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Planting Garlic: Complete Guide to Growing Garlic This Fall

Tips and techniques for planting garlic cloves in your organic garden.

Garlic Bulbs

Fall is an important time for those interested in planting garlic. Savvy garlic growers know that planting cloves in the fall yields larger bulbs than those planted in the spring.

They’re delicious when added to any recipe, whether stir-fried or in a salad. Their intense flavor serves many culinary uses, and it’s also a great plant that works as an insect repellent in the garden, again thanks to the intense aroma.

If you’re like us and love garlic, this complete guide lays out everything you need to know before planting garlic in your home gardens this fall.

Why Plant Garlic?

Garlic is part of the Allium genus, which also includes onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, and chives.

Garlic is an excellent crop to grow if you want your garden to continue producing food throughout the winter.

Garlic heads, when properly cured and stored, have a much longer shelf life than many other garden vegetables, allowing them to be used in the kitchen for months after a harvest.

Plus, thankfully, squirrels and other mammals dislike the flavor and odor of garlic and will avoid your garlic plantings, as well as neighboring veggies.

Growing garlic from cloves is considerably simpler and more practical than trying to produce it from garlic seeds.

And so, in this article, we will show you why growing and planting garlic from individual cloves is the way to go and fully explain the process to you.

Hardneck Garlic vs Softneck Garlic

Before we explain exactly how to plant garlic, it’s important to figure out the variety of garlic you want to plant. There are two different types of garlic: hardneck and softneck, both being suitable for different climates. Each has its own varieties.

Softneck and hardneck garlic types derive their names from their stems. Hardneck garlic stalks are woody, rigid, and unsuitable for braiding, but softneck garlic stalks are flexible and can be braided for storage and a great display. But that’s not all that’s different.

While hardneck garlic, which is cold-hardy, performs better in northern regions, softneck garlic is better suited to southern climates.

And so, hardneck varieties or “topsetting” varieties are a favorite in northern gardens. The shoots of the garlic plants form a flower stalk or “scape” while softneck varieties do not.

Hardneck garlic cloves are easier to peel, and hardneck heads are often larger than softneck heads. The cloves of softneck garlic are smaller even though they often have more heads per head than hardneck garlic.

As we mentioned above, hardnecks do have a harder stem, making them difficult if not impossible to braid. They also don’t keep as long as softnecks. Some softnecks will grow in colder climates. When in doubt, ask your local gardeners which varieties work best in your area.

Varieties of Garlic

Most hardneck garlic varieties belong to one of three groups: Rocambole, porcelain, or purple stripe. However, there are even more types, like Creole and Asiatic.

Most types of softneck garlic belong to the artichoke or silverskin groups.

On the other hand, elephant garlic, known for its large size, belongs to an entirely distinct species and may be successfully cultivated either in the North or the South.

Elephant garlic is not Allium sativum, but Allium ampeloprasum, which is the same species as leeks and pearl onions.

When to Plant Garlic?

Garlic planted in warmer regions needs exposure to cold to grow properly. Hardneck garlic needs a cooling period — two or three weeks at 40 to 50 degrees — before planting to grow properly in areas where soil temperatures stay warm.

For this reason, October is the most popular month to plant garlic, however, you may be able to plant earlier or later depending on where you live.

Planting garlic cloves in the north is best done in late September or October. This must be done before the ground freezes, so you should start at least two weeks before the first frost of the season.

In the South, October is the best time, but you could also wait until November, December, or even January. But if you’re not sure, it’s better to plant early than late.

Garlic cloves can be planted as late as February or March in moderate climates, although the emerging bulbs will be smaller.

Garlic scapes, on the other hand, are still available during the summer. Scapes are the tender green shoots of the plant that have a subtle garlic flavor. These are great to serve with some eggs in the morning, or even in a stir fry!

If you want to plant in the spring, you should hold off until after the soil has become workable and is crumbly before planting garlic.

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How to Source Garlic for Planting

The heads of garlic that are intended to be divided into individual cloves for planting are referred to as ‘seed garlic.’ These cloves can be directly planted into the ground and are a better option for growing garlic than ‘traditional’ garlic seeds

It may be tempting to head to your local grocery store to buy garlic from there for planting. However, they will most likely always be from China or California, and depending on where you live, there’s a strong possibility it’s not suitable to grow there.

Although you can experiment with grocery store garlic, there are more reliable methods for planting garlic. First, talk to farmers and growers in your area to find garlic that will work well in your region.

Another great source is to head to your local farmers market or farm stand to get ahold of locally grown garlic. These are more likely to grow well where you live, but it’s always a good idea to ask a local gardening store or farmer.

Your local gardeners and gardening stores will also stock the right kind of garlic cloves that you can use to plant garlic easily at home.

Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Garlic

Preparing Soil

Garlic can be planted both in the ground and in raised garden beds. Garlic, like other vegetables, thrives best in fertile, loose soil. Work in plenty of compost before planting to help improve the soil.

Autumn is also a crucial time for those who’ll plant in spring. This is the time to prepare your soil so that it’s at its maximum growing potential come March and April.

Compost is the ideal companion for growing garlic. Not only will it enrich the soil with nutrients, but it will also loosen the soil to promote healthy bulb growth. And just as with all root crops, loose soil can make a significant difference between having full-sized produce while harvesting, or ending up with stunted veggies.

Some gardeners will spread two or three inches of manure on their plot along with wood ashes, greensand, or another source of potassium. Bone meal or phosphate rock is also helpful in supplying phosphorus, a mineral crucial to good garlic stands.

Adding kelp meal or a good organic fish fertilizer helps ensure you have an abundance of the nutrients garlic needs. Spreading manure in the fall gives it time to mellow ahead of spring. Too much nitrogen will encourage top growth rather than bulb growth. Everything, as always should be in balance.

Preparing Garlic for Planting

Choose the biggest cloves to plant, as they will produce the biggest heads.

Before planting bulbs, soak them overnight to enhance sprouting and overall health. To do this, add a teaspoon of baking soda to a quart jar of water. After stirring, add the cloves and let them soak.

This soaking not only promotes garlic sprouting but also prevents ground rot. Many parts of the country can get heavy rainfall in the fall, so garlic can benefit greatly from a little extra defense against excessively soggy and wet soils.

There is no need to peel garlic cloves prior to planting them. Try to keep the skins intact, even if some of the papery outer layer does peel off. They guard against bacteria and assist to prevent sprouts from forming before roots have grown.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic should not be planted where onions, garlic, or another plant from the allium family have recently been grown. Rotating the locations where crops are planted is crucial for preventing allium pests and diseases, with garlic being one example.

Hold off on separating the cloves of garlic from a head of garlic until the time comes to plant them. The most effective method for accomplishing this is to pull the head apart with your fingers, taking care not to damage the cloves individually.

The cloves (not the whole bulb) should be planted root side down, pointed-side up in furrows so that two inches of soil cover the top of the cloves. Space them six or so inches apart.

If you live in a particularly wet climate, plant your cloves at the surface and heap two inches of soil over the cloves to create a raised mound that will dry out more quickly. These same guidelines apply to spring planting.

Mulching fall garlic is important. Five inches or more isn’t too much. The mulch may not prevent some ground freezing but it will help prevent frost heaves and the like that will displace your garlic cloves.

Straw or leaves, so abundant in the fall make a good mulch if you later amend it with an organic nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. But any weed seed-free mulch will do.

We can’t emphasize that weed-free part enough. Young garlic plants are especially hindered when competing with weeds. Weeds will reduce the garlic’s bulb size if left unattended.

Work hard to keep your garlic patch free of weeds, fall, and spring. Read our article How to Keep Weeds Out of Your Organic Garden here.

Your fall planted garlic may show shoots growing through the mulch ahead of winter’s onset. This won’t hurt the plants, especially if you apply more mulch ahead of the really cold weather. The shoots will go dormant over the cold season and then start growing again in the spring.

How to Harvest Garlic

Late in the month of July is often the time when garlic is ready to be harvested. However, this does vary somewhat depending on the growing season and where you live.

Garlic should be harvested in the summer when the leaves have turned yellow. To harvest, use a garden fork to delicately dig the bulbs. Avoid pulling or tugging the steams out with your hands.

Curing and Storing Garlic

To extend the shelf life of garlic, dry it outside in the open air, but not in direct sunlight.

Your freshly gathered garlic can literally be ‘cooked’ by the sun as it’s prone to sunburn. This will degrade its flavor and make it more prone to sunburn.

Instead, find a dry, shady, well-ventilated area and spread your collected garlic bulbs out in a single layer to dry. Ideal locations for curing garlic include a porch, under a tree, or even a garage if there is sufficient ventilation.

Garlic doesn’t need to be washed and you shouldn’t be concerned about the dirt that may be stuck to it before drying it.

Allow your garlic to dry for at least a month. When the roots and greens are brown and dried out and the roots feel hard, it’s ready. Once the curing process is complete, it can be stored in an airtight container in a dry location for several months.

Your storage space should be between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, have an average relative humidity of 60 percent, and have ample air circulation. When it’s too cold, garlic can grow sprouts, and when it’s too hot, it tends to dry out.

And there you have it, that’s everything you need to know to plant garlic. If you’re looking for advice and info on taking care of your garlic plant, head on to our growing garlic guide for more information!

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