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When to Plant Garlic
Planting garlic is all about timing and location. In a warmer climate, spring planting is a possibility, but for most growers, garlic roots best develop in the fall months before the ground freezes, usually between September and November. Any top growth is vulnerable to cold winters, so the goal is to plant garlic with enough time to root, but not to sprout.
Varieties of Garlic for Home Gardens
There are three varieties of garlic, each with their own pros and cons for home gardens.
- Softneck. Softneck varieties like Silverskin are ideal for storage (the soft stems that give them their name are easy to braid together when curing). Common softneck varieties are Korean Red, Duganski, German Red and Spanish Roja.
- Hardneck. Hardneck garlic can be identified by its single ring of cloves and its milder flavor profile, while softneck garlic most likely includes the garlic bulbs at the grocery store, featuring multiple layers of cloves, and has a stronger, more traditionally “garlicky” taste.
- Elephant. Great-headed garlic, also known as elephant garlic, is not typically one of the recommended varieties for gardeners. Elephant garlic tastes closer to other alliums like leeks, without much of a punchy garlic flavor.
How to Grow Garlic
It may seem counterintuitive, but don’t plant individual cloves of store garlic, which can be chemically treated for things like longer shelf life: local nurseries or seed catalogs can provide cloves from well-performing regional varieties better suited for growing.
- Choose a large, healthy looking clove (this will mean a bigger bulb size when it’s time to harvest next year) and keep it encased in its paper husk coating.
- Plant the clove in a hole 2 inches deep, pointed end up. Multiple cloves should be planted about 4 inches apart.
- Cover with soil, and mulch with plenty of hay to keep things well-insulated over the winter.
- Keep the area well-weeded, and watch for prematurely yellow scapes—they may be a sign that the soil needs more nitrogen. Companion planting with a wide variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables can also help keep nutrients in balance.
How to Care for Garlic Plants
- Trim the flower stalks as they appear to manage bulb-size.
- Garlic plants prefer a fertile soil in full sun (use compost or other organic matter to further fertilize a thin or particularly sandy soil), with additional rounds of fertilization in the late stages of growth.
- Garlic plants also benefit from raised beds, which allow for easy drainage.
When to Harvest Garlic
Garlic’s growing season runs from planting in the late fall through the spring. Flower stalks and garlic scapes begin sprouting in early spring. Harvest garlic from mid to late summer—think late June to August—when the scapes begin to take on a golden hue and become limp. Don’t wait until they’re completely dried out: this can lead to split vulnerable bulbs below ground.
How to Harvest Garlic
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While it may be tempting to dramatically yank bulbs out of the soil when harvesting garlic, resist the urge! Instead, carefully loosen the soil around each plant with a spade. Lift them free, brushing off any remaining clumps of soil.
Next, the bulbs must be cured: hang them individually or in bunches in a shady spot with good air circulation on all sides of the bulbs for about two weeks. Once the root ends and paper husks are completely dry, the garlic cloves are ready to be used. When properly stored in a dark, dry spot, a cleaned garlic crop can last all the way until the next summer’s harvest.
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