Planting garlic is easy…
Unless you’re 34 weeks pregnant, and then I would equate it to running a marathon.
I had the best of intentions to put in a fall garden this year, but my body passionately disagreed. Just walking is wearing me out lately, not to mention doing the acrobatics required for planting and cultivating a garden plot.
So I decided to compromise and just stick with planting garlic instead. Because garlic is non-negotiable in my kitchen, and I neeeeeeeed it.
While you *can* plant garlic in the spring, almost all gardening experts agree garlic planted in the fall gives the highest yields and best-tasting bulbs. So that’s the route I took this year.
When to Plant Garlic
When should you plant garlic? Welllllll, it depends on who you talk to. Some folks recommend planting it during the full moon in September, others shoot for several weeks before the first frost, and some gardeners wait until after the first frost to put their cloves in the ground.
I put my garlic in last week, as a planting time of mid-September to mid-October is recommended for our zone (Zone 5). I also suspect we’ll have our first hard frost soon, and I didn’t want to let my belly get much bigger, so I opted to plant a wee bit on the early side.
However, it’s best to avoid planting it too early, as garlic needs cold temps for proper root formation.
The Scoop on Seed Garlic
Much like onions or potatoes, garlic is grown by planting seed stock (cloves), versus actual seeds from a packet. Can you just plant the garlic bulbs you find at the store? Possibly, and some folks do… But I much prefer using seed garlic from a reputable source. Why?
- Grocery store garlic (table garlic) might be a variety not well suited for your growing season
- Sometimes grocery store garlic is treated with growth inhibitors to extend shelf life, which makes sprouting much more difficult
- Grocery store garlic may carry diseases which could be introduced into your soil
- Compared to all the neat varieties of seed garlic available out there, the table garlic sold at most stores is pretty boring…
Once you purchase good-quality seed garlic, you can definitely save back bulbs each year to perpetuate your crop, and avoid having to purchase new seed garlic each year.
This year, I got my seed garlic from Great Northern Garlic. I decided to try two different varieties, which brings me to my next point:
Softneck Garlic vs. Hardneck Garlic
I suffered from hardcore decision fatigue when I was shopping for seed garlic this year… Hardneck, soft neck, big cloves, little cloves, purple, white, red… Ack! After staring at my computer screen for a ridiculous amount of time, I decided on two varieties: a classic Silver White bulb (softneck), and an flavorful Romanian Red bulb (hardneck).
Softneck Garlic: Most of the garlic you’ll find for sale at the Farmer’s Market or grocery store will be the softneck variety. Softneck garlic stores well and can easily be braided. The cloves are a bit smaller, and are often layered on the bulb. Softneck garlic prefers slightly warmer growing temps, BUT, they say it can still be grown successfully in colder climates as long as you use sufficient mulch. So, I figured I’d give it a try.
Hardneck Garlic: Hardneck varieties need cold winters to thrive and tend to not last as long in storage as softneck varieties. However, hardnecks are reported to have more flavor, and they also produce garlic scapes, which can be used for all sorts of recipes (like garlic scape pesto). My hardneck seed this year had 4-5 big, beautiful cloves on each bulb, with a hard stem growing up through the middle.
I’m curious to see which variety does better for me… I’ll keep ya posted.
To figure out how much garlic you need for your plot, this page has some helpful guidelines.
How to Plant Garlic: Step by Step
After you’ve selected your varieties and figured out your planting time, it’s time to plant!
Garlic likes rich, well-drained soil in full sun. I chose a spot in my garden where the summer veggies were done.
I cleaned out the previous plant growth and pulled any weeds. This particular section of my garden was a little skimpy on the mulch, so I decided to rake the little bit of leftover mulch to the side, and then spread a layer of compost on the top.
Because of my lack of mulch in this area, and how dry it’s been, I had to use my shovel to loosen the soil in the rows.
Separate the cloves from the bulb. Each clove will produce one new bulb– cool, eh?
Plant the cloves 4-6″ deep, and about 6″ apart (I might have fudged a little bit on that part… *ahem*)
Remember, always plant the pointy side UP!
Put a layer of mulch over the top, (I used hay– just like I do for my deep mulch gardening method), and that’s it!
The garlic will grow a little bit, and then just hang out over the winter when the temps drop.
You shouldn’t have to water it much– in fact, too much water can be a detriment. I plan on pulling back some of the mulch next spring when the stalks start popping up, and I might end up side-dressing the rows with a bit more compost, too. I’ll also need to keep it well-weeded, as garlic doesn’t like to compete with weeds… But I suspect my mulching will help with that.
Harvest happens in July or so. And before that, you’ll have some lovely garlic scapes to harvest and enjoy. Don’t forget to make the ultimate homesteading decoration for your kitchen: learn how to make a garlic braid!
More Gardening Tips:
- Growing Potatoes: Your Definitive Guide
- Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds
- How Many Plants Per Person in the Garden
- Preparing Our Raised Beds for Spring Planting
- How to Garden in a Cold Climate