How To Plant and Harvest Your Best Garlic Crop
How To Plant and Harvest Your Best Garlic Crop
Garlic is a beloved culinary staple and an easy-to-grow garden vegetable native to Central Asia. This member of the allium, or onion, family adds pungency and flavor to innumerable dishes, and with a long shelf life, it is a perfect choice for those who love homegrown cooking. Growing garlic is exceptionally easy in most regions of the U.S. We’ll walk you through all things garlic right here!
Selecting the Right Garlic, Timing, Preparing and Planting Your Crop
Where can garlic grow?
Garlic is well adapted to a wide range of northern and temperate regions across the globe. The plants require a cold period, and in fact they are very cold hardy. Garlic can be grown between USDA zones 3-8; however, individual garlic varieties may have more specific growing zone limitations. Growers in Florida and zones 9 and warmer have had relative success vernalizing garlic in the refrigerator.
How long does garlic take to grow?
Garlic requires about 8 months to grow from planting to harvest; however, it is a unique vegetable crop in that much of the growing time takes place in the winter months, with no active work required from the grower. In fact, garlic is one of the earliest plants to appear in the spring.
When do I plant garlic?
Choose your planting date for a dry day in fall, after the weather has cooled but before the ground has had a hard freeze. For many gardeners, this is in October or November.
How do I know what type of garlic to grow?
There are three main types or classes of garlic to choose from:
Softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum): Softneck garlic is named for the soft, floppy stems that allow this type to be braided when bulbs are fully dried. The skin is wrapped more tightly around cloves, making for a longer storage life, (some varieties store up to one year when stored properly) and more work in peeling. Softneck types are typically less winter hardy than stiff-necked varieties. They are popular in mild winter climates and Mediterranean climates with fewer hours of cool temperatures. Northern gardeners can also grow softnecks, taking care to provide well-drained soil. (Raised beds are best.) Subtypes include Silverskin and Artichoke types. The cloves have a more mild flavor.
Hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon): Hardneck garlic is named for its stiff, edible stem, also known as a scape. Loose, easier-to-peel skin makes for a shorter shelf life (on average, 6 months). It is the most cold hardy type, excellent for northern and far northern growers, with a spicier and more complex flavor than softneck. Subtypes include Rocambole, Porcelain, Creole and Purple Striped.
Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) Elephant garlic is actually more related to leeks, but it is grown and cooked just like a true garlic. The massive, mild-flavored cloves are easy to peel, but this variety has a shorter shelf life. Less winter hardy, this is an excellent choice for mild winter locations and southern growers who struggle with garlic.
For more on how to choose the best type of garlic for your region, watch our YouTube video:
What is the best soil for garlic?
Provide rich, well-drained soil; raised beds are an excellent choice. Consider incorporating well-rotted compost before planting. Choose a full sun location. Garlic will suffer in poorly drained soil, especially softneck types, so good drainage is key.
How do I plant garlic?
Gently break apart the bulbs just before planting. Do not remove the papery husk around each clove. Individual cloves should be placed pointy tip up, about 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Since elephant garlic is significantly larger, plant each clove 3 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart.
Do I need to mulch and fertilize garlic?
Garlic needs mulch. Cover the freshly planted garlic bed with a 4-inch thick layer of mulch; clean straw or leaf mulch is ideal. Mulching is essential to prevent heaving, so do not skip this step. You also may consider amending the garlic bed with bone meal just before planting (but this is optional).
Care and Feeding For Garlic
What is the best way to water garlic?
Irrigation will not be necessary after planting in fall or throughout the winter; however, garlic plants will benefit from regular watering starting in the spring and until bulbs mature in fall. Cut back on water two weeks before harvesting.
Do I need to fertilize garlic?
Fertilization will help for a better harvest, as garlic is a heavy feeder. Feed garlic when greens have reached 6 inches tall in the spring, applying a nitrogen-rich, well-balanced fish emulsion or kelp-based fertilizer once a week for two months or until scapes appear. Do not fertilize later as it impedes proper bulb formation.
What are pests of garlic?
Garlic is known to be quite pest free. Be sure not to use grocery store garlic, as it carries a higher chance of being diseased. Always plant quality seed garlic! Practice crop rotation and do not plant garlic where any alliums (onion family) crops have been grown in the past three years. The biggest pest of garlic is competition from weeds. It is essential to keep the garlic bed well weeded. All Allium family members compete very poorly with weeds. A layer of mulch and spot hand weeding will help to keep the beds clean.
Should I remove garlic flowers or scapes?
Hardneck varieties will produce a stiff stem, called a scape. Be sure to carefully snap the scape off at about 6 inches long. They are a gourmet delicacy! Do not leave scapes on the plant as they will steal energy from the plant and result in poor bulb development.
How can I tell when garlic is ready to harvest?
Pay close attention to your garlic in mid to late summer. Yellowing leaves will let you know the garlic is starting to mature. It is time to harvest your plants when the bottom half of the leaves have turned brown and the top half is still green. Note that softneck garlic is quicker to mature. Promptly harvest softnecks as soon as the bottom two leaves have browned.
What is the right way to harvest garlic?
Dig the garlic carefully, using a potato fork or shovel. Do not pull it out of the ground by the neck without digging it up or loosening the soil first, as this can damage the bulb and lead to spoilage! After digging, gently brush off most of the dirt, and do not wash the bulbs. The bulbs bruise easily, so handle them with care, and move harvested bulbs out of direct sunlight immediately.
For more information on the right way to harvest garlic, see our YouTube video:
Does garlic need to be cured?
Yes. To cure garlic, tie the bulbs together at the stalk in bundles of 6 to 10 and hang to cure in a shaded, dry, well-ventilated area. Barn rafters, a shed or garage are common choices. Alternatively, you can lay individual plants on a wire table top, screens or drying racks, spacing them out for good airflow. Leave to hang for 4 to 6 weeks. Using a fan to increase air circulation is very helpful; just be sure not to point the fan directly at the bulbs. After thoroughly drying (2-3 weeks), cut the stalks about 1 inch above the bulb or braid softneck types if desired.
What is the proper way to store garlic?
Store in netted or mesh onion bags. For optimum storage, hang in an area with 45 to 60 percent relative humidity, at a temperature of 45 to 65 F. Do not refrigerate. Always handle garlic carefully to prevent bruising, as bruising will cause rot. Set aside the healthiest, largest cloves to replant in the fall.
Braiding garlic is also a fun way to store it. Watch our garlic braiding tutorial here:
Look for our seasonally available garlic bulbs (usually available in September) here.
To learn more about Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and shop other varieties available during the year, visit rareseeds.com.