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On this page we have provided information for the home gardener on growing great garlic. This short fact sheet article was written to give you a good source of information on soil preparation, seed selection, growing, harvesting, and storing garlic.
Selecting what garlic to plant
The varieties of the Garlic plant(Allium salivum) can be classified into two types. These types are referred to as the hardnecked and the softnecked varieties.
The hardnecked garlic produces a woody flower stem with bulblets on top, as well as large cloves underground. This group of garlics are very hardy and can survive cold winter weather if properly mulched. The hardnecked garlics have superior flavors, peel easily, but do not keep as long as the softnecked garlics.
Hardnecked garlic must be planted in the fall, so that they may properly develope over the winter months.
German Reds: Very hardy, produces 7-8 large cloves with red colored skins.
German Porcelain: Very hardy, produces 6-8 large cloves.
The softnecked garlic produces no woody flower stock and grows many cloves underground. These cloves are usually smaller than the those produced by the hardnecked garlic. Most softnecked types are either mild or very hot. But they keep longer (up to 10 months) and the leaves are better for braiding.
Softnected garlic planted in the Pacific Northwest must be planted in spring.
Nootka Rose: a NW heirloom which grows well here and usually produces 12 or more large full gloves with excellent flavor. Plus quite attractive leaves for braiding.
Siver Rose: Another excellent garlic that grows well here, produces large flavorful cloves and very attractive leaves for braiding. This garlic is one with very long storage qualities.
When to plant
In northern gardens plant the cloves of the hardnecked varieties 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to develope a sound root system and usually a tiny short green shoot. But not enough time to grow any leaves. Properly mulched hardnecked garlic can survive bitterly cold winters underground, when the snow cover is good.
Where winter is milder, garlic is usually planted anytime from October through January. When winters are mild garlic grows hardy leaves that can withstand the colder periods.
Growth is slow during the colder winter season. The cold temperatures are required for the side buds to begin to grow. These tiny buds will develope into new cloves. When the daytime light lengthens these buds will begin to grow faster. The plant begins to grow rapidly when the ground temperature warms up in spring.
Where winters are harsh and cold and the snow cover is so unreliable that garlic freezes, plant soft-necked varieties in the spring after the danger of hard freezing has passed.
Preparing the Garlic Bed
Select a sunny area for planting and growing your garlic. Full sun is good. Garlic needs a deep fertile well drained soil with lots of organic matter worked in. Raised beds work fine. Soil pH must be above 6.0 (best range, pH 6.4-7.0) Use a powdered dolomite lime applied a least 6 weeks before planting if needed to change the soil pH.
For sandy loam or rocky soils, work in about two inches or more of well rotted compost. For clay soils work in 4 or more inches of compost and other organic matter. The soil should be loosen to a depth of a least 8 inches. We use lots of native earthworms to help keep the soil in great shape throughout the growing season.
How to plant
Carefully break the bulbs into individual cloves. Do this just before you are going to plant the garlic cloves. Separate the smaller clovers from the larger ones. Small cloves usually grow small bulbs, so plant only the thicher and larger cloves. Use any damaged cloves and the small ones in your cooking recipes.
In northern gardens with severe winters, plant the cloves about 2-4 inches deep with the root end down. And cover with three to four inches of mulch. Remember to remove, or work into the soil, most of this cover when the danger of freezing has passed. This is necessary so that the garlic can grow and develope properly.
Where the winter is mild plant cloves 1 inch deep, root end down. Mulch lightly with one inch of mulch immediately after planting. In the spring garlic will have no problem pushing through a inch of mulch. Minimum spacing in raised beds is 4x8 inches from center to center. To grow larger bulbs, sometimes increasing the spacing to 6x10 inches helps.
When spring growth begins garlic must be keep well weeded, watered, and the ground loose. Do not damage the shallow white roots while cultivating. Provide ample water while the garlic is developing and growing. But, when the garlic is nearing maturity less water is desired. Garlic needs to be moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in the spring. Organic growers can side dress a little manure compost, cottonseed meal, or some strong organic compost. Garlic also likes a little high-nitrogen foliar fertilizer sprayed on it's leaves every ten days to 2 weeks. However, once bulbing begins, stop the fertilizer. Additional fertilizer now will encourage too much leaf growth and not enough bulb growth. When the plant is growing rapidly, keep the soil moist as you would any fast growing leafy green plant.
Hard-necked varieties will grow a tall woody flower stalk called a "scape" that usually grows bulblets at the top.
If the plant puts most of its energy into growing bulblets at the top, the bulbs forming and growing below the ground will end up smaller.
These little bulblets can be planted and sometimes a different variety of garlic will grow. But, if your desire is to grow large bulbs, you should remove the flower slalk early in its developement. So cut off the stalks as soon as the flower head has reached 8-9 inches tall.
Determining the proper time to harvest your garlic is very important. If you dig too soon, the skins won't have formed properly around each clove. Hard-necked variety garlic bulbs, if dig to late may have begun to spread apart. To further complicate this determination, the timing is somewhat different each year because growing conditions change somewhat from year to year. So watch the plants, and when the leaves tips start to turn brown, but some green leaves still remain, dig up the soil around a plant and examine the bulbs.
Use a potato fork to gently loosen the soil and raise up the entire plant. Immediately gently brush off the excess soil from around the roots. Do no use water. Drying is an essential part of curing the bulbs properly. Avoid placing or exposing the freshly dug garlic bulbs into direct sunlight. Save your damaged or immature bulbs because they can be used right away in your cooking.
Garlic must be properly cured before it can stored for any length of time. Tie the harvested plants in loose bundles of 8-12 plants and hang them up in a shaded sheltered area with good curculation. Or spread the plants in a single layer on screen boards, or drying racks. Garlic will store longer and better if the stalks and leaves are left attached. Good air circulation is essential for proper curing. The bulbs curing process usually takes between 3 and 8 weeks, depending upon the humidity and the air circulation. A fan may be used to increase air movement that will speed up the curing process. The outer skins should feel papery when the curing process is finished.
To store in netted sacks after curing, cut the garlic stalks off 1 inch from the bulb. You may also trim their roots at this time, if desired. Whether garlic bulbs are stored in netted sacks or hung as curred bunched plants, they must be cleaned. To properly clean the garlic, gently brush the remaining dry soil from the bulbs with a soft brush. Take care not to strip off the stiffen papery outer skins.
Hang the dried bunches of braided garlic or netted sacks of garlic bulbs in a safe place. Hang someplace with good circulation all around the sacked and braided garlic. The soft necked varieties of garlic can be hand braided with the leaves attached and hung. Store at room temperatures between 45-55º F at 50 % humidity. Storage below 40 ºF will encourage the garlic to sprout.
Garlic is sometimes affected by diseases. Usually these garlic diseases are present in the soil or are brought in the garden by using diseased garlic bulbs. Proper rotation of the growing area and choosing to plant disease free seed will control most diseases of garlic.
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