This year I grew garlic in my garden, and I was rather surprised at how easy it was to do. Really, it’s almost a no-brainer.
Now, I’ve had many garlic failures in the past and most of them were due to one thing: planting them in the spring. Yeah, don’t do that.
Growing garlic is pretty simple, and it needs to be planted in the mid to late fall. Late October/early November is the best time to plant. To start, you’ll need a bed with a decent amount of sun (they prefer full sun, but can work with partial). You’ll need to till a fair amount of organic matter into the bed. This is crucial since garlic’s one big need is a bed with good drainage and a lot of decayed organic material. I recommend compost and/or manure of some kind.
Planting garlic should be done according to the directions that come with your bulbs, but if you don’t have any, the rule of thumb is to plant individual cloves upright in the ground so that the tip of the clove is roughly 2″ below the surface. You’ll need to space them about 8″ apart in all directions.
Once they’re all in the ground, you’ll need to mulch them with about 8-12″ of loose mulch (or 4-6″ of heavier mulch). I find that grass clippings and shredded leaves work pretty well for this. I just mow everything in the yard into the grass collector and empty it on the bed.
And that’s it until spring. One spring hits, you’ll need to pull back the mulch to expose the new shoots. At this point you can fertilize them with some mild fertilizer (such as fish emulsion), but I found that fertilization is really not necessary since there should be plenty of nutrients there from the compost/manure.
And that’s pretty much it. If you leave the mulch on the bed, there should be very little in the way of weeds, and garlic works as a deterrent for a wide range of pests, so it should protect itself there. The mulch will also help keep the soil moist, so the garlic won’t need a lot of watering. You’ll only really need to water if the soil gets dry down to about 3 inches.
Once you get to about mid-late June, stop watering the garlic. This is when bulb skin formation starts and too much water can make the bulbs malformed or even cause them to rot. Once the garlic plants have only 5 or 6 leaves still alive on it, it’s time to harvest.
Gently dig up the garlic and brush off as much of the soil as you can. Do not cut the tops off or trim the roots back. Hang the garlic plants in bunches in a dry place (like a garage) and let them cure for 4-6 weeks. You’ll know they’re ready when the skin around the garlic is very dry and brittle and it clings to the garlic. Cut the tops off about 1″ from the garlic bulb and trim off the roots. Hang the garlic in net bags in a cool, dry place (like a basement in the same room as a dehumidifier). You’ll want to save your best/biggest bulbs for planting in the Fall.
Out of all the plants I grow, garlic has been one of the easier ones so far. It’s almost a plant and forget crop (at least in Wisconsin).
For more information, check out this great garlic resource: Growing Garlic
-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?
NOTE: Taco is not responsible for garlic addiction and the loss of flower beds to overwhelming hordes of garlic plants.