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How to Plant Garlic
(Allium spp.)

garlic by Matt FrederickEver wondered how to plant garlic? Growing garlic is extraordinarily easy as long as you have decent draining, fertile soil, and use proper watering techniques.

A member of the onion family, this little gem is related to chives, leeks, onions, and shallots. Garlic’s pleasing and pungent flavor and fragrance has been present in cultures ranging literally across the globe since the beginning of recorded history.

Below you will find a description of the garlic plant, including its height, hardiness, and "flower"; light, moisture, and soil requirements ; cultivation tips covering how to plant garlic, and how to keep your growing garlic healthy and tasty; our favorites varieties and some ideas for how to use garlic in your home.

Description

The glory of the garlic is underground. From that slowly swelling garlic bulb, a 12 inch and taller stalk arises, usually with leaves off to two sides like somebody flattened the plant in a book.

For garden design purposes, think of this as modern art. For crop rotation and garden design purposes, it can work well to send the garlic around in artful family portraits, meaning with the leeks, onions, and shallots. (Chives are perennial. Put them in the herb garden.)

Fun relatives: those big allium puffball flowers, and Society Garlic. Garlic will produce bulbil flower-esque thingys, but you are planning to cut them off, so it's a moot point. Let the allium bulb and the Society Garlic bloom for everybody else.

Light, Moisture, and Soil Requirements

Light: Full sun, a minimum of 5 hours.

Moisture: Not so much moisture. Garlic likes moisture when young, and it likes an evenness to the soil moisture, but you're better to err on the side of too little (sacrificing head size) than too little (sacrificing storage capacity.)

Check the "Cultivation Tips" section for the bit on whether to mulch or not.

Soil: Fertile and well-draining. And fertile.

Cultivation Tips for Growing Garlic

Start by putting the whole unbroken head of garlic in the basement or unheated (but not freezing) garage for three weeks. A little dormancy goes a long way.
How to Plant Garlic Starting with a Clove:
Garlic bulbs at the grocery store are usually treated with an anti-sprouting agent, so either use organic bulbs (they’ve worked fine for me) or buy nursery-stock. Never under estimate the farmer's market!

Only just before planting garlic do you crack or break apart the head. You do NOT peel off the papery skins. Set the little cloves aside for eating, you only want to plant the biggest cloves.

Be sure it’s pointing the right way! How to plant garlic: soft, pointy tip up; flat, rooty bit down. Push each clove in so that the top is 2 full inches down.

Growing Garlic:
Snip the bulbil scape after it's made a loop or two.

Wait. What's a bulbil? When hardneck garlic grows, it makes a little mini-head of garlic way up on the stock. That's the bulbil. It's like a seed. It diverts your garlic's attention. Snip the scape, eat it, picture your garlic head getting larger and tastier because you are doing this.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch:
For pretty much every other crop out there I'm going to tell you to mulch, but garlic... only those of you in drier areas should mulch right away.

Wetter areas, mulch under these conditions:

Winter is imminent and serious: meaning you get deep frosts and frost heaves where you live. These can be hard on the garlic, so mulch to stabilize the soil temperature.

Summer is imminent and serious, meaning 85 degrees Farenheit and up. Again, you are mulching for soil temperature stability.

If drought is happening: At this point, you are a drier area, so mulch.

Still Not Sure if Your Area is Dry or Wet?
Find the seriously unkempt yard in your neighborhood (you know there is one). Scan their gutter for baby trees and other vegetation. Spot'em? In garlic's eyes, you are too wet.

 

Varieties to Try

Hard-neck garlic (A. ophioscorodon) produces the largest cloves of the mid-sized garlics but sprouts easily in storage (6 months tops).

Of the hardnecks, I have enjoyed Music, a full flavored, long storing garlic, and Siberian, a sweetly pungent all-purpose classic. If you like your garlic hot (and that's not me), I'm hearing great things about Georgian Fire.

Soft-neck garlic (A. sativm) is the most commercially available form and behaves better in storage (could outlast the year).

I have less experience with the softnecks, but do know that Chet's Italian Red has a beautiful, subtle flavor, capable of being eaten raw, while Broadleaf Czech carries the other end of the spectrum: too hot for me! To be fair, its champion swears it roasts beautifully, but I wasn't game for that round. I top out at medium salsa, if that helps you gauge.


Uses of Garlic

Garlic is a staple in kitchens around the world. Garlic bulbs can be slowly roasted whole and added to sauces or gravies. They can be cut, chopped, or pressed to release pungent oils. They can even cooked whole in soups for a subtler presence in the dish.

If you ever add too much garlic, try adding fresh parsley to cut the bitterness without losing the flavor.

In the garden, planting garlic around fruit and nut trees, rose bushes, and a whole host of other highly valuable ornamental or edible plants can help repel moles and keep aphids and many other insects at bay.

And with your abundant crop, you’ll soon have plenty leftover to create an effective garlic oil spray to help deter pests! Recipe coming soon.


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