Growing Tips: Garlic
- Megen Toaldo, Sales Associate
flavorful and healthful – there are hundreds of garlic varieties, but
they all fall into two basic categories: hardneck or softneck.
Softneck varieties are best grown in warmer climates. They tend to have
a stronger flavor, a larger number of smaller cloves per bulb, and a
longer shelf life. The stems are more pliable and are therefore more
suitable for braiding. Hardneck varieties, categorized by their hard,
woody stem, tend to have a milder flavor, with larger, but fewer cloves
per bulb. Most hardneck varieties don’t store as long, but are hardier
in colder climates. While these tendencies are a good guide, there are
exceptions to the rules. For instance, if you are in a cold climate,
looking for a robust flavored hardneck variety with good shelf life, our
German Extra Hardy is an excellent choice. If you are in a warm
climate, and would like to try a hardneck variety, you will find your
best success with our Chesnok Red.
Once you’ve chosen your variety, you will want to figure out
how much to plant and when to plant it. Garlic bulbs generally yield
anywhere from 4 to 8 times their weight at harvest, but vary based on
the variety and growing conditions. When to plant depends greatly on
where you live. In northern climates, garlic is best planted in the
fall. The cloves should be given enough time to develop a root system
without producing top growth. In southern climates, garlic should be
planted in early spring, although the seed garlic must be chilled first
in order to break dormancy. It is planted in late February or March
after the threat of winter cold damage has passed.
Now it is time to prepare your soil for planting. Garlic
prefers loose, loamy soil with lots of organic matter. The bulbs should
be separated just before planting, leaving their protective papery
layer in tact. You will want to plant your largest cloves, while
keeping aside the smaller ones for fresh eating, drying or pickling. If
you are planning to mulch, plant each clove 2 inches beneath the soil
with its basal root end down and its pointed tip up. Without mulch, the
cloves should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep. Allow for 4 to 6 inches
between cloves and 18 to 24 inches between rows to produce the largest
bulbs. Some folks have success with tighter spacing. This tends to
yield a larger number of smaller bulbs equaling a higher total weight
per square foot of garden space.
While it is not recommended in wet climates, mulching your
garlic can be very beneficial. This is especially true in cold climates
where a good, thick layer of mulch will help protect your garlic against
winterkill. Most people use straw, hay, or plastic mulch. The mulch
helps to moderate the soil temperature through freezing and thawing, and
also helps conserve moisture, while at the same time keeping the weed
In the spring, your garlic tops will poke up through the
mulch and begin their growth spurt. If it is a cool spring, and garlic
is off to a slow start, you can remove some of the mulch, but be sure to
leave a decent layer in order to preserve the mulch’s benefits.
Hardneck varieties will produce a tall, curling flower stalk called a
scape. These scapes should be cut to encourage the plant to concentrate
its energy into producing a larger bulb. Scapes are edible and
delicious and can be enjoyed steamed or in stir-fries.
Garlic does best when soil moisture remains fairly even, but
prefers a dry spell for 2 to 3 weeks prior to harvest. Too much
moisture towards the end will encourage mold. Once about half of the
bottom leaves have died down, usually mid-late summer, it likely is time
for harvest. You may want to inspect a couple of bulbs first, as
browning leaves are a good indicator, but only an approximation of
maturity. Harvest your bulbs by loosening the soil with a shovel or
fork and pull the plants up by hand.
For fresh eating, enjoy your garlic any time after harvest,
although, if you plan to store your garlic, it must be cured first.
Cure garlic in a dimly lit area with plenty of airflow for 2 to 3 weeks
after harvest. After the curing process is complete, you can braid your
softneck garlic or trim the stems of your hardneck varieties to about
an inch above the bulb. Store your garlic where it continues to have
plenty of airflow with optimal temperatures being between 35 and 50
degrees Fahrenheit with 65-70% humidity. Well-cured and well-stored
garlic keeps from 6-12 months depending on the variety, so that you can
enjoy your harvest all winter long.