Garlic is easy to grow and produces numerous bulbs after a long growing season. It is frost tolerant. Beyond its intense flavor and culinary uses, “the stinking rose” is good in the garden as an insect repellent and has been used for centuries as a home remedy.
- Garlic can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked, but fall planting is recommended for most gardeners. Plant in the fall and you’ll find that your bulbs are bigger and more flavorful when you harvest the next summer.
- In areas that get a hard frost, plant garlic 6 to 8 weeks before that frost. In southern areas, February or March is a better time to plant.
- Break apart cloves from bulb a few days before planting, but keep the papery husk on each individual clove.
- Plant cloves about one month before the ground freezes.
- Do not plant cloves from the grocery store. They may be unsuited varieties for your area, and most are treated to make their shelf life longer, making them harder to grow. Instead, get cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery.
- Ensure soil is well-drained with plenty of organic matter. Select a sunny spot.
- Place cloves 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep, in their upright position (the wide root side facing down and pointed end facing up).
- In the spring, as warmer temperatures come, shoots will emerge through the ground.
- Northern gardeners should mulch heavily with straw for overwintering.
- Mulch should be removed in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. (Young shoots can’t survive in temps below 20°F on their own. Keep them under cover.)
- Cut off any flower shoots that emerge in spring. These may decrease bulb size.
- Weeds should not be a problem until the spring. Weed as needed.
- Garlic requires adequate levels of nitrogen. Fertilize accordingly, especially if you see yellowing leaves.
- Water every 3 to 5 days during bulbing (mid-May through June).
- A note on garlic scapes: Some folks love cooking the scapes (the tops of hardneck garlic). Whether you trim the scapes or let them keep growing is your preference. We like to stir fry scapes the way we cook green beans—similar with a spicy kick!
Garlic has very few problems with pests in the garden (in fact, its a natural pest repellent!), and also very few problems with the diseases that plague other veggies. White Rot is one concern, but you should also keep an eye out for the same pests that plague onions.
- White Rot is a fungus that may attack garlic in cool weather. Not much can be done to control or prevent that problem except rotating your crops and cleaning up the area after harvesting. The spores can live in the soil for many years. The fungus affects the base of the leaves and roots.
- Harvest time depends on when you plant, but the clue is to look for yellow tops. Harvest when the tops begin to yellow and fall over, before they are completely dry.
- In Northern climates, harvesting will probably be in late July or August. In Southern climates, it will depend on your planting date.
- Check the bulb size and wrapper quality; you don’t want the wrapper to disintegrate. Dig too early and the bulb will be immature. Discontinue watering.
- To harvest, carefully lift the bulbs with a spade or garden fork. Pull the plants, carefully brush off the soil, and let them cure in an airy, shady spot for two weeks. We hang them upside down on a string in bunches of 4 to 6. Make sure all sides get good air circulation.
- The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. The root crown should be hard, and the cloves can be cracked apart easily.
- Once the garlic bulbs are dry, you can store them. Remove any dirt and trim off any roots or leaves. Keep the wrappers on—but remove the dirtiest wrappers.
- Garlic bulbs may be stored individually with the tops removed, or the dried tops may be braided together to make a garlic braid to hang in the kitchen or storage room.
- Bulbs should be stored in a cool (40 degrees F), dark, dry place, and can be kept in the same way for several months. Don’t store in your basement if it’s moist!
- The flavor will increase as the bulbs are dried.
- If you plan on planting garlic again next season, save some of your largest, best-formed bulbs to plant again in the fall.