Garlic. Allium Sativum. The Stinking Rose.
I am always happy to put my garden to bed for the winter after a long season of planting, tending and harvesting. Planting my garlic each fall is symbolic of that seasonal change…it is essentially the last thing I do before stepping aside for shorter days and colder nights.
Garlic takes a long time to grow…about 9 months in the ground from start to finish (contrast this with most crops which are in and out in 2-3 months), but it is well worth the wait, and you’ll never grow an easier crop! I like to think of it as the holiday crop. For starters, garlic is a celebration every time you eat it (yum!), but the general timing with garlic around here is to plant it around Halloween and harvest it around the 4th of July. This of course can vary somewhat depending on the season and your micro-climate, but it’s a great rule of thumb to help you wrap your head around the timing.
When choosing a spot to plant your garlic, pick a corner of your garden, a small area that you will be able to dedicate and leave undisturbed for a long period of time. Think ahead to the planting of summer crops – garlic will still be taking up space when you are starting to plant your tomatoes, melons, etc, so best not to plant it in the middle of a bed. Or, try it in a smart pot. Garlic does require full sun, so choose your spot accordingly. Deer are not particularly fond of garlic (so I’m told), but beware because gophers LOVE it! For this reason I often plant some in a smart pot as well as directly in the ground. Besides, you can never have too much garlic!
Garlic is easy to grow, but it does have a few basic needs.
Preparing the Soil:
The time you spend preparing your soil will be well worth it in the end. Because garlic (and all of the Alliums) is classified as a “heavy feeder” it does do best with some supplemental nitrogen. Garlic is a shallow rooted crop, so it is not reaching very far beyond the surface of the soil for nutrients. For this reason it is especially important to take the time to prepare your soil for the garlic’s long stay in the ground. Fork up your soil so it is soft and evenly loose, with no large clods. Mix in a decent quantity of good organic compost, and if you are inclined perhaps some sort of slow release organic fertilizer (usually this is in pellet form…any garden store will have something appropriate, just be sure that it is organic approved). Rake the surface level.
Planting and Spacing:
Space your rows about 8-12” apart, and then plant your cloves (unpeeled) about 6” apart and 2-3” deep within each row. Each clove will grow into a full bulb of garlic.
I tend to space my rows a little closer than 12 inches apart – these rows are probably more like 8 inches apart. Each clove is about 6 inches apart.
Here’s another thing to know about garlic: size matters!! Plant only the largest, plumpest cloves for best success. Good seed garlic will have fairly uniform sized cloves, but if the cloves in the middle are small and skinny, save them for dinner.
Be sure to plant the root side down. Each clove comes to a point on the top (this is the sprouting end), and will have a rough area where it was broken apart from the root of the bulb. That is the end that will put down roots, so to make it easy on the garlic, plant with that end down.
Once my entire bed is planted I smooth and pat down the soil to make sure that the holes are filled. And then I mulch!
Watering and Mulching:
Water your garlic in well after planting, then mulch with 2-4 inches of straw or leaves. I am lucky to have straw infused with goat poop at my disposal, which provides a built in slow release fertilizer and mulch all in one! Mulch helps to insulate the soil and protect the cloves. Garlic does require a cold period to form its bulbs, and can survive even if the ground freezes.
Mulch will help protect it from heaving out of the ground as it freezes, it will also hold moisture and suppress weeds, and over the long term will add organic matter to your soil.
If you are lucky, the winter rains will keep your garlic wet enough. But if there are long dry spells it will be necessary to give your garlic some supplemental water, so check your soil moisture periodically by poking your finger down about an inch into the soil (under the mulch). If it feels dry, give the bed some water.
Garlic will respond well to a supplemental feeding in late winter/early spring… pull away the mulch and work a little bloodmeal or other high Nitrogen fertilizer into the soil surface around your plants (they should have sprouted by this time).
The mulch layer will help suppress weed growth, but do stay on top of the weeding of your garlic. Weeds can out compete shallow rooted crops like garlic, and you will have better success if you can keep your garlic bed weed free.
Watch it grow:
If you follow these instructions you will have lovely garlic in the summer! We’ll follow up in June with a blog all about harvesting and curing garlic!
Sierra Gardens Coordinator