Garlic is used to make a variety of dishes more succulent, it has wonderful health benefits and it can be dried to last for a long time. Growing garlic is easy and inexpensive, and one growing season produces so much garlic that you’ll have plenty to share with your friends. Read on for information on sourcing garlic to plant, cultivating the garlic, harvesting it at the end of the growing season, and storing it properly.
Preparing to Grow Garlic
In general, the best times for planting are mid-autumn or early spring. Garlic grows well in a wide range of climates. It does less well in areas of high heat or humidity, or where there is a lot of rainfall.
Choose a planting spot and prepare the soil. Garlic needs a lot of full sun, but it might tolerate partial shade provided it’s not for very long during the day or growing season. The soil must be well dug over and crumbly. Sandy loam is best.
- Ensure that the soil has good drainage. Clay-based soils are not good for planting garlic.
- Use compost and manure to add nutrients to the soil before planting the garlic.
Source fresh garlic. Garlic is grown by planting the cloves – called seeds for our purposes – so to get started all you need to do is buy fresh garlic. Choose garlic from a store, or even better, a farm stand or the local farmers market. It’s very important that the garlic bulbs chosen are fresh and of high quality. If you can, avoid garlic that has been sprayed with chemical sprays.
- Choose fresh garlic bulbs with large cloves. Avoid garlic that has become soft.
- Each clove will sprout into a garlic plant, so keep that in mind when you’re figuring out how many heads to buy.
- If you have some garlic at home that has sprouted, that’s great to use.
- Nurseries also offer garlic bulbs for planting. Visit a nursery if you want to get a specific variety or to get advice on local conditions for garlic.
Planting the Garlic
Break the cloves from a fresh garlic head. Be careful not to damage the cloves at their base, where they attach to the garlic plate. If the base is damaged, the garlic will not grow.
- Plant the larger cloves. The smaller cloves take up just as much space in the planting bed, but they produce much smaller bulbs.
Push each clove into the soil. Point the tips upward and plant the cloves about 2 inches (5cm) deep.
- The cloves should be spaced about 20cm (8 inches) apart for best growing conditions.
Cover the planted cloves with mulch. Suitable toppings include hay, dry leaves, straw, compost, well rotted manure or well rotted grass clippings.
Fertilize the cloves or top-dress with compost. The planted garlic needs a complete fertilizer at the time of planting.
- Fertilize again in the spring if you are planting your garlic in the fall, or in the fall if you’re planting it in the spring.
Caring for Garlic Plants
Water the plants often. Newly planted garlic needs to be kept moist to help the roots to develop. Don’t overdo the water, as garlic does not grow well, or may even rot, if sodden during cold months.
- Water deeply once a week if rain has not fallen. Watering garlic is not necessary unless there is a drought, in which case water sparingly, as garlic hates wet soil.
- Reduce the watering gradually as the season warms up. The garlic needs a hot, dry summer to allow the bulbs to mature.
Take care of pests. Insects, mice and other creatures may come to eat the garlic or make a nest among the plants. Beware the following pests:
- Aphids seem to enjoy garlic leaves and the flower buds. They’re easy to dispense with – simply rub your fingers over them and squash them or apply a
- Many people tend to plant garlic underneath roses to deter aphids; the roses benefit from the aphids being drawn away.
- Mice and other small creatures sometimes nest in mulch. If you have a problem with mice in your area, consider using a type of mulch that doesn’t attract them.
Harvesting the Garlic
Note the signs of readiness for harvesting. Garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested when you can feel the individual cloves in the bulb, and the leaves turn yellow or brown.
- Once the scapes start to dry, it is important to harvest the garlic or the head will “shatter” and divide into the individual cloves.
- Begin harvesting at the end of the summer. Harvesting can continue well into autumn in most places.
- Some warm climates may enable earlier harvesting of garlic.
Loosen the area around each bulb with a shovel. Pull the bulbs out of the ground.
- Be careful with the digging process, since garlic tends to bruise easily.
- Wash them and leave to dry in a well-ventilated space or in the sun for a few days if rain is guaranteed not to fall. Garlic can get sunburned, so don’t leave them outside for too long.
Store garlic in a cool, dry place in your home. Dried bulbs can be kept in a garlic keeper (usually made from pottery), and individual cloves can be pulled off as needed.
Make a garlic plait or braid. The dried leaves can be kept back and plaited or braided into a strand, from which you can hang the garlic bulbs in your pantry or kitchen. This is both decorative and useful.
- For clay soil get sand, mix it in and plant the clove. It really works!
- Big cloves tend to equal big bulbs.
- Save a bulb or two of garlic from this year’s harvest to break into cloves and plant next fall.
- While it’s perfectly all right to plant grocery store or farm stand garlic, you may want to try other varieties. Visit nurseries or nursery websites for many more options, including other colors.
- Garlic is very cold-hardy. You can plant it in the fall, leave it in the ground over the winter and harvest at the end of the next summer.
- Don’t let the garlic dry out in the ground. This will cause the bulb to split.
- Don’t freeze garlic bulbs. They will turn to mush and be unsuitable for reuse.