Garlic (Allium sativum) is easy to grow in home gardens and since it’s used so much in cooking (and in home remedies), why not try plant some this year and have a stockpile to enjoy (and some to share with family and friends too)! Here’s how…
When: If you live in a zone with cold winters, plant cloves after the first frost and about four weeks before the ground freezes. Depending on what part of the country you live in, that should be around October – November.
Planting in the Fall will help it develop a strong root system. If you live in a warmer climate, you can get away with planting it as late as February or March (as long as the ground is workable).
Did you miss out last Fall? You can still try in the Spring as soon as the ground can be worked, but expect smaller bulbs and a less than optimal crop. Garlic loves moist soil, but not too wet so if it’s soppy wet weather, wait till it dries up a bit first.
Location: Choose a sunny spot, it thrives in full sun if possible but it will be ok with some shade.
Make sure to give it well draining soil to prevent fungus and rot, if you have a raised garden bed it will thrive there since the drainage will be good.
Apply compost and aged manure to make a rich soil, mulch lightly after planting to help with soil moisture (weeds can also be deterred by a mulch layer). Before planting dig up the soil area really well (about 10″ deep) to provide a nice, loose soil environment.
How: Separate a bulb and select large, healthy cloves (the outer ones). Do not use any that are bruised or show signs of mold. Leave the paper on and plant them about 2″ deep (3″ to 4″ for colder climates) and 6″ to 8″ apart with rows 12″ apart.
Position each clove pointy side up and flat side down. In harsh winter zones, lay 4 to 6 inches of mulch on top when the ground freezes to provide some protection from winter kill, remove when Spring arrives.
Watering Conditions: Water deeply at least once a week. The soil should be consistently moist and not dry, but don’t let the garlic sit in water. A sign of overwatering is fungus growth or mold.
Garlic has a shallow root system so don’t let the soil dry out. If there is no moisture in the soil 1″ deep, it’s time to water.
Water well in the first few months then start easing off a couple weeks before harvest (when the top leaves start flopping over, that’s a sign to stop watering).
Harvesting: A sign that it’s ready to be harvested: you’ll notice the leaves turning brown and start dying back (can begin mid-July for some varieties, earlier for warmer zones). Wait until there are only half of green leaves left (about 50% of the leaves have turned brown).
Wait till the soil is dry before harvesting, the garlic will be stained if you dig it up when it’s wet. If you wait too long to harvest, the cloves will have burst through the skin and break apart. To test if it’s ready to harvest, pull up a bulb and cut it in half. If the bulb is good sized and the cloves fill the skins, it’s harvest time.
Dig up the soil around the garlic being careful not to bruise the cloves with the shovel or fork. After the soil is loosened, pull up the plants with your hands, brush dirt off and prepare them for curing. Leave foliage on until they finish curing.
Curing: Hang in bunches in a dry, well-ventilated location for a few weeks (2 to 3) and keep them sheltered from the sun. No place indoors to hang? You can also dry them on large screens (old window screens work well), just make sure they have good air circulation on all sides. You can even cure them outdoors if you find a spot where the sun and rain won’t touch them.
They’re ready to come down when the skin is dry and papery. Cut away roots and extra foliage (about an inch from the bulb) and store in the pantry or a cool, dark location (do not refrigerate).
Storage: Store in baskets, mesh bags, or paper bags to ensure the bulbs can breathe and will get some air circulation, a cool location is best. If you’re saving some for planting next year’s crop, do not separate cloves until you plant and make sure they stay dry and out of the sun. You can also braid them and hang for storage.
Softneck: Best for long-term storage and typically produces 12 to 18 cloves per bulb (some up to 40!). Thrives in southern climates. Should store well for about 8 months. Braids easily.
Hardneck: Typically produces 6 to 12 cloves per bulb and is better suited for northern climates. Should store well for about 5 months.
Elephant: Has a milder flavor and grows huge bulbs. Stores well (up to a year). Doesn’t grow as well in northern climates where winters are harsh. Plant farther apart since the bulbs grow so big (about 8 to 10 inches apart and 3 to 4 inches deep). Did you know Elephant Garlic is actually a type of leek?
- You can try growing from bulbs you purchase at your local grocery store, no guarantees this will work though since some producers spray them to prevent people from growing their own. Your best bet is to order from a seed catalog or local garden center.
- Hardneck varieties can produce flowers, when the scape (or flower stem) starts to curl, snip it off to help produce larger bulbs (the plant’s energy will be directed to the bulb rather than producing a flower).
- If you find they’re misshapen, this is likely because the soil you are growing it in is too heavy/clay. You may also have planted them upside down (they should be planted pointy side up).
- Did you know: Garlic can get sunburn, so when harvesting make sure to move to a sheltered location.