Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow. You plant the individual cloves within the bulb. Plant the largest cloves you have, to get the largest bulbs. Plant each garlic clove two to three inches below the soil surface and about 6 inches apart.
What to Plant
A common novice dilemma is not knowing which end is up. It’s the pointed end. Your garlic will still grow, planted pointed side down, but the shoot will have to curve around you will wind up with a malformed bulb.
Which End is Up?
Whether to leave the topsets on or cut them off, is a matter of controversy. Most experts believe the scapes drain energy that would otherwise go into bulb development, resulting in a smaller yield. Cutting them off as soon as the stalks begin to curl would redirect the energy downward. Other garlic growers feel allowing the scapes to remain until they turn woody results in a better storing bulb. A compromise is to cut the topsets while they are young and use them in cooking.
Topsets or Scapes
Fall is garlic planting time. Depending where you are gardening, this could be September to November. Once the soil temperature has cooled off to about 60 degrees F. , the roots of the garlic clove will start to germinate and begin to take hold and anchor the plant. This is especially important in Northern climates where the ground freezes. Without sufficient time to grow good roots, the garlic plants will heave out of the ground. A three to four inch layer of mulch applied after the ground freezes will also help prevent heaving. Straw is the mulch of choice because it’s cheap and easy to remove.
When to Plant
Your garlic should grow well if given the following conditions:
- Well drained soil
- Soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0
- Minimal weed competition
- Plenty of organic matter
- An inch of water while the bulb is forming - mid-May to July
Garlic is relatively pest free, if you use good seed cloves. It is, however, popular with some rodents, especially gophers.
Dig, don't pull garlic out of the ground. You may have planted a small clove, but the bulb is now several inches deep with a strong root system.
When to harvest garlic is a judgment call, but basically it’s ready to go when the lower leaves start to brown. About the only way to be sure is to actually dig a few bulbs and slice them in half. If the cloves fill out the skins, it’s time.
Harvesting too soon will result in smaller cloves that don’t store well. Leave the bulbs in the ground too long and the cloves may be bursting out of their skins, making them unstorable and open to disease.
If you are experimenting with varieties, Artichokes mature first, then Rocamboles, Purple Stripes, Porcelains, and finally Silverskins
Brush off any soil clinging to the bulbs. Allow the bulbs to cure or dry for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off. You can also further clean the bulbs by removing the outer skins. Just be careful not to expose any of the cloves.
Garlic likes to be on the cool side, 32oF - 40oF. The softneck varieties may last 6 - 8 months. Hardnecks should be used soon after harvesting. Hardneck varieties may dry out, sprouting or go soft within 2-4 months. Keeping hardnecks at 32oF sometimes helps them survive for up to 7 months without deteriorating.