How to Grow Garlic Effectively

Growing Conditions

While garlic is highly adaptable to local climates, I recommend seeking out a truly local garlic variety or varieties to being with. Talk to other gardeners in your area to see what they are growing. Many people have worked to adapt their garlics to local growing conditions. Rocamboles and Silverskins appear to be the most forgiving.

That said, when I put my garlic in last fall, I simply went to the local organic food store, plucked three or four varieties from the produce area and tossed them in the dirt under my fruit trees. They all turned out magnificent and I wish I had planted more (note that crossbreeding is not a problem with garlic so feel free to plant as many different varieties as you would like)! This method may not work for you as many garlics you’ll find in the store are treated with some kind of growth inhibitor. I may have just gotten lucky.

If you want to get technical, look for a sunny area that has deep, fertile and very well-drained soil. Add sand, a little bit of gravel or potting mix if your soil holds too much water. You don’t want your garlic sitting in cold, damp soil in the fall and winter. The constant wet can bring on all manners of fungus, disease and rot. Also consider adding a complete organic fertilizer (5N – 10P – 10K) and possibly growing your garlic in a raised bed. You want soil pH to be above 6.0 but below 8.0. As with any planting a good layer of compost (not to mention bi-weekly additions of a ‘side-dressing’) will prove very beneficial.

Oh. Keep in mind that garlic does not like competition. Picky. Picky. Be sure to keep your garlic bed properly weeded.

Planting

Plant your garlic sometime between early autumn (cooler areas) and early winter (warmer areas). Pull the fattest cloves from your ‘seed’ stock (‘crack’ them from the bulb) and put them, root end down, into the soil. I ‘crack’ my cloves as I plant them. If you take the cloves from the bulb more than 24 hours before planting, the root nodules will dry out and may inhibit quick establishment of the roots. Try to get them about one inch deep and four-six inches apart.

If you are seeking a higher yield in terms of pounds of garlic per square foot of garden space, place your beds closer together in order to get a larger number of small bulbs. If you’re doing hardnecks, be sure to plant the clove with the pointed end up and try to get it about two inches deep.

While the weather is warm, the garlic will sit dormant for a few weeks then it will begin developing its root structure and a shoot. Growth will slow as the daily temperature drops. The deep winter cold is a must for the growth of the side buds. These side buds will later become the cloves once spring begins. It is possible to plant your garlic in the spring but most gardeners recommend against it as there is no time for the root structure to grow and the lack of the winter hit will most likely inhibit the growth of the cloves.

If you’re into companion planting, consider growing your garlic with your roses and/or raspberries. Many gardeners say that garlic gives a significant boost to your beats and cabbage. Thanks to its natural fungicidal and pesticidal properties, garlic will do fine with most anything, but keep it away from your peas, potatoes and especially your beans!

Care

Don’t let the soil dry out.

When garlic is busy developing its leaves, dry soil can severely limit your yield. Garlic that is water-stressed can often cancel the growth of the cloves, opting instead for a survival strategy of one fat, tasteless clove. No water, no garlic. But don’t overwater! Overwatering will get you nothing but low-quality cloves. The point is to keep the soil moisture moderate and constant over time.

To do this, mulch the soil with dried grasses, bark, gravel or straw. In fact, you may want to consider a thick layer (three to four inches) of mulch as soon as you have planted your cloves. It will help moderate the temperature and moisture level of the soil as well as keep down weeds.
Also consider adding a bi-weekly side-dressing of compost and be sure to keep the garlic properly weeded. It hates competition.

Hardneck varieties will send up a ‘scape’. The scape is a central stock that makes a loop with a tiny bulb on its end. You’ll want all the plant’s energy to go into bulb production so be sure to snip the scape off after it has looped. The scape is edible. In fact, it is delicious. You can fry them in butter or add them to your stir fry. The taste is only slightly garlicky and very rich. Yum!

Garlic is a wonder plant for gardeners. Besides its co-planting benefits noted above, garlic oil is well-known for repelling slugs. Just a thin barrier of garlic oil repels slugs. When slugs approach the garlic barrier they turn around. Often, they die. Why? It’s unclear. One study theorized that the garlic kicks the mucus membranes of the slugs in to over-production, thus drying them out.

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