Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow, requiring little effort. They are a versatile addition to many recipes, adding a wonderful flavor to foods such as garlic bread, pasta, and sauces. In addition, it contains health benefits including lowering cholesterol, supporting immune system functioning, and providing antioxidants. A member of the Allium genus that also includes onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives and ornamental Alliums, garlic is most often planted during fall from September to October.
Garlic takes about 90 days to mature, going dormant in the winter and establishing bulbs during the spring. With around 600 species available, garlic can be divided into two categories: softnecks and hardnecks. Due to its ease of maintenance and usefulness in many recipes, you should consider growing garlic if you are a beginner.
Softnecks: Softnecks, the kind usually found in supermarkets, are more productive and easier to grow, especially in mild climates in the South. The reason they are called softnecks is that the above ground stalks of softnecks will flop over in the summer, a signal that they are ready to harvest. Two common varieties found in softnecks are artichokes and silverskins.
Artichokes derive their name from the overlapping layers of cloves, which resemble an artichoke. They have large bulbs and a thick, hard-to-peel outer layer. Some varieties include Polish Red, California Early, California Late, and Italian Purple. The silverskin variety is the longest storing of all garlics and is adaptable to many climates. Varieties include Silver Rose, Silver White, and New York White.
Hardnecks: Hardnecks have more variety and depth of flavor. Although they have fewer cloves that softnecks, the cloves are larger in size. They are more likely to come in pink or purple colors. Gardeners in freezing weather will have a better success in growing hardnecks, as they tend to do better in colder climates.
Hardneck varieties develop a long, flowering stem, called a scape. Scapes will develop into bulbils – tiny, secondary buds akin to seeds. You should cut the scapes from the plants in order to retain energy for growing larger garlic heads. Hardnecks do not store as well, and tend to shrivel within four to six months of harvest. Some varieties include Persian Star, Chesnock Red, Carpathian, and Spanish Roja.
Conditions for Growing Garlic
When finding garlic to plant, you should not use store garlic, as they can be unsuitable for growing in your area. Garlic does not set true seeds, and instead is grown from bulbs known as seed garlic, which are garlic heads that can be separated into cloves for planting. You should buy your garlic from reputable vendors to ensure successful results. You can also purchase your bulbs at a local farmer’s market or garden center. Make sure your garlic is free from pathogens and disease, as they will cause the plant to shrivel and die as well as contaminate the garden bed.
When: Garlic is a cool weather crop that is often planted during the fall. They require at least 40 days when the temperature is below 40 °F. If you live in warmer climates, it is recommended that you grow softnecks. If you want to grow hardnecks, you can pre-chill your bulbs to fulfill the cold requirements by placing the bulbs in a dark location at 40 °F with a humidity of 80% for 40 – 45 days. Make sure to not plant it too early, which can result in shallow roots and poor growth. In general, you should plant it 2 – 4 weeks after the first frost date.
Where: Garlic can be grown in raised garden beds or containers. Raised garden beds are recommended for growing cool-weather crops because they allow you to control the soil quality and maintain a consistent temperature during changing seasons and temperature fluctuations. They can also be planted indoors in pots.
The ideal soil is sandy loam that is loose, well-draining, and rich in organic matter, with a soil pH of 6 – 7. If your soil has drainage problems or has subpar composition, you can consider growing your garlic in metal raised garden beds that are at least 12 inches tall. Plant garlic in a place that receives full sunlight for at least six hours.
Garlic is a popular companion plant that deters pests including fungus gnats, cabbage loopers, aphids, and onion flies. Companion planting is a useful way to maximize space, particularly if you have limited space or are growing in garden beds. It can be planted next to herbs such as chamomile, or flowers such as roses and marigolds, which also deters pests. Many vegetables can be planted alongside garlic, including potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and lettuce.
Keep in mind that garlic can inhibit the growth of certain plants such as asparagus, legumes, and parsley by building up the sulfur content in the soil. Do not plant garlic next to other members of the Allium family or where they have been grown recently, which will attract allium pests and diseases.
How: When it is time to plant, break up your garlic into cloves, keeping the papery skin on the cloves intact. Choose the largest cloves and inspect them to make sure there are no signs of damage. Plant the garlic cloves into a hole that is 3 – 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart from each other. Cover with the soil that you have removed and add a layer of compost for nutrient growth. Apply a layer of mulch to the garlic to insulate it from the cold and retain moisture. Afterwards, water the crop to help it settle.
Care: Garlic benefits from mulching during the winter with straw or coarsely chopped leaves. Mulch is important as it blocks out weeds, which will siphon away nutrients from garlic, resulting in lower yields and smaller bulbs. During the spring, fertilize your garlic with a nitrogen-based fertilizer, such as bloodmeal, soybean meal, or a synthetic nitrogen source. Fertilize again before the bulbs start to swell in response to lengthening daylight, usually in May. Do not add fertilizer at planting time, as it can lead to vigorous growth and result in damage during winter.
In soil with ideal drainage, add ½ to 1 inch of water per week, which should be adjusted depending on weather conditions. Garlic should be watered deeply and not too frequently. If you are growing hardnecks, cease watering after you have cut the scapes. Stop watering softnecks a week before you expect to harvest.
Remove the scapes in hardnecks as they emerge to increase bulb size. Garlic scapes are edible and can be applied to recipes in a similar way as garlic cloves, such as crushed into pesto, roasted with meats, or fried.
White rot is a pernicious fungal disease that affects all Allium species. It affects the base of the roots and leaves, causing them to wilt and die. Sclerotia, which are black, spherical bodies the size of a poppy seed, will start forming on the white growth. As there is no chemical treatment available for the average gardener once it has been introduced, it is important to avoid introduction in the first place. If you discover the presence of white rot, dig up the infected plants and remove the soil in the area. Disinfect your tools, and avoid planting root crops or Allium species in the area. The spores can survive in the soil for more than two decades.
How to Harvest and Store Garlic
Garlic can be harvested from late June to August if you have planted them during the fall. In Southern climates, they can be pulled up as soon as May, depending on your planting date. Harvest them when the leaves start to yellow and fall over but before they are completely dry.
Before trying to pull up the garlic, loosen the surrounding soil with a garden fork. Pick a bulb to test if it is ready. If the bulbs are smaller than expected, water the garlic and give them another week to grow. If left too long in the ground, the bulbs can split apart, which will expose it to disease.
Do not wash the garlic after harvesting and leave the stalks and roots attached, as they will need to be cured for long term storage. You do not have to cure garlic that you will use immediately. To ensure longevity, move garlic to a dry, airy spot for two weeks. Tie the garlic together into bunches using string and hang them on their stems to dry. They can also be placed on wire racks. Curing is complete when the roots have shriveled and the wrappers are dry and papery.
Once you have finished curing, remove the tops and roots. Keep the wrapper on, except for the dirtiest ones. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark place with good airflow. Do not keep them in the refrigerator or store in a plastic bag, as the accumulated moisture can cause mold. You can set aside the largest bulbs for replanting.