Growing Great Garlic: Selection, Site Preparation & Planting
Garlic is a wonderfully easy and rewarding crop to grow. It’s incredibly versatile in the kitchen, has great health properties and can propagate itself for years to come. There are, however, a few tricks that will help ensure success – like choosing suitable varieties, preparing the soil, and planting properly.
Selecting the Right Varieties
There are a lot of decisions to make when choosing garlic – hardneck or softneck, many cloves or few, mild flavor or spicy, to name a few – and comparing all the features of each variety can be daunting. Here are our recommendations based on growing conditions, cooking preferences and other important considerations.
I grow in an area with very cold winters. All hardnecks such as Chesnok Red, Music, Zemo, Killarney Red and Spanish Roja are suitable, as well as the softneck Silver White. Purple-Stripe and Porcelain types (such as Chesnok Red, Music and Zemo) are the hardiest of all.
- I like fewer, larger cloves per head. Porcelain-types like Music and Zemo are best, with 4-5 cloves per head.
- I want more cloves per head so I have more to re-plant. The softnecks Inchelium Red, Lorz Italian, Silver White and Nootka Rose have the most cloves with between 12 and 20 per head.
- I want garlic that stores all winter. Music and the silverskins Silver White and Nootka Rose store the longest, easily up to 12 months.
I want garlic I can braid. Choose any of our softneck garlics such as Inchelium Red, Lorz Italian, Silver White and Nootka Rose, though the silverskins Silver White and Nootka Rose produce the most uniform and attractive heads for braiding.
- I want garlic that produces scapes. Choose any of our hardneck garlics such as Chesnok Red, Music, Zemo, Killarney Red or Spanish Roja. Chesnok Red produces the most tender and delicious scapes of any garlic variety.
- I want garlic for baking or roasting. Chesnok Red is best for baking, retaining its shape and great flavor during cooking and offering a good size for roasting.
Preparing a Site & Planting
Garlic needs well-drained, fertile soil and a location that gets full sun (at least 8 hours per day) in order to thrive. Locations that flood and remain wet for long periods in the spring are not ideal, since garlic rots easily in standing water. Choose an area with good drainage or create raised beds, amend with well-aged compost and work up the top 8” of soil, raking the bed smooth afterward. Use a stick or trowel to make holes about 2" deep for the garlic cloves (either 4” apart in single rows or 6” apart in double rows) and drop one clove, pointy end up, into each hole, separating cloves just before planting. Tamp the soil down firmly after planting, and top with at least 6” of straw or mulch hay if growing in a climate where the ground freezes (to prevent cloves from heaving out of the ground).
For more planting tips and to figure out how much seed garlic to order, see our article How to Plant (and Order) Garlic.