How to Grow Great Garlic

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Garlic 'Music'

Just when you think the gardening year is over, it's time to plant garlic. The most flavorful member of the onion family is always the last veggie to go into the ground, because garlic cloves start their life cycle by developing roots in cold soil. Then, after at least two months of chilling, the little slivers of green that barely poked up their heads all winter will take off like green rockets. By summer, each little clove will grow into a 3-foot tall plant anchored by a beautiful bulb, ready to dig and cure.

Growing garlic is easy, and fresh garden-grown garlic is remarkably crisp and juicy, too. There are several types of garlic, and all of them change a little in response to the climate in which they are grown. So, if you save and replant the best and biggest cloves from your garden-grown garlic every year, it will improve with each passing season.

Types of Garlic

Familiar grocery store garlic is usually a softneck or "artichoke" type (Allium sativum sativum), most of which is grown in China, southeast of Bejing. The big bulbs may hold from 12 to 20 crowded cloves, with the largest cloves on the outside of the bulbs. Softneck garlic varieties grow best where winters are not extremely cold.

More cold-hardy hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscordon) flowers with a flourish in late spring by developing a flower spike that curls around on itself. These "scapes" make great eating when harvested young and tender – a rare delicacy known only to gardeners. Gradually the base of the scape becomes as stiff as wood, so hardnecks cannot be braided.

Elephant garlic (Allium ameloprasum ) is actually a bulb-forming leek, but don't tell the thousands of gardeners who grow it for its giant, succulent cloves or for its huge pink lollipop of flowers. You can sacrifice the flowers if you'd rather eat the tender scape, and doing so will increase the size of the bulbs. Elephant garlic cloves planted in fall usually produce a half-pound bulb comprised of 4 to 5 big, mild-flavored cloves in early summer. Like softneck garlic, elephant garlic grows best in mild winter climates.

Planting garlic cloves in fall
Planting garlic cloves in fall

The Garlic Grower's Art

Garlic grows best in fertile, well drained soil with a near neutral pH. If your soil is clay, rake up raised rows or mounds for garlic to insure good drainage during the cold, clammy days of winter. Plant cloves 4 inches (10 cm) deep and 6 inches (15 cm) apart. As long as you set them with their pointed ends up, every clove you plant will grow. A light mulch of straw or shredded leaves, combined with casual hand weeding, guarantees a beautiful stand in spring.

Except for harvesting scapes from hardnecks and elephant garlic in late spring, the plants need no special care until it's time to gather the ripening bulbs. In late spring or early summer, yellowing of leaf tips means that the plant has shifted its priorities in favor of the bulb. Stop watering when 20 percent of plants' foliage has lost its green color, and start harvesting when about 40 percent of the leaves appear withered. Err on the side of earliness, because garlic bulbs left in the ground too long begin to push apart – a wise botanical strategy that helps to insure the success of the next generation, but makes for a shabby-looking crop. 

Taking the Cure

Alt text
Curing garlic

While uncured garlic is infinitely edible, the bulk of the crop must be cured if it is to store well. As the bulbs cure, the skins over each clove will harden, and several layers of paper-thin wrapper "scales" will enclose them in a safe little package.

  • To cure softnecks, hang them over a rafter individually or loosely bound into small bunches.
  • Arrange hardnecks in a single layer on newspapers or screens, and gently turn them after a few days to help them dry evenly.

After a week, you can use pruning shears to cut off all but the top four inches from the tops of hardnecks and elephant garlic, but then let them continue curing for another 2 to 3 weeks. Softnecks are usually ready for braiding after 2 to 3 weeks of curing. Use pruning shears or utility scissors to trim most of the roots from cured garlic, clip off any remaining tops, and gently rub off bits of dried soil. Stored in mesh bags or baskets at cool room temperatures, garlic will keep in good condition for several months.

As I bring in my crop, I set aside the biggest, most perfect bulbs to use as my next year's planting stock, which saves time and money and helps me perpetuate a strain that has shown its satisfaction with the conditions in my garden. This is important, because once you grow garlic in your garden, you will never want to be without it.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"can your have a premanant bed for garlic"
Hugh on Friday 6 November 2009
"Hugh, garlic can be susceptible to bulb mites which can survive from one year to the next so it is advisable to rotate all allium crops (onions, garlic, leeks) to different beds each year."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 7 November 2009
"Could you advise where to buy Garlic for planting and growing in S.E. I have read that it is not adviseable to plant corms from Garlic bought for kitchen use in the Supermarket as this kind usually comes from abroad and although will grow will not tolerate our climate. I also understand that it is preferable to plant Garlic so that it is in the ground for a while when the weather is cold. I only wish to purchase one Garlic as have not grown Garlic before and wish to experiment and also only use a limited amount. Thanking you for your advice - Gill Marchant "
Gill Marchant on Wednesday 13 January 2010
"Gill, you are right that in the UK it is best to buy garlic bulbs from a seed supplier that sells garlic for UK growing conditions. As you just want one bulb I would suggest using your usual seed supplier, or splitting an order with another gardener. As you say, garlic likes to have a couple of weeks at below 4 degrees Celcius, so it is advisable to get it in the ground during this winter period."
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 13 January 2010
"One can also refrigerate garlic to force it to sprout, much as you would daffodils. This allows one to plant them in the spring for immediate emergence, or in mild climates gets them to emerge in the fall and grow through the winter, rather than emerge in winter and grow through to summer (which may be too hot). About a month in the crisper drawer does the job."
josh on Saturday 15 May 2010
"I need more information on curing the garlic. Indoors, or out? Direct sun, or shade? Ideal temp for curing?"
lauren on Monday 5 July 2010
"Hi. I pulled my first ever crop of hard neck garlic about ten days ago and the heads have been curing in the shade under my front porch. Following your pointers, I have trimmed the ends and now wonder where I should continue the curing process. In the garage? It gets pretty stuffy in there. On the porch? In the cool basement? So I have questions similar to Lauren. Also, where should I store the cured bulbs to keep them from sprouting? And how should I store the heads wish to use for planting in the fall? Thank you very much. PS I read up on using the scapes before they bloomed and prepared a killer fresh pesto. Delicious!"
Geri on Wednesday 7 July 2010
"Geri, I actually use a three stage process. After allowing the whole plants to dry for a week, I trim off the roots and all but 8 inches of the stalks and put them back on the rack (the one in the picture). With dry weather, they will be ready to bring indoors in another week. I clip off the rest of the tops, remove only very dirty outer wrappings, and store the bulbs on the cool stones of our wood stove hearth for another two weeks before moving them to shelves in the basement, where it stays between 60-70F in summer. Experiment with the curing spots your home has to offer, and I'm sure you'll come up with a plan. So far, you're doing great."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 8 July 2010
"Greetings: I am thrilled with Grow Blog, of which I just found while searching for info. on garlic. I grew 25 bulbs of garlic for the first time, but did not know how to cure it. It looks lovely and successful. Also, I grew arugula for the first time, while it grew well,I did not know how to deal with the seeds, to dry and reuse- and here is all the info. I need. I am thankful for this site, it explains everything so well, thanks a million."
Gaia on Monday 19 July 2010
"P.S. I forgot to mention in my above comment, that I Pickled the Scapes,I have been enjoying them, while waiting for the garlic to cure."
Gaia on Monday 19 July 2010
"I planted 3 different types of garlic in November and they came up but some of them have very short green tops and one has tall ones. We live in Redding, Ca. where it gets HOT in the summer so am hoping these garlics grow before the heat gets here. I read on one post a person cuts the tops back all year. Did I read that correctly? Are we supposed to cut the greens back as they are growing?"
Billie on Friday 6 January 2012
"Excellent concise summary of the process - thanks! I just pulled up my first crop of garlic, and I think I have come up with a good way to cure them, since I don't really have an ideal place to lay them out on racks or hang them. I got several empty liquor case boxes, with the dividers still in them, and popped the garlics in with their heads up to cure in the air, being careful not to crowd them. I think this will work well; anyway, it seemed like a brilliant idea to me!"
Cathy B. on Thursday 2 August 2012
"greetings from Lpool is it to late to plant garlic out in my alotment or should i start them offdave in the green house"
dave on Sunday 13 January 2013
"Dave, it's best to start garlic in cold soil, so I would plant them in the garden unless the soil is frozen."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 14 January 2013
"I PLANTED MY GARLICK IN OCTOBER BUT HAVE JUST MOVED TO ANOTHER PLOT IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIFT THEM AND REPLANT"
KEVIN on Friday 1 February 2013
"Kevin, you are the living proof that it is possible. Only time will tell whether your crop was set back by the move. If you lifted and moved your garlic on the same day, and kept soil attached to the roots, it could work out all right."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 1 February 2013
"Hello, I have read all the articles here on garlic,and only see mention of planting cloves. My husband was given what he was told were garlic seeds by a friend. They look like very small mini cloves, but more round like a pea than the typical football shape of cloves and have a papery skin on them. I planted some last spring, they grew but not well (after reading all this info I didn't do anything right) i'm wondering if this is an ok way to grow garlic, or is it a waste of time? Would I start them in cold soil, etc. like you say with cloves, or treat them different? I live in Colorado and i'm wondering if it's too late to get garlic going this year? It's generally safe to plant by Mother's Day around here. Thanks in advance, I LOVE this site!!!"
Tammy on Tuesday 5 March 2013
"Tammy, garlic topsets (seeds) rarely grow into good bulbs their first year. Instead, they usually produce what are called rounds -- tasty but small bulblets consisting of one big clove, or maybe two or three. Yes, you can plant cloves first thing in spring, but the garlic bulbs you harvest won't be as big as they would if you had fall planted. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 6 March 2013
"Hi, I was wondering if it is possible to start my garlic, in my indoor greenhouse, using grow lights, in the Month of January . I live in Illinois , north of, ST.LOUIS . I was hoping to transplant it outdoors , when the soil gets to an appropriate. temp. , to plant it outdoors .What's your thoughts ? Thanks, Jeff ."
Jeff on Saturday 7 December 2013
"Jeff, if your soil is not yet frozen, try planting some cloves outdoors. Otherwise wait until early spring to plant. Garlic likes to start out life cold and dark rather than warm and light, so in this case an unheated greenhouse would be better than an indoor one. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 13 December 2013
" Thank You Barb . I will be growing a substantial amount amount , and I am set up for indoor growing in the dark , in my shed. It will be cold and mostly dark . What ground temperature , do you suggest , to trans plant it in , come spring time ? "
Jeff on Friday 13 December 2013
"When the soil temp four inches down reaches 45F (7C) the garlic cloves can and will make active growth. In old-timer terms, this is "when the frost is out of the ground," or as soon as the ground thaws. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 14 December 2013
" Thanks a million Barbara !!!!!!!!!!!"
Jeff on Saturday 14 December 2013
"planted my giant garlic in late septemmber, when do I pick as all seems uncertain, alls well with large leaves so just letting grow as feel march is right, is this right ? cheers"
simon james on Wednesday 18 December 2013
"Simon, when the days lengthen in summer look for early signs that the plants are dying back. Harvest when one third of the leaves look like they are failing."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 18 December 2013
"I have probably a dumb question about the garlic that I planted back in November in a large unheated and unlighted greenhouse here in Salt Lake City. Of course, the ground is very cold, and it is dark in the greenhouse except when the sun is shining directly on it. But here is my question: When do I water it? Do I water it all winter, and do I water when the frost is still laying down every night? "
Kim Spangrude on Friday 17 January 2014
"Kim, because you have such a special growing situation, I would check weekly to make sure there is some moisture 4 inches deep -- assuming the ground is not frozen. The green shoots will start showing soon, which indicate that roots are working. Until then, moderate soil moisture is fine, and better than too much until the days get longer and the plants start gaining size."
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 19 January 2014
"Hey Barbara , A lot of my friends are saying that their Bulgs are a caramel brown color , upon maturity . Do you know what is causing this ? T hank's . "
Jeff on Sunday 19 January 2014
" Sorry , I meant " their Bulb's "."
jeff on Sunday 19 January 2014
"This is my third year of growing elephant garlic. I normally harvest, dry, select the largest bulbs and then plant in August. What is there to stop me simply moving a portion of my harvest to a newly prepared bed for next year's crop? "
Susan on Saturday 24 May 2014
"Susan, your garlic would probably grow if replanted soon after harvest, but you may lose a few cloves to rot and soil-borne disease while they are in their dormant state. Most garlic rests for a few months, and your planting stock is safer in storage than in the ground. Garlic is not really ready to start growing until fall. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 26 May 2014

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