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Got your cloves in the ground yet? Garlic is incredibly useful in the kitchen and surprisingly easy to grow in the garden. The best time to plant it is in the fall. Learn how and when to plant garlic so that you can maximize your harvest!
When to Plant garlic
Fall is traditionally the best time to plant garlic in most regions. A good rule of thumb is to not plant garlic until after the autumnal equinox in late September. 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 jumpstart on the growing season and it will be one of the first things to come up in the garden next spring.
How to Plant Garlic
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.
Garlic emerging in the spring.
Early next spring, you garlic will be ready to grow, sending up tiny green shoots as soon as the ground thaws.
Caring for Garlic Plants
Feed the plants every other week with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer from the time shoots emerge in early spring until approximately 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 the 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.
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.
Garlic Pests and Diseases
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. See our Pest & Diseases Pages for more information.
How and When to Harvest Garlic
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, which 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, hard neck garlic will keep for five months and soft neck for eight months.
Labeled garlic ready for storage—or use!
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!