What if I told you that it was possible to grow your garlic? Believe it or not, this herbaceous vegetable is easy to grow and can be grown in every climate. No raised beds or garden beds to plant? That’s not an issue because you can grow garlic in containers. If you’re ready to learn how to grow enough garlic to take down Dracula and his friends, keep reading, and by the end of this article, you will be equipped to JUST GROW IT, regardless of where you live or the size of your garden.
Garlic and other crops like ginger and turmeric have a long history of natural and mystical properties. Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops on record. Garlic has a rich history across many cultures and is rich in antioxidants and beneficial health properties.
Like other vegetables, there are many varieties of garlic; Nootka, Italian Late, Creole, Spanish… and many more! Even though there are many varieties of garlic, regardless of the smell, size, color, or time to maturity, they are classified into two categories- hardneck or softneck. Each type has its characteristics and advantages.
Choosing the proper garlic for your area is the most crucial key to having a successful harvest. Growing the wrong variety will lead to undersized heads. This could leave you discouraged, thinking that you cannot grow garlic, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Garlic is easy to grow and, if grown properly, should have few pests or problems in your garden.
Hardneck garlic is more closely related to wild garlic. This is the variety for you if you live in the northern region of the USA or an area that experiences harsh winters. If planted correctly, garlic is capable of withstanding some extreme conditions. Don’t worry. We will cover the proper planting techniques later in this article. Hardneck varieties cannot form bulbs without prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. This is called vernalization.
Hardneck garlic typically has 4-12 cloves within the bulb. It is the only variety to produce garlic scapes, a flowering stalk that grows from the center of the bulb that you can harvest months before harvesting the actual bulbs.
Hardneck garlic is more flavorful and easier to peel. No wonder all the gourmet chefs favor this kind of garlic!
If you live in an area with a mild winter, such as zone 9 or 10, then Softneck varieties are the way to go. Softneck garlic can also be grown in areas with harsh winters as long as it is properly mulched. While these varieties may not produce a scape, they have other positive traits. This variety can be stored for more extended periods than their counterparts. And since they don’t produce a scape, you can braid the greens to help with drying and storage.
Softneck varieties produce larger bulbs than hardneck. And the bulbs usually contain more cloves.
Do I grow garlic from seed?
No. Well, not in the same way that we often think about seeds. Garlic is more like a potato because it grows from a piece of itself. See, garlic seed is the actual cloves within the bulb. Each clove has the potential to develop into one bulb of garlic. I don’t have a favorite source for garlic seeds. All of your favorite seed companies will sell garlic seeds. Like ginger and turmeric, makes sure to place your order in advance. These online retailers often sell out quickly.
My favorite place to get garlic seeds from is my local nursery. They always have varieties that do well, and I don’t have to order them in advance as I do with online retailers. Also, they have garlic available at the ideal growing time.
Growing Garlic: The Basics
When to plant
One of the best and worst things about garlic is its long growing season. You plant garlic in the fall between September-November. I usually plant my garlic in the middle of October, which seems to be a safe time for any location. You want to plant the cloves 3-8 weeks before the last frost.
After planting, the cloves will sprout and form their root system. Once winter comes, the bulbs will go dormant and stop growing. Don’t be alarmed when you don’t notice anything happening with the garlic over the winter. For garlic to the bulb, it requires a cold period. This process is called vernalization. Trust me, it is working underneath the soil’s surface. Once spring comes back around, the garlic will resume growing and be ready to be harvested in the summer. If you miss the fall window for planting garlic, don’t sweat it, you can still plant garlic in the late winter. The only catch is that you will not get large bulbs. Remember to plant garlic cloves in the fall if you want large bulbs.
What to do before planting
One of my good friends, who is also one of the best farmers/growers I have ever met, used to grow the best garlic I have ever seen. Every clove sprouted and formed large bulbs regardless of the size of the initially planted clove. One day about ten years ago, I asked him his secret, and he said he always “dips the cloves in the fountain of youth” before planting. I had no idea what he meant until I happened to be there one day in the fall when he was getting ready to plant. He pre-soaked all his garlic cloves in a secret liquid fertilizer and antifungal mix.
Soaking the garlic cloves revitalizes them cloves with nutrients before planting. Adding baking soda to the water can help pass antifungal properties to the cloves. This will help protect the cloves from contracting diseases while growing.
Combine these ingredients and fill a jar or cup with the solution. Place the separated cloves in the solution. Soak the garlic for a minimum of 30 minutes. I prefer to soak them overnight for up to 2 days. I try not to leave them soaking longer than that. After letting them soak for the designated time, remove the cloves, and you are ready to plant them.
*After soaking, some people will give the cloves a quick rinse in rubbing alcohol. This is supposed to kill any remaining bacteria or fungus on the cloves.
Where to plant garlic
Like most vegetables, garlic does best when grown in full sun. Plant in a place with well-drained soil; this is vital for all root crops. I prefer to grow garlic in raised beds for this reason. The only issue is that since garlic is in the ground for such an extended period, it is difficult to plant it in one of the raised beds. When you’re an urban gardener with limited space, it is hard to commit one of your raised beds to garlic for seven months.
To avoid the issue of garlic taking over your raised beds for so long, grow your garlic in containers. Try a container that is wide and shallow instead of tall and narrow. The wider container will help you maximize the amount of garlic you can grow. Don’t forget that when gardening in containers, you will have to water them more frequently than raised beds and inground beds.
Make sure to start with healthy, undamaged cloves. Remember, the larger the initial clove, the larger the bulb will become.
- Plant cloves 1-2 inches deep with the pointy side up
- Space the cloves 3-6 inches apart in rows 9-24 inches apart. The space between the rows is determined by the variety planted.
*Avoid overcrowding the garlic cloves. Less is more. The fewer cloves you plant yield larger, healthier bulbs.
After planting, add a layer of your favorite organic mulch. This helps to protect the garlic while it overwinters in your garden. Unless you live in the northern climates with harsh winters, be careful not to make your mulch layer too deep. This can lead to rotten bulbs. I will often mulch the cloves with a 2-3” layer of compost instead. My buddy who taught me about soaking garlic constantly mulches his garlic beds with grass. He swears by a 4” layer. He says that as the grass breaks down, it provides nitrogen for the bulbs.
Caring for Garlic
When it comes to water, garlic is like any other vegetable. It requires about 1” of water a week. Garlic prefers long and deep infrequent waterings.
When it comes to nutrients, garlic is a heavy feeder. Before planting, work compost or another slow-release organic fertilizer into the soil. Ut because garlic is a heavy feeder, that is not enough. You will also have to apply granular fertilizer 2-3 times during the growing season. Once in the early spring, when the plants are 6-8” tall, and then again in the late spring. Make sure to stop fertilizing and watering one month before harvesting. If you don’t have granular fertilizer handy or prefer to apply it foliarly, that is not an issue. Apply foliar feeding every 2-4 weeks from march til may.
Garlic is low maintenance, but that doesn’t mean it is worry-free. The most common disease to affect garlic is garlic rust. Garlic rust is a fungal disease that affects onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots. It is most likely to occur in humid and damp conditions.
Garlic is usually harvested in the summer. Garlic can be harvested in three forms: scapes, green, or bulb. Only hardneck garlic produces scapes. To harvest, cut off the scape after the flower stalk curls.
Garlic harvested before it reaches maturity is called green garlic. Because green garlic is immature, it cannot be stored long-term. Use it like green onions in salads or dehydrate and turn it into a powder. To harvest, dig up or pull up the cloves by hand.
Harvest the garlic bulbs when you notice that 50% of the tops of the plants begin to brown or fall over. Do not wait until the entire plant is brown or dead. Most varieties are ready to harvest between June and July. If you harvest too early, you will reduce the storage quality. If you harvest too late, the bulbs will begin to split open, reducing storage quality.
Garlic is ready to eat as soon as it is harvested. To extend the storage time, you must dry and cure your garlic.
HOW TO DRY AND CURE
- Do not wash the garlic.
- After removing it from the ground, store the fresh garlic in a dark, well-ventilated area.
- Either braid the greens or lay the bulbs flat on a wire rack or breathable surface.
- As it dries, brush off the dirt.
- After 2-3 weeks of curing, you can clean the garlic. Remove all the leaves and roots.
Once the bulbs are dried and cured, it is time to store them. Keep the bulbs in a partially closed cardboard box with a steady temperature in a room or closet. Don’t forget to check on the bulbs once or twice a month. Remove any bulbs that are rotten or beginning to sprout.
Now that you know how to grow and store garlic, the last thing is to make sure you use it. Homegrown garlic is as life-changing as your first garden tomato. If you don’t have any immediate use for the garlic and are afraid you may let it go to waste, you can always dehydrate and make garlic powder.
Are you ready to JUST GROW IT?