Planting garlic is one of the last tasks in the kitchen garden before the gardener can retire inside to wait out the cold weather. Many varieties of garlic benefit from being exposed to the cold, and so are planted in late fall or early winter (October/ November). Although there may be no visible signs of growth until spring, the bulbs are hardy and will survive through the winter and build up a healthy root system for a head start in spring. These varieties can also be planted in pots for planting out in spring.
There are other varieties of garlic available that are suitable for planting in late winter (up to the end of February), and these varieties are more suitable for gardens where the soil remains very wet throughout the winter – garlic does not like to be sitting in wet soil all the time.
You can plant garlic from the supermarket, but bear in mind that it may have been grown in a climate very different from yours and may have trouble adapting. A safer bet is to buy seed garlic from a gardening store or catalog the first time. You can then save your own cloves to replant every year. Once you have your seed garlic, don’t break the bulb apart until you are ready to plant it – the individual cloves dry out quickly once they have been separated.
The size of the garlic bulbs you grow is partly controllable by the spacing you use for the cloves. If you want to grow huge garlic bulbs, then give the plants plenty of space. If you would rather have a larger overall yield of smaller bulbs, then plant your cloves closer together (around 6 inches apart each way). Simply push each clove into the soil (the same way up as it would be in the bulb) so that the whole clove is buried. Planting the larger cloves from your seed bulb will also increase the size of the harvest.
Keep your plot weeded, and water your garlic in dry weather. Stop watering once the bulbs start to swell to avoid encouraging rots. Garlic is subject to the same range of pests and diseases as the other members of the Allium family (onions, leeks, chives) and so should be planted in a different part of your garden each year as part of a crop rotation.
Fork up your bulbs carefully once the leaves start to die down. Be careful not to damage the bulbs. Leave them on the surface of the soil to dry. If the weather is not dry then take them indoors to dry out. Once the garlic is thoroughly dry you can tie the bulbs into strings for storage.
There are two main types of garlic. Soft-necked garlic stores for longer, and may grow tiny bulbs (bulbils) along its neck. Bulbils can be planted and will grow into single garlic bulbs. Replant those, and you will get a divided garlic bulb as normal. Many people believe that hard-necked garlic has a better flavor. Hard-necked garlic will grow tall flower shoots (scapes) that need to be removed, but which can be eaten as a separate harvest.
Whichever type or variety you choose, garlic is an easy and rewarding plant to grow. It will even grow happily in containers, so gardeners with small spaces can try it too.
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