If you’ve never grown garlic before or are just looking to improve your green thumb, this article has all the essentials you’ll want to know before putting your cloves in the ground. Growing garlic is actually fairly easy, but there are some key things to know if you want to be successful. We are happy to share our experience with you and hope you find this article helpful!
Garlic likes full sun & well-drained soil. Garlic is quite tolerant when it comes to soil types & textures, but it appreciates sandy-clay-loam that is friable (easily crumbled in the hand) with high organic content. It does best when the soil pH range is 6.2 – 6.8. As with most crops, proper soil preparation is essential. If you have a large field or garden, till the soil to really break it up. If you have a small plot, spade up the top 6 to 12 inches. Garlic roots like to go deep, so well cultivated soil is a big help. Mix in the organic matter and manure at this phase. After the deep tilling, a final pass with a cultivator really aids in planting by powdering up those top inches of soil.
To increase the tilth of your soil, add organic matter such as well-composted manure or by using green mulch (tilling cover crops into the soil such as clover or buckwheat).
You can get your soil tested at a local university extension office or use one of the soil testing kits on the market. Make sure you take samples from several spots in your garden and mix them together to obtain a representative reading. Your garden or field should drain easily – standing water could cause bulbs to rot in the ground.
Planting in the fall is best, just like other bulbs (tulips/daffodils), plant 4-6 weeks before significant ground freezing occurs. Getting the cloves in the ground during warmer weather allows germination to occur, followed by good root formation. When you’re ready to plant, separate the garlic bulb by cracking/splitting the wrapper and separate the individual cloves for planting. Don’t separate the cloves more than 48 hours before planting or they will dry out and lose viability. Bigger cloves mean bigger crops, so plant the biggest bulbs and eat the smaller ones!
Space cloves 4 to 6 inches apart (6-8 inches apart for elephant garlic) with the pointed end UP and the flat end down. Tips should be placed about 2 inches below the soil surface (3-4 inches below for elephant garlic). The tighter you place your cloves to each other the better, because it helps with weed control, while also having enough space for each clove to grow into its own bulb.
For dry climates, it helps to cultivate the soil again just before planting, making it powdery enough for cloves to easily drop into place & bury themselves.
For heavier/wetter soil, use a broom handle to poke holes & then use a rake to cover up the holes with soil.
Identify your plant hardiness zone on our website by searching your zip code, this will give you a good general idea of when your planting window is. Green garlic shoots might begin to appear above the soil in late autumn. Tips might suffer a bit of winter burn, but they can tolerate & even grow in temperatures zero & below.
Garlic appreciates fertilizer, typically 3 pounds per hundred square feet. Our practice has been to till in quite a bit of very aged cow manure during the initial soil preparation phase. You can side dress the crop when germination starts in the fall. In the spring, fertilize again, but do not fertilize beyond late May, since high nitrogen levels at this stage may decrease bulb size.
This is a key element to real garlic success. Mulch serves many purposes, one very important one being to regulate sharp changes in temperature & moisture that occur during winter. The colder your winters, the more essential it is to mulch. It also goes a long way towards controlling weeds the next spring. Mulch can be hay or alfalfa, lawn grass clippings or chopped leaves. Plan to lay mulch immediately after planting (perhaps after giving the ground a good watering). Don’t be shy with this part, at least several inches should cover your crop – you would be surprised how tough those shoots are when it comes to punching through those layers.
Account for wind blowing away your mulch. We’ve found it best to roll out chicken wire after mulching to keep everything in place, or you can just wet it down to compact it.
Most of the time, garlic really likes moist (not soggy) soil. Watering regularly in the fall during germination is essential. In dry climates, watering in winter is also important. Do not let the upper several inches of soil turn to dust. Keep watering into the spring when the maximum green shoots are forming. Then, stop watering around mid- to late June (or when the scapes on hardnecks are standing high).
Overwatering is not good during the last four weeks when the bulbs are finishing up, & the wrappers are drying out because it can create a mold or fungus problem. Wet soil also makes for dirty & unappealing wrappers. In drier climates, some people like to heavily irrigate at the pre-planting phase to help build a winter-deep soil moisture reserve.
Try the old farmer’s test of clumping a bit of soil in your fist – If the clump stays together upon releasing your fingers, it is wet enough & if not, water.
Most people hate weeding, but you must do it if you want good results. Garlic does not like competition, so getting weeds out makes a big difference in your results. Don’t let those weeds get ahead of you, sometime in early May the little green fuzz of weeds explodes into a maze of 12inch-high monsters almost overnight
CUTTING THE SCAPES
Many people wonder if the scapes should be cut to increase bulb size. The answer is YES for hardneck & elephant garlic varieties. Just before the scape has fully extended (or the coils in Rocamboles have started uncurling), cut them back to send nutrients back down to the bulb & plump them up for the last bit of growth before harvest. The scapes can be used in a wide variety of dishes, so don’t throw them out!
Many people make a big mistake at this point by waiting too long to harvest. Keeping garlic in the ground beyond a certain point does not result in bigger bulbs, but rather dried out and nearly useless ones. You should harvest when the lower third to half of the leaves have browned, while the top leaves are still green. If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to dig one or two bulbs up to see what’s happening below the ground. You should be able to see the shape of the cloves beginning to bulge through the wrapper.
If you’ve planted multiple varieties, keep in mind that there can be a 2 to 3-week difference in harvest dates depending on the varieties, so watch your plants carefully.
To get the bulb out of the ground, don’t just try to pull them because the stalk will break. You must dig, loosen the soil using a pitchfork or something similar which will allow you to lift the entire plant out of the ground. Once you’ve pulled your bulbs from the ground, don’t leave them in the sun for too long or their quality will decline from sun scalding.
You can use your garlic in the kitchen straight from the ground, but if you want to store your garlic you must cure it first which will generally give it a shelf life of 6 months. The entire plant, leaves and all, should be dried out for about 2-3 weeks. The drier your climate the faster the curing will go and the less chance you will have to deal with mold. If you find any bulbs molding, throw them away ASAP. Do not wash your bulbs or let them be exposed to water during this process. After the curing is complete, lop off the tops about an inch above the bulb and trim the roots.
There are many curing methods. The simplest is to tie up a dozen or so at a time with string/wire, hanging them in a well-ventilated room out of direct sunlight. You can also pack them loosely into large mesh/burlap bags or open sided crates as long as they get lots of air circulation.
Keep your biggest bulbs for planting stock while sorting. Remember, big bulbs come from big cloves which come from big bulbs….and so on. Also, it has been argued that the smaller bulbs taste better, which makes then ideal in the kitchen!
Storing garlic requires even temperatures of around 50-70F, with a relative humidity range of 50-60% & plenty of air circulation. Do NOT store at high humidity or in the refrigerator – they will try to sprout and their taste declines quickly. Most hardneck & elephant varieties will store for several months, but softneck varieties tend to have an impressively longer shelf life.
Storing garlic in ceramic garlic keepers or burlap bags work well in kitchens. For bulk storage, mesh or burlap bags hung in well-ventilated rooms is ideal. As winter approaches, you might keep your bulbs in a paper bag to slow down desiccation.
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The right method for planting garlic is how you can ensure yourself bigger and better bulb production with ease!
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