“Dear Mertie Mae,
What do I need to know about growing garlic? Just the basics.
Thank you for your question regarding growing garlic. Here are a few basic points to keep in mind:
1. Where to buy
The first thing you need to figure out is if you want to buy organic or conventional grown and heirloom or non-heirloom types. Some places sell great garlic and others not so much. I personally recommend Seed Saver Exchange (get your order in when you buy your garden seeds!!! They sell out insanely fast!), and Territorial. Additionally, Botanical Interests (they have garlic assortments that give you a bulb of a few different varieties), Burpees, Dominion Seed House, Harris Seed, Jung Seed (order early or you will have a slightly mushy bulb based on my experiences), and Cook’s Gardens all receive high ratings on websites like the National Garden Bureau and such, but I’ve found that their quality and selection aren’t as good as SSE and Territorial. There are many other places that offer garlic too, but as I haven’t tried them, I can’t say for sure if they are worth spending your time with. If you are in the north, plant hard neck varieties (require winter chilling). If you are in the south, grow soft neck varieties.
2. When to plant
Most experts say that in areas that get a hard frost before winter, it is recommended that you plant your garlic 6-8 weeks before that frost. While this may work in places other than Wisconsin, I have found that planting my garlic that early makes it not so hardy come winter. I usually plant mine here in West Central Wisconsin (and in Central or Southern WI when I lived there back when) between October 1-14. This allows the cloves to get established, but not spend a ton of energy growing. They need that energy to get through winter! And it works — even the old timers around use the rule of thumb to plant on Columbus Day (October 12). If you are in a southern area with no winter, February or March is a better time to plant.
Garlic prefers well-drained soil in a sunny spot with lots of organic matter. It’s a rather narrow plant, so I like to plant it in double rows that are about 6-8 inches apart and then alternate (zig-zag) the plants down the rows to give them a little more space. Plant the cloves 6-8 inches apart (12 inches if growing Elephant Garlic). Garlic should be planted 3 inches deep. Fertilize as you would onions.
3. To scape or not?
Trimming the tops of hardneck garlic (garlic scapes) is often recommended… but I don’t do it. I’ve found that it never fails that if you trim them, there will be a rainstorm or heavy dew and the tops will get weird or you will get disease. Also, letting them mature gives you small bulb-like cloves that you can put into the ground at harvest time and grow for next year’s crop (which I suspect is why the seed companies say cut them off — less profit for them if you let them grow!)
As long as you are properly tending your garlic with water and fertilizer, the bulbs will grow just as big. If you decide to cut them off, they are edible.
4. When to harvest
Harvest time depends on when you plant, but the key is to look for the garlic leaves to turn brown. Unlike onions or shallots, they don’t just fall over. In Northern climates, harvesting will probably be in July or August, depending on the variety. In Southern climates, it will depend on your planting date. Either way, stop watering so the outside skin can dry out a bit and harvest within one week of matuity. Waiting too long will allow the outer skins to disintegrate.
I hope this information helps you out. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!
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