It’s almost fall and many gardeners are shopping for tulips and daffodils. Another bulb to consider planting this fall is garlic. Like other spring-maturing bulbs, garlic needs a cold period before it will begin to grow.
Now is the time to order or purchase your garlic to obtain the greatest variety. There are over 600 cultivated sub-varieties of garlic in the world. They basically fall into two categories,hardneck and softneck. Hardnecks have a hard stem that grows in the middle of the bulb. This stem is the flower stalk or “scape” that forms as the plant matures. Hardnecks generally do not store as well as softnecks, and they can’t be braided. Softneck varieties are the types we generally buy in grocery stores. They store well and are easy to braid. They are generally grown in milder climates and can become bitter if grown in areas with cold winters, like ours. Do not plant garlic you get in the grocery store.
Garlic is fairly easy to grow, provided you improve your soil before planting. Garlic likes a well-drained soil that has a high organic content, so we general have to amend our native soils. Garlic should be planted from mid September to mid November. Wait until the day of planting to separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves. Plant the single garlic cloves 4 to 6 inches deep with the pointy end up, spacing the cloves approximately 6 inches apart in rows 12-24 inches apart. It is imperative to place weed-free mulch over the garlic. This moderates the changes in soil temperature and prevents frost-heaving. Leave the mulch in place in the spring to help reduce weeds and limit soil water evaporation. Don’t be concerned if the garlic sprouts in the fall after you have planted it. It will die back as the weather turns cold.If you have mulched, it will overwinter just fine and come up again next spring.
In early spring, the garlic will emerge and begin growing vigorously. Garlic can grow 3 to 4 feet high, so plan accordingly in your garden. As the plants mature, they will form a flower stalk or “scape.” These curly stalks should be removed, as they take energy away from the garlic bulb. You can cut these edible stalks like a flower and add them to a stir fry, soup or even a pesto. In June, start cutting back the amount of water you give the garlic plants. In mid June to mid July the plants will start to die back or turn brown. While there are still five green leaves left on the plants, dig the garlic up. If you wait until the whole plant is brown, the garlic cloves will start to separate from the bulbs, and they will not store well. Brush off the dirt, but don’t rinse. Tie the garlic or lay it flat in the shade for 4-6 weeks to cure. Save the best bulbs to plant the next year and enjoy the rest!