It’s that time of year so let’s talk about planting garlic.
Garlic 101: A Quick Introduction
Garlic (Allium sativum) is not only a staple in the kitchen but also an excellent addition to your garden and super easy to grow.
When it comes to planting garlic, there are a few essential factors to consider, especially if you’re new to gardening. Let’s break them down:
1. Garlic Varieties: Choosing the Right Type
Garlic comes in two primary types: hardneck and softneck. Each has its own unique characteristics and best-use scenarios.
- Hardneck Garlic: These varieties produce a central stem with scapes (flower stalks) that curl around it. Hardneck garlic is known for its robust flavour and larger cloves. If you’re looking for bold, intense garlic flavour, this is your choice and those scapes are edible and delicious. Many gardeners choose to grow hardneck simply for the scapes. I’m one of them.
- Softneck Garlic: As the name suggests, softneck garlic doesn’t have a hard central stem. It typically has more cloves per bulb and a milder, longer-lasting flavour but the cloves are smaller. Softneck garlic is often preferred for braiding and storage because of the softneck, making it last a little longer in storage.
2. Timing Is Everything: When to Plant Garlic
Garlic is typically planted in the Autumn, ideally a few weeks before the first frost in your region. This allows the garlic cloves to establish roots before the ground freezes. In most areas, planting garlic in October is a good rule of thumb. However, if you live in a region with mild winters, you might want to plant garlic in late winter or early spring. The key is to avoid planting it in the summer, as garlic prefers cooler temperatures to grow its best.
3. Soil Matters: Choosing the Right Ground
Garlic thrives in well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Aim for a free draining soil that’s not too heavy or too sandy. If your garden’s soil doesn’t quite meet these requirements, don’t fret! You can amend it by adding compost to improve its texture and fertility. Or plant in containers or raised beds where you can control the soil.
4. The Garlic Planting Process
Now, let’s get our hands dirty! Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to plant garlic:
Step 1: Prepare Your Garlic Bulbs
- Start by selecting healthy, disease-free garlic bulbs. Each bulb is made up of individual cloves. Carefully break the bulb into separate cloves, leaving the papery skin intact.
Step 2: Choose the Right Location
- Select a sunny spot in your garden with at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. Garlic loves sunlight and will thrive in these conditions.
Step 3: Plant the Cloves
- Dig individual planting holes about 2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart in rows spaced 12-18 inches apart. Place each garlic clove in the hole, pointed end up, and cover it with soil. Make sure to plant it deep enough, but not too deep; the tip of the clove should be just below the soil surface.
Step 4: Mulch and Water
- You can add a layer of mulch (straw or leaves work well) to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature, however, if you live in a wetter climate like us, you may prefer to avoid mulch as it will hold moisture int the soil, and for us, we get a lot of rain so that’s not ideal. Water thoroughly to settle the soil and provide adequate moisture for your garlic to get started.
5. Weather Concerns
Garlic is generally a hardy crop, but it’s not entirely immune to the elements.
- Frost: If you’re planting in the Autumn, garlic can handle frosts. However, it doesn’t like extreme freezing in the ground. If you expect extremely cold temperatures which will cause extensive freezing, consider adding an extra layer of mulch to protect the cloves. In areas with harsh winters, planting garlic in spring might be a better option.
- Watering: Garlic needs consistent moisture, especially during the growing season. If rainfall is insufficient, water your garlic regularly. But be cautious not to overwater, as garlic doesn’t like soggy soil.
6. Maintenance and Care
Garlic is relatively low-maintenance, but it still requires some attention:
- Weeding: Keep your garlic bed weed-free, as weeds can compete with your garlic for nutrients and water.
- Fertilising: Garlic love nutrition so make sure to amend your soil with lots of lovely compost before you plant. This should see you through to harvest without the need to add chemical fertilisers.
- Scapes: If you’re growing hardneck garlic, you’ll notice scapes emerging from the plant. These are edible and can be used in cooking. They usually appear a few weeks before your bulbs are ready for harvest, so once they curl over, cut them from the plant and allow it to redirect energy to bulb formation, resulting in larger garlic bulbs. Scapes have a lovely subtle garlic flavour and are great cooked or chopped through salads.
7. Harvesting Garlic
The exciting part – harvesting your garlic! Typically, garlic is ready to be harvested in late spring or early summer. You’ll know it’s time when the lower sets of leaves turn brown.
To harvest, gently dig up the bulbs using a garden fork or trowel, being careful not to damage them. Shake off excess soil, but don’t wash the bulbs. Allow them to dry in a well-ventilated, shady spot for a few weeks.
8. Storing Garlic
Once your garlic bulbs are dry, it’s time to store them. Softneck garlic can be braided and hung in a cool, dry place, while hardneck garlic can be stored in a mesh bag or basket. Ideally, store garlic at temperatures between 50-70°F (10-21°C) in a well-ventilated area.
Planting garlic is not only a satisfying gardening experience but also a rewarding culinary endeavour. It’s a versatile herb that can add depth and flavour to your dishes while providing you with a sense of accomplishment as a gardener. As you embark on your garlic-growing journey, remember the key points: choose the right garlic variety, plant at the right time, prepare the soil, and provide proper care. Pay attention to weather conditions, and don’t forget to have fun along the way. Gardening is a journey of discovery, and each season offers new lessons.