Edible Landscaping

How to: Plant Garlic

Purchase garlic bulbs from the garden center or through the mail. Grocery store garlic varieties usually aren't adapted to grow well in most climates.

Plant garlic cloves around the first fall frost in your area.

The "stinking rose" has been grown for thousands of years for its flavor and medicinal properties. Raw garlic is touted as being a cure for everything from the common cold to high cholesterol to an abundance of vampires. (Watch out Twilight fans.) But it's mostly grown for its flavor. The spicy taste of garlic cloves is used in ethnic dishes from Asia to South America, flavoring stir fries, salsa, salads, and a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. The flavor varies depending on the variety. Some varieties have a spicy hot flavor while others are milder.

Whatever variety you decide to grow, make sure it's adapted to conditions in your climate. Garlic found in grocery stores is most likely from California (or, these days, China) and will be best adapted to that climate. It's best to purchase garlic from local garden centers or through the mail, finding the varieties best suited to your region.

There are three types of garlic available. Hardneck varieties such as 'Russian Red' and 'German Extra Hardy', have 5 to 10 cloves per bulb and the plant forms an edible scape (curly flower stalk) in early summer with small garlic bulblets at the top. They will last up to 6 months in storage. Softneck varieties, such as 'New York White' and 'Silverskin', produce 12- to 18-cloves per bulb and have a soft leaves that are easy to braid after harvesting. They last longer in storage than hardneck varieties (up to 9 months). A third, less common type, is elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than garlic. It's a giant form of softneck garlic with plants growing up to 4 feet tall. They produce 4 large cloves per bulb. The flavor is milder than other garlics and they store well.

Planting

Unlike most other vegetables, garlic is best planted in fall. In cool climates you can plant in spring, but the bulbs will be noticeably smaller. In warm winter areas you can plant right up until January. In most other areas, plant garlic cloves around the time of your first frost date (about 4 to 6 weeks before your ground freezes). That would be October and November for most of the country. Garlic grows best in cool weather. Plants will establish root systems in fall and start growing in spring with warmer weather. You'll be harvesting in June or early July. Here's how to plant.

Hardneck garlic varieties will produce a scape that is edible and should be removed for best bulb production.

Save the biggest garlic bulbs from last year for planting again in fall.

  1. In all but sandy soils, build raised beds 8- to 10-inches tall, 3-feet wide, and as long as you like. Garlic tends to rot in cold, wet soils. Raised beds help keep it dry in winter.
  2. Amend the raised beds with a 1- to 2-inch thick layer of compost before planting.
  3. Break apart the bulbs carefully to separate out the individual cloves.
  4. Set cloves, pointy side up, spaced 4- to 6- inches apart in rows on the raised bed. Push them 1- to 2-inches deep into the soil. Plant elephant garlic 6- to 8-inches apart.
  5. Keep garlic beds well watered.
  6. Don't worry if a few garlic cloves sprout shoots during warm fall weather. This is natural and the growth will stop once cold weather hits. The bulbs will not be damaged.
  7. Protect the bed from digging dogs, cats and wildlife with chicken wire spread over the bed. Animals love to dig in newly formed beds, uprooting the garlic cloves.
  8. In cold winter areas, cover the garlic beds after a few hard freezes with a 4- to 6-inch thick layer of hay or straw. This will protect the garlic cloves from heaving out of the ground in winter during cycles of freezing and thawing.
  9. Remove the mulch in spring with warm weather and garlic top growth. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, when three leaves have formed in spring.

Other Stories on Planting Garlic:

Growing Great Garlic
A Passion for Garlic
Glorious Garlic

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