Garlic is a great pantry staple that is easy to grow in the home garden, you just need to get the timing right. It’s important to start planning now, in the fall, so that you can enjoy the harvest next gardening season. Here are some details for planting garlic.
Generally garlic falls into two types; softneck and hardneck. You will often find softneck at the grocery store and it is commonly seen in the traditional braids. Hardneck is better for long term storage and produces a garlic scape. Check out this post about what to do with garlic scapes. The type most commonly grown in gardens is hardneck.
Garlic is planted as a bulb using a single clove from a head of garlic. The garlic cloves are planted in the fall so that they can experience very cold or freezing temperatures. They go through a process called vernalization which causes a single clove to divide into the many cloves you see in a full head of garlic.
Seed garlic can be purchased from seed companies or sourced locally at a farmers market. You can also use garlic you’ve grown in the previous year. If you plan to do this, it’s important to keep this in mind for the amount you need to grow. I plant one 3-foot by 12-foot beds with approximately 100 cloves which produces enough for our fresh use throughout the year and enough for seed garlic.
Steps to Planting Garlic
- Compost – Garlic requires very fertile soil. I always add 1-2″ of compost to the bed before I plant the garlic in the fall.
- In Southern Ontario I aim to plant garlic when the temperatures begin cooling and we are seeing frost. For me this is typically the second half of October.
- In my three foot wide raised bed I plant four rows with the cloves about six inches apart. Using a hori hori, I plant the clove, root side down, about five to six inches deep.
- Cover – Once you have planted the garlic, it needs to be covered with some type of mulch. I commonly use leaves as they are easily available at this time of year, but you can also use straw. I hold down the mulch with a wire mesh so that they don’t blow away before it is covered in snow.
- In the spring you will start to see the garlic poke it’s way through the mulch. Once temperatures have warmed I will remove the leaves so that the bed is easier to maintain, but they could be left to help hold in moisture.
- Fertilize – as mentioned, garlic is a heavy feeder, so side dressing the garlic in late May or early June with blood meal or something similar is helpful to ensure you get good size garlic heads.
- Scapes – as the garlic matures you will start to see the development of scapes. These are the curly tops that if left will flower and form seeds. You want to trim off these scapes once they curl to ensure that the plant continues to put effort into increasing the side of the garlic bulb. This typically happens in mid-June in Southern Ontario.
- Harvest – When the leaves of the plant will begin to turn yellow and dry out, it’s time to harvest the garlic. You know that the garlic is ready when the bottom two to three leaves have turned yellow and died. This is usually about one month after I have picked the garlic scapes.
- Curing – once you have harvested the garlic plants you want to lay them out or hang them to dry and cure in an area with good airflow out of direct sun. This extends the shelf life of the garlic. Once the garlic has cured, you can cut the top off and store the garlic in a cool dry place.
Although it may seem like a lot of steps planting garlic is fairly hands off and can produce a large volume of food. I highly recommend adding this pantry staple to the list of things you grow in your home garden.