Everyone has heard about the health benefits of garlic and many people, myself included, love the taste of garlic. Did you know that garlic is very easy to grow in your own garden and, like most things home grown, is richer in health benefits and tastes better that store bought garlic? I’ve just recently planted my garlic for next season. Late October through early December is the perfect time of year to get your garlic planted for next summer’s harvest and I’m going to show you how to get started.
Preparing Soil For Your Garlic Crop
Garlic likes sun and well-drained, loose, rich soil, so choose a location that gets full sun and drains well. I like to amend my soil each year by mixing in a 1 to 2 inch layer of compost and steer or chicken manure into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Also, if the area that you plant in has a lot of clay, along with the compost, mix in some sand. This will allow the soil to drain better and the roots to penetrate deeper into the soil. I took some the sand from my kids’ old toy sandbox and rototilled it into the area I wanted to grow garlic. Doing this should leave you with 6 to 8 inches of soil that garlic will love to grow in.
Planting Your Garlic
Once your soil is prepared, you are ready to plant your garlic. You should be able to pick up a bulb of garlic from your local independent garden center or you can just get a bulb of garlic from the supermarket. After your initial purchase, you should be able to sustain your garlic crop year after year by saving bulbs and replanting. I bought 3 bulbs of garlic several years ago and haven’t had to buy any since because I’ve grown enough to use and replant each year.
One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from beginners is: Do I plant the entire bulb of garlic or just a clove? Each clove of garlic will turn into a plant and make 1 bulb, so just plant 1 clove in each hole. One of the keys to success is to just plant the largest, outer cloves from the garlic bulb. They will become larger and healthier garlic plants, making bigger garlic.
Each clove should be planted about 8 inches apart and the top of the clove should be covered with 1 to 2 inches of soil. I like to use a bulb planter to dig a hole about 6 inches deep, then back-fill the hole with a mixture of “special soil”. My “special soil” consists of a nice mixture of existing soil, a big handful of vermicompost (worm castings), a tablespoon of bone meal, and a tablespoon of organic bulb fertilizer. Garlic roots only penetrate 4 to 6 inches down, so providing these nutrients directly into their root zone at planting time really gives the plant a healthy start.
Once you’ve mostly back-filled the hole, place the garlic clove into the hole with the pointed end of the clove up. Finish covering the clove with soil making sure that the top of the clove is covered with 1 to 2 inches of soil. Pack the soil down gently, but firmly and continue on until you’ve finished planting your garlic.
Protecting Your Garlic
To protect your plants from ice, snow, weeds, etc., cover the area with a layer of mulch. This time of year, we have an abundance of leaves which works great but straw or hay work as well. I like cover my garlic bed with a 2-4 inch layer of shredded leaves.
You may or may not see your first garlic shoots come up during the winter, but rest assured that getting your garlic planted early will pay dividends. During the winter months, your garlic is beginning to develop it’s root system. In addition, garlic needs to be exposed to the cold weather of winter, which tells the bulb to divide. If you wait until late spring to plant, your garlic may not segment and you’ll just end up with a ball.
Fertilizing Your Garlic
After freezing weather has passed in late spring, fertilize garlic plants with a pure, high nitrogen fertilizer. I like to use urea or blood meal. Fertilizing for 6-8 weeks will make the tops of your garlic plants grow large and grow quickly. April and May are the months I like to top dress with nitrogen. After this time, don’t fertilize. The garlic needs to stop putting it’s energy into growing the shoots and send it’s goodness into the bulb.
Congratulations, you’re done and well on your way to a bountiful garlic crop next summer.