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A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Garlic

Garlic is a relatively low-maintenance crop to grow in home gardens, making it a great choice for any level of gardening expertise. You can successfully grow your own garlic, whether you have a large in ground garden or patio containers, with our growing tips and guidelines..

Benefits of Growing Garlic

Homegrown garlic often has a more robust and fresher flavor compared to store-bought varieties, and being relatively low-maintenance, garlic is an ideal crop for novice and expert gardeners alike. A single garlic bulb yields multiple cloves that can be planted along boarders or in corners of a garden bed, providing an ample supply for a home garden without taking up too much space.

Garlic contains sulfur compounds that act as natural pesticides. Its strong aroma repels harmful insects, such as aphids, spider mites, and nematodes, from infesting your soil and other plants. Garlic also has antimicrobial properties that can help control soil-borne pathogens, reducing the risk of diseases to other crops.

Choosing the Right Variety

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The Growing Place offers both types in varieties that are suitable for our growing region.

Hardneck varieties typically have 4 to 12 larger cloves in a single circle surrounding a stiff central stalk, called a scape. The flavor is more pungent with some subtle notes compared to softneck varieties and are easier to peel. Hardneck garlic needs a winter chill to form bulbs, which makes them well suited for our area and will store for less than 8 months.

Softneck garlic varieties have larger heads with 12-20 small cloves with no central stalk.  Leaves will sprout directly from each clove. Their soft pliable stems can be braided for storage, usually 9-12 months. They tend to lack the flavor of hardnecks, having either a very hot or very mild taste.

Nootka Rose is an heirloom softneck variety that yields 15-24 smaller cloves per bulb. Nootka Rose has a mild flavor and can be stored for up to 9 months.

Music is one of our most popular hardneck varieties, yielding 4-7 large cloves per bulb. Its multi-layered taste of sweetness followed by pungent bold flavor makes this a great variety raw or cooked. Music will store up to 8 months.

German Red is a hardneck variety that offers a “true” garlic taste with its hot and spicy flavor. This easy-to-peel variety yields 10-12 cloves per bulb and can store up to 4 months.

Duganski is a hardneck variety yielding 7-10 cloves per bulb. Its fiery flavor that mellows to a rich garlic aftertaste make this one great for baking and roasting. Duganski offers a great storage life for a hardneck variety, storing uup to 8 months.

Fall Planting

The optimal time to plant garlic is in the second or third week of October, which is about 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes. Always plant in fall for the biggest heads and best flavor.

Pick an area with good drainage. The soil must have good drainage, especially in winter or the cloves will rot. Garlic also needs adequate sunlight; six or more hours of full sun from spring through summer.

Break the bulb apart just before planting, leaving the peel on the individual cloves. Fertilize at planting with compost and a root starter with mild nitrogen content. We recommend amending your soil with with Bio-tone and The Growing Place Garden Mix. Plant individual cloves 3”-4” deep, pointed end up, spaced 6”-8” apart.

Mulch heavily, 3” minimum, with straw, shredded leaves, or hay. Mulching protects against frost heaving, keeps moisture more uniform, and helps negate weed competition.

After planting, the cloves will send up a few leaves while they send down the first roots. Make sure there’s enough mulch to protect them. The first hard freeze usually kills the young leaves but they’ll reappear in March or April.

Small Spaces

Growing garlic in containers is an option, especially if you have limited garden space. Select a container that is at least 10 inches deep and has good drainage. A half-barrel, large, weather-resistant pots, or raised beds work well. Ensure there are adequate drainage holes at the bottom of the container.

Raise the bottom of the pot to prevent trapped water from freezing underneath the container and cracking it. Use a well draining potting mix and fertilizer. We recommend our TGP Potting Mix and Espoma Bio-Tone. Fill the container 2/3 of the way with your soil allowing the top 1/3 for mulch.

Plant at the same depth and spacing as you would in the ground. Keep in mind that containers tend to dry out more quickly, so monitor the moisture levels regularly. Garlic can tolerate some cold, but in extremely cold weather, it’s best to protect the container with insulating materials or move it to a sheltered area during the harshest weather.

Spring Growth

Apply a nitrogen fertilizer when the shoots are 4-6” tall and again 3 to 4 weeks later. The area should not dry out during active growth, so keep the soil moist. Watch for scapes in hardneck varieties. A scape is the stiffer stalk that will produce a flower on hardneck garlic varieties. Clip these stalks before they curl so energy can be focused on bulb growth rather than flower production. Garlic scapes taste garlicy with less bite to them than garlic cloves. Scapes can be used in soups, stews or sautees. You can also bake them, eat them raw, or infuse them with olive oil as well.

Summer Harvest

Harvest time in our area is usually in July. Stop watering the plants when their leaves start to yellow. Hardnecks are ready to harvest when about half of the leaves are yellowed. Softnecks have a soft stalk that leans and finally bends over once it’s ready to harvest. Harvest when it is dry, not raining, to reduce spread of any fungal problems. Dig up the bulbs when the plant’s bottom leaves have yellowed and there are only 5-6 green leaves remaining. Pull carefully from the soil, using a small garden fork or trowel if needed. Shake off the soil gently as the heads will bruise easily. Do not wash the bulbs and keep them out of direct sunlight. Your garlic will keep longer if dried & cured with its leaves and roots attached.

Curing & Storage 

Garlic bulbs can be cured together in small bunches, usually 6-10 bulbs per bunch, with twine or rubber bands. Softneck stems can be braided together for curing. Alternatively, you can spread the garlic bulbs in a single layer on a drying rack or screen, ensuring good air circulation between the bulbs.

Place the garlic bulbs in a shady, well ventilated dry place without sunlight. Drying can take 3 to 8 weeks depending on the humidity of the area. Keep them where rain cannot get them wet. If indoors, a room fan speeds up the drying process. The bulbs are cured when the outer skin becomes papery and the leaves have completely dried.

After curing, trim the roots and cut the stems to about 1-2 inches above the bulb. This step is optional but can make the garlic neater and easier to store. Netted sacks can be used for air ventilation in storage. The best air temperature is between 45-55 F. Cooler temps will make them sprout, so refrigerator storage is not recommended. Save the largest bulbs with the best form for planting the following fall. Avoid planting bulbs that have slivers or are one-sided.

Make & Take: Holiday Porch Pot or Wreath

Aurora // November 25 & December 2

11am & 2pm // $85 // Registration Required

Create a beautiful holiday porch pot or wreath for your porch, patio or step! Our designers will guide you step-by-step in creating your very own design. No experience necessary. All materials included. You bring snippers/pruners and gloves. Registration required. Space is limited.

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Register for December 2, 2pm workshop