Garlic Grow Instructions
Garlic is winter hardy, grows easily, and takes up very little space in a garden. An ancient bulbous vegetable, it grows from a single clove that multiplies in the ground. Most people grow it as an annual, but if you harvest only the big plants and leave behind the small ones, you’ll have a perennial garlic that regrows every year. Close relatives include onions, shallots, and leeks.
Garlic comes in two varieties. Softneck, which include Artichoke and Silverskins, tends to do better in warm climates. For cold climates, you might want to choose a hardneck variety, such as Rocambole, Purple Stripe, or Porcelain.
WHERE GARLIC THRIVES
Garlic is resistant to frost and even hard freezes if the soil is well-drained. Most varieties actually prefer a cold climate. But if you have soggy soil, the cold winter temperatures will freeze the water and displace the newly planted garlic cloves, causing them to rot as the soil warms in the spring.
OPTIMAL SOIL & SUN
This herb prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH balance 6.5 to 7) and grows best in moist, well-drained, loose and sandy conditions. The loose soil allows the bulbs to easily grow without damaging the papery skin that protects the garlic bulb from rot. That said, it is tolerant of a variety of soil types, except for heavy clay. Garlic grows best in full sun.
Garlic is hardy even in extreme cold but it still needs protection. Applying a cover of mulch helps it weather long, cold winters. Garlic grows well in light, sandy soils but still needs to be watered frequently in spring drought conditions to promote healthy root development. Once the garlic is established and has a scape, the long and leafless flowering stem, garlic can tolerate drought conditions.
The easiest way to grow garlic is from the same cloves you enjoy in the kitchen. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves two to three days before planting. Keep the papery wrapping on each clove to prevent it from rotting. Plant cloves about four inches deep and six inches apart, with the pointy side facing up. Apply mulch to protect against the winter chill. Garlic needs roughly 6 to 12 weeks of cold temperatures to develop harvestable bulbs. If you’re planting garlic in a warm, frost-free climate, chill the cloves before planting by storing them in the fridge for up to 12 weeks.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO PLANT
Garlic can be planted in the spring but fall is the optimal time for yielding the most intense flavor and the largest bulbs. Plant it about one month before the ground freezes and be sure to apply mulch to protect it against the winter chill.
Pair garlic with beets, celery, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage to reduce damage caused by these pests. The chemicals that make garlic a powerful pest deterrent can also inhibit the growth of peas, beans, and asparagus so keep it separate from these crops.
Cover your plants with a generous layer of mulch in the fall. The colder the winter, the more mulch you should pile on. Many gardeners choose to keep mulch in place after spring to limit weed growth. For Hardneck varieties, you’ll notice a round, leafless flower stem emerging from the center of the leaves about three weeks before harvest. This is the scape. Some growers cut off scapes to produce a more robust bulb. If left uncut, garlic scapes will bloom into pretty, whitish-pink pom-poms that bees love.
Water your garlic every three to five days in spring when the bulb is forming. Don't water it after July or the bulbs may rot. Consider harvesting your garlic early if you're experiencing a particularly wet summer. Fall weather is usually wet enough to support healthy roots until winter sets in. But if you’ve got a hot, dry fall, soaking your garlic once every 10 days and letting the soil dry between waterings will encourage deep root growth. If you’re growing garlic in a place with relatively warm winters, water your plants occasionally over the winter.
Weed your garlic regularly. Mulching helps keep weeds at bay.
Perennials are known for being low-maintenance. An annual dose of compost and mulch is all the nourishment most will ever need. Work about an inch of compost into the ground before sowing your plants. Top off your new planting with about an inch of mulch. Refresh your planting bed every spring by spreading an inch of compost around the base of established plants, and then adding about an inch of mulch.
Knowing when to harvest garlic may be its biggest challenge. Do it too soon and the bulbs won't mature. Too late and the bulbs may have already begun to open. In neither case will the bulbs store well.
PESTS & DISEASE
Pests are not a problem because this herb actually repels them. Plant a border of it around your vegetable garden to ward off hungry deer and rabbits. It’s pungent odor deters most common garden pests, including cabbage worms, spider mites, aphids, carrot rust flies, and Japanese beetles.
Garlic is susceptible to white rot, a fungus that attacks the roots and leaves of garlic in the winter, and garlic rust, a fungal disease that attacks the leaves. To prevent rot from spreading make sure to clean it up all infected plant residue after harvesting so it doesn't spread throughout the garden. Do not compost infected leaves or roots. Burn infected plant material or bring them to your local green waste drop off. Planting your garlic in a new spot each year also helps fend off fungal disease.
It's time to pick garlic when the bottom two leaves yellow and wither. In most northern climates this occurs in July or August, but it varies according to when you planted your cloves. Expect a later harvest date if you plant in the spring. If you want green garlic, harvest it in May and June when the stalks are young and tender. To harvest garlic, carefully loosen the soil and dig out the bulbs, taking care not to tear the paper skin, which protects it from going bad. You can also harvest the garlic scape once it curls. Scapes appear only once a season so don’t miss out. (They’re delicious sauteed in oil, and salted.)
Keep garlic in a well-circulated place at room temperature: a bag with holes in it, a wire or mesh container, or even a paper bag. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator.
Hang or place garlic bulbs in a shady, dry, warm spot for a couple of weeks. This process is called curing. Once dry, you can store them with the wrappers still on. Garlic flavor only increases when dried.