When gardeners think about the fall, they usually imagine harvesting the last of the summer’s bounty and preparing their gardens for a long winter’s rest. But fall isn’t just for harvesting–it’s also the perfect time for planting garlic. Once you try savory homegrown garlic, with its fresh flavor and nearly limitless varieties ranging from spicy to temptingly sweet, you’ll never go back to boring old store-bought spice. Garlic is simple to grow, and planting garlic bulbs in the fall will give your garlic lots of time to grow a healthy root system and supply your kitchen with loads of flavor year after year. Read on to learn all about gardening homegrown garlic!
Garlic comes in two basic varieties: hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck garlic grows best in climates with cold winters and wet springs similar to those in central Asia, where most types of garlic originated. It gets its name because it has a harder stalk (“neck”) than softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic grows scapes, which are curly above-ground stalks that can add flavor to your pesto sauce, mashed potatoes or stir-fries.
Softneck garlic grows best in mild climates with shorter winters and warmer springs. Most grocery store garlic is softneck, because you can store it longer than hardneck varieties. Softneck garlic produces more cloves per bulb than hardneck, although hardneck cloves are often larger. Softneck garlic doesn’t produce scapes.
Planting your Garlic
Buy your bulbs at a local gardening center or order them online, making sure the bulbs you buy are suited for your climate. Don’t plant bulbs from the grocery store, which are probably from China or California and were potentially subject to chemicals that will prevent them from growing properly.
Plant garlic bulbs right around the first frost date for your area, which is about 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes. Enter your ZIP code into an online gardening resource such as plantmaps.com to find your area’s average first frost date.
Before planting your garlic bulbs, gently separate the bulbs into individual cloves. Plant the cloves in fertile, loosened, weed-free soil. Bury the cloves pointy-side up about two inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Raised beds work well for garlic, since it has a tendency to rot in soil that is not well drained. Consider putting chicken wire over the planted area to keep animals from digging up the bulbs. Don’t worry if some green shoots pop up before the ground freezes–this is normal.
After the first hard freeze, cover the garlic with four to six inches of hay or straw to prevent the garlic from “heaving” out of the ground. If heaving occurs, re-bury the garlic.
Remove the straw when the weather turns warm in the spring, and harvest your garlic when most of the lower leaves have turned brown.
Photo courtesy of FlickrLickr.
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