see if there are clearly defined cloves on the underground head.
Prior to harvesting, you should stop watering the plants completely. This will force the leaves to brown more, and will focus all the plant’s energy on the underground head.
How to Harvest and Store Garlic
Harvest garlic by digging the plant up as you gently pull up on the stalk. If you don’t dig as you pull, you run the risk of breaking the entire stalk off the garlic head, exposing the raw garlic and getting dirt into it. But be careful as you dig so that you do not accidentally cut into the garlic head.
Once dug up, shake off any excess dirt, trim the roots, and rinse clean with water. You can leave them in the sun to dry for a day or so, or can promptly tie into braids or bundles and hang in your garage or other dry place out of the sun (the sun will actually rot the garlic if exposed for long). Garlic will store in this way all throughout the winter, and likely clear through the end of spring. I love going out in the garage and cutting a head off the tied bundles whenever I need one. It’s cool to show off with too.
When to Eat Garlic After Harvesting
The odd thing about garlic is that it tastes awful when first harvested. Seriously, not good eats in any way. Garlic needs time to dry and have it’s sugar content increase. You’ll need at least 30 days, but I’ve found that it still has a funk up to about 60 days after harvest. Don’t rush this. I know it’s tempting after all the fun growing, but give it time and you will enjoy your garlic efforts exponentially more.