How to Grow Garlic

Garlic is highly adaptable and can be grown almost anywhere in North America, although ideal soil and climate do give the garlic grower an advantage!

Depending on your climate, October through December is the season to plant garlic.  The cloves are tucked into their soil beds for the winter and are able to establish their root system early in their growth process.  Their green shoots will appear in early spring, or earlier if you live somewhere with mild winters.  Mature garlic bulbs are harvested in summer, when some of the leaves have turned brown, but 5 or 6 green leaves remain.

There are two subspecies of garlic:  hardneck (ophio) and softneck.  Most hardneck varieties require a cold winter to produce bulbs of good size and quality.  Hardneck garlics are generally characterized by a single circle of cloves surrounding a woody stalk, have between 4 and 10 easy-to-peel cloves, and intense flavor.  They have a shorter storage life than softneck varieties.

Softneck garlics do not need a cold winter to do well, and they can tolerate a wide range of climates and soils.  Softneck bulbs can grow quite large and produce 8 to 40 cloves each, but do not have as intense flavor as hardneck garlics.

Experimenting with growing different varieties of garlic is fun – AND the only way you’ll know what works best in your particular situation!

Garlic is a “survivor” and can grow in less than perfect soils, but planting it in fertile, well-drained garden soils will yield the largest, cleanest bulbs.  Planting plump cloves from 2 – 2 1/2 inch bulbs will increase your probability of harvesting large bulbs.  Large bulbs of that size growers refer to as “seed garlic”.

To plant, bulbs are separated into individual cloves and the cloves are planted with pointed ends up, scab (root) ends down.  We recommend planting only medium and large size cloves; you can eat the small ones, or plant them close together and harvest the garlic “greens” in spring!  Push the clove into the ground at a depth of about 3 inches (although this varies among growers, due to climate), and cover with soil.  We plant each clove 6 inches apart, in rows which are 6 inches apart.  A moderately light mulch can be applied.

Once the garlic has sprouted it’s green leaves it needs adequate moisture for maximum growth.  It can be watered on the same schedule used for most leafy green vegetables.  Since we live in the high desert and receive minimal rainfall,  we use drip tape for irrigation and place one row of drip tape between two rows of garlic.  Too much water in late spring, early summer, will increase the risk of diseases, molds, and stained bulb wrappers.  We usually stop irrigating two weeks before harvest.

Garlic should be harvested when 5 or 6 green leaves still remain.  Each of these leaves provides a wrapper for the bulb, and if the leaves have all turned brown and dry, the bulb will not have it’s protective layers which help to maintain integrity in storage.  The bulb should be carefully removed from the ground, keeping the stalk intact.  We tie our garlic with string and hang it to dry, in bunches of six.  It needs to dry in a place with good airflow and out of direct sun.  When all the leaves are crisp and brown, they can be cut off, leaving a neck of at least one inch.  The roots are then trimmed and soil can be carefully removed.

These are just the “basics” of growing great garlic.  If you are interested in learning more about growing garlic, we highly recommend the book Growing Great Garlic, by Ron Engeland.

Books & Resources

Growing Great Garlic BookGrowing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland
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