Fall is approaching, but don’t put away your hoe and gardening gloves just yet. The best time to plant garlic is from
September through November.
Garlic roots develop in the fall and winter. By early spring, they can support the rapid leaf growth necessary to form large bulbs, says Chip Bubl, a horticulturist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service.
What type of garlic should you plant? Some gardeners like to grow top-setting garlic, also called hardneck. These varieties produce tiny bulblets at the end of a tall flowering stalk in addition to a fat underground bulb of cloves.
Softneck garlic rarely produces floral stems and tends to grow bigger bulbs.
Both types can be harvested in early spring like green onions and sautéed as a side dish, or let them mature until mid-July, when they become a bulb with cloves.
Chip offers the following tips:
- Lime the soil if you haven’t done so recently. Before planting cloves, work a few tablespoons of 5-10-10 complete fertilizer, bone meal or fish meal into the soil several inches below where the base of the garlic will rest.
- Select healthy large cloves, free of disease. The larger the clove, the bigger the bulb you will get the following summer.
- Plant the garlic in full sun in well-drained soil. A sandy, clay loam is best. In heavier soil, plant in raised beds 2 to 3 feet wide and at least 10 inches tall. Garlic has well-developed root systems that may grow more than 3 feet deep in well-drained soil. Plant cloves root side down, 2 inches deep and 2 to 4 inches apart in rows spaced 10 to 14 inches apart.
- Fertilize garlic in the early spring by side dressing or broadcasting with blood meal, pelleted chicken manure or a synthetic source of nitrogen. Just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight (usually early May), fertilize lightly one more time.
- Weed garlic well, as it can’t stand much competition.
- Most years, you won’t need to water unless your soil is very sandy. If May and June are very dry, irrigate to a depth of
2 feet every eight to 10 days. As mid-June approaches, taper off watering.
- Remove floral stems from hardneck varieties as they emerge in May or early June to increase bulb size. Small stems can be eaten like asparagus but get more fibrous and less edible as they mature.
- Don’t wait for the leaves to start dying to check for maturity. Sometimes, garlic bulbs are ready to harvest when the leaves are still green. The best way to know is to pull one up and cut it open crosswise. Start checking for mature cloves in late June.
- Harvest garlic when the head is divided into plump cloves and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs is thick, dry and papery. If left in the ground too long, the bulbs may split apart. The skin may also split, exposing the cloves and causing them not to store well.
- Dig and then dry the mature bulbs in a shady, warm, dry and well-ventilated area for a few days. Then remove the tops and roots. Brush dirt off the bulbs. To braid garlic together, harvest it a bit earlier while leaves are green and supple.
- Store bulbs in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Protect from high humidity and freezing. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator. Cool temperatures combined with moisture stimulate sprouting. Properly stored garlic should last until the next crop is harvested the following summer.