Planting Garlic in the Fall

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Planting Garlic
Robin Sweetser

Fall is traditionally the time to plant garlic in many regions. Just like onions and other plants in the allium family, garlic is sensitive to daylength and matures during the longest days of summer. Fall planting gives it a jump start on the growing season and it will be one of the first things to come up in the garden next spring.

Garlic is extremely easy to grow but good soil preparation is necessary if you want to produce the best and biggest bulbs. They need deeply cultivated, well-drained, rich soil with a pH of 6.4-6.8. Add 2-3 inches of compost and well-rotted manure to the bed before planting. Use quality seed garlic and plant several different varieties just in case one does poorly. Separate the cloves no more than 48 hours before planting to keep them from drying out. The largest cloves will produce the biggest bulbs. Plant individual cloves, peels intact, pointy end up, 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Mulch 5-8 inches deep with seedless straw. It will pack down over the winter to about 2 inches by spring and help to keep the weeds down during the growing season. Your garlic will form roots but little or no top growth before the ground freezes solid.

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Early next spring it will be ready to grow, sending up tiny green shoots as soon as the ground thaws.

Not too many pests bother garlic but don’t plant it where you have had trouble with wireworms or nematodes. Disease is more of an issue in poorly drained soils. Feed the plants every other week with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer from the time shoots emerge in early spring until June 1. Water is critical during the bulb forming stage in early summer so try for an inch a week, including rainfall. If you are growing hard neck garlic - the best type for the northeast - around the time of summer solstice your garlic will send up a seed stalk called a scape. This should be cut off to encourage the plants to put all their energy into bulb formation.

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These stalks curl into a loop and are delicious. Chop them and add to salad, stir fry, soup, scrambled eggs, or any dish you want to enhance with a little garlic flavor. Buzzed in the blender with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese, they make especially good pesto. Leave one or two flower stalks standing to help you decide when to harvest your garlic. About four weeks prior to harvest the outer wrappers on the garlic bulbs start to dry so stop watering in July. Too much water at that stage can stain the wrapper or even cause mold.

Harvest your garlic around the end of July or early August, when the lower third to half of the leaves have turned brown and wilted but the upper leaves are still green. It can be tricky deciding exactly when to harvest so that is where the flower stalks can come in handy. If the leaves are starting to turn brown and the scapes uncurl and stand up straight it is time to harvest. Hang bunches of newly harvested garlic to dry in a cool, well ventilated, shady spot for 3-4 weeks to cure. After the leaves, roots, and outer wrappers are completely dry, brush off any loose soil, trim the roots to 1/4 inch, and cut the tops back to an inch or two above the bulb before storing. Under optimum conditions of near freezing temps and 65-70% humidity, hardneck garlic will keep for five months and softneck for 8 months.

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Save your biggest cloves to replant for next year. Old timers say that garlic “learns” because it adapts to your growing conditions and improves each year. Grab life by the bulbs and plant some garlic this fall!

~ By  Robin Sweetser

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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container garden

Can I plant these in a container?

growing garlic in containers

Yes, it’s possible to grow garlic in containers that are sized at least 8 inches diameter and provide the same depth so the roots have enough room. Just add compost, and plant 1 inch deep (4 inches apart) and don’t plant too close to the edges of the container.

Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic
Could you tell me whether the same planting, growing, harvesting and storing advice applies to Elephant Garlic as applies to regular garlic. Also, can the cold temperature and humidity advice (to achieve a long saving time) that you provide for garlic be applied to Elephant Garlic, and can those cold temperature and humidity conditions be achieved by keeping the Elephant Garlic (or regular garlic) in a refrigerator? Thank you for your help.

Elephant garlic (Allium

Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is a leek, not a garlic.  It’s ready to harvest when about 30% of the foliage is starting to yellow. In many regions, this point comes in mid-May or June. If harvest is delayed past that point, the bulbs begin to split open, revealing the individual cloves.

Growing Garlic

I grew my own garlic this year and want to replant for next year. Do i split open each group that comes apart and plant one piece in each hole or do I plant the entire thing?

That is the wonderful thing

That is the wonderful thing about garlic. You plant just one section or clove and you get a whole head of cloves in return. Separate the cloves right before planting to keep them from drying out. Plant the largest ones and eat the rest!

gardening

I have learned several new things about garlic. This is my first time growing it. I had problems with something digging some bulbs up and when I replanted some came up real close together. I hope they will not be too deformed!
althea

Even if they aren’t perfect

Even if they aren’t perfect looking they will taste great and be worth the effort!

Garlic planting

I planted my garlic in the fall. We had a warm fall and the garlic started to sprout. The stems were about 4 inches tall. When it got cold the sprouts turned brown. Will this garlic still grow?

When to plant is always a

When to plant is always a conundrum, especially with the climate changing. Traditionally we have always planted garlic on Columbus Day here in NH but now I wait until November because our falls have been so warm and the garlic does sprout prematurely. Your plants might have suffered a small setback but they should regrow this spring just fine.

I'm in southern Ontario and

I'm in southern Ontario and have had garlic grow 4 inches in the fall before freeze up without any problem. Good luck!

grlic

I have been growing garlic for about 3/4 years and I am happy with what I get, but I would like to get bigger cloves, so how do you know want kind of garlic you get when you buy it from a farmer that growes it every year,& I get my veg from him & how do you know what is hard neck & does it matter, please advise me ,.Ann

Hi Ann, Sorry I did not see

Hi Ann, Sorry I did not see your questions sooner! If your garlic farmer doesn’t know the name of the varieties he is selling, you could try buying some named varieties from a catalog or online. We started out with named varieties and work very hard to keep them separate and well marked so we can market them accurately.  Replanting the largest cloves each year will give you the biggest heads of garlic in the fall though sometimes, if they are really large, they will form a double with 2 small heads. Hard necks have a stiff center stalk while softnecks are braidable. Which to grow depends on your climate. The hardnecks are hardier and do best in colder climates while the softnecks do great in warmer areas. They say that garlic learns meaning it adapts to your growing conditions and over time the heads will get larger.

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