Fall is here, and that means it’s time to think about planting garlic! I prefer to plant garlic in the Fall in Wisconsin, so I have it come July when the tomatoes are ripening, and I am canning marinara sauce. Depending on your climate, now may be a good time to “remember” to get your garlic in the ground!
Growing garlic at home opens up so many new opportunities to enhance the flavors in your meals that you simply can’t find in the grocery store. Here is your guide to growing garlic and all the quick tips you need to know.
TYPES OF GARLIC
There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
Typically hardneck varieties are more cold-hardy and suited for northern climates. Hardneck is more likely to have the purple veining and has more intense flavors. Hardneck garlic produces a beautiful tender scape, a flower that grows out of the center of the garlic plant. Many find garlic scapes to be a delicacy and look forward to harvesting them in the late spring-early summer. Removing the garlic scape is crucial, so the plant focuses on producing the bulb and not the flower. Garlic scapes are delicious in pesto, grilled, in stir-fries & soups, or even chopped up to top your burger.
Softneck garlic is typically grown in Southern climates. It tends to store for about 6 months longer than hardneck varieties, and for that reason softneck garlic is the type you usually see in the grocery store, with an all-white bulb.
I’ve grown only hardneck garlic in the area. Still, one of the beautiful things about garlic is that garlic is highly adaptable if you’re interested in experimenting. If you’re willing to give it a few years, a variety that typically would not grow well in your climate will eventually adapt to your weather and soil conditions.
SOURCING YOUR GARLIC
If you’re new to garlic planting in your garden, I recommend ordering your garlic seed from a trusted source or a reputable local farm. Most garlic that you find in the grocery store is from China and may not be suited to grow in your region. Additionally, conventionally grown garlic is treated with sprout inhibitors that may infect your garden and rot the soil.
Hit up your local farmer or farmers market and purchase your bulbs from a quality source. Buying locally grown garlic will ensure you get a variety that thrives in your area.
Once you’ve grown garlic in your own garden, you can save the bulbs year to year, making your garlic gardening self-sufficient and giving you the opportunity to pass down bulbs for generations.
Garlic is one of the most accessible, trouble-free crops you can grow. We grow in Zone 5, and this information is applicable for Zones 5-8. Mid-October through mid-November is an ideal planting time frame (4-6 weeks before a hard frost).
Planting too early can risk damaging the plant. The goal is to achieve root growth with very little to no top growth. Timing matters!
- Prep your area with some fresh compost. Garlic prefers rich, loose soil and drainage. They are a heavy feeder so give that garlic quality organic matter.
- Separate the cloves from the bulb and choose ones that have no damage and are the biggest as they will produce the most prominent head. Do not peel the cloves.
- Make a slight trench with a dibber or shovel tip to make a row about 2″ deep. Each row should be 12” apart.
- Place cloves 4” apart in the rows. The point side should be facing up towards you.
- Push the cloves into the soil approximately 2” – 4” deep.
- Cover with soil/compost.
- Water your rows.
- Optional: mulch the rows or add some compost/straw/shredded leaves on top.
If you have the space, rotate your garlic annually. Like most crops, rotation helps the soil and aids in preventative measures for pests and diseases. If you are unable to rotate, adding fresh, high-quality compost is a must!
There is no need to add fertilizer at the time of planting. Fertilizer can stimulate faster growth, which can result in damaging the plant in the event of an early hard freeze. If you have rich soil, there is no need to add an amendment to the soil. If you feel your soil lacks, you can add a fish or seaweed spray in the springtime upon seeing the garlic sprouting. I did not add any additional nutrient support during the springtime this past year. I started with high-quality compost when planting the cloves. If you are in the Wisconsin area, my recommended compost is the Purple Cow activated compost.
Watering garlic is like any other plant. It needs about 1″ of water a week, so you can water if there has been little rain. There is no need to water in the winter when temperatures are freezing.
When the lower two or three leaves turn yellow or brown, bulbs are ready to be harvested. The tip on the other leaves will be turning brown. Gently cultivate around the plant to loosen the soil before removing the garlic.
Do not wash the garlic bulbs, as you want to cure them. Hang garlic in a place with no direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks.
Before trimming off the stem – make sure it is 90% dry.
Remember to save the biggest bulbs for fall planting and store them in a dry ventilated place. Enjoy the rest!
Health Benefits + Kitchen Tips
Garlic is a staple in our diets. Here are a few key reasons to make it a regular in your diet and garden:
- Boosts the immune system.
- Reduces high blood pressure.
- Contains antibiotic & anti-fungal properties.
- Contains antioxidants.
- Highly nutritious: Manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Selenium.
Let’s head to the kitchen. Have you ever heard of the 10-minute smash rule? Let me walk you through it.
Grab a few cloves (red-skinned variety, if you can) & smash the garlic with the flat side of your knife. Then, let it sit for 10 minutes before sauteing it. Sitting after smashing allows the critical ingredient Allicin to activate. Allicin is a compound produced when garlic is crushed or chopped, and by allowing the enzyme time to form, you’ll be reaping maximum benefits from your food, in addition to the fresh flavor.