How to Plant Garlic

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic is part of the Allium family which also includes similar plants such as onions, shallots, and leeks. Garlic is very easy to grow, having no real disease and pest problems to deal with and is forgiving about what kind of soil it's planted in. Garlic will grow even in clay-like, high Ph (alkali) desert soil found here in southwest Idaho.  Planting garlic in Idaho is regulated by the Department of Ag and we are only allowed to sell certified garlic that was grown in Idaho.

Location Matters

The best time of year to plant garlic in southwest Idaho is during the first two weeks of October. This gives enough moderate weather before it gets too cold for the plants to set down a good root system and may even sprout. Garlic can take most of what the winter can dish out. For added protection, a couple inches of grass clippings, straw, or hay can be sprinkled on top as protective mulch. Garlic can also be planted in the springtime; however, the bulbs will be smaller. Pick a location where your garlic will get full sun for most of the day. Garlic planted in the shade will still set bulbs, but they will be smaller in size and contain fewer cloves. Garlic can be used as a marginal plant. It can be planted between rows or along the borders of your garden to act as a natural repellent for such pests as rabbits, beetles aphids, deer, moles, and gophers. Garlic can be planted in almost any soil but will do best in soil that is high in organic matter and quick to drain. Adding soil amendments such as 2 to 3 inches of Grandma Z’s Compost and few handfuls of Zamzows Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer (5-5-3) to the soil at planting time will go a long way in growing large flavorful garlic. If the ground is very hard clay, consider adding also some Zamzows Gypsum along with generous amounts of compost into the soil. Thoroughly mix soil amendments into the top 8 to 10 inches of the soil.

Size Matters

Generally speaking, there are two species of garlic, hard-necked and soft-necked garlic. Soft-necked garlic is the kind you usually see in the grocery store. Soft-necked garlic is somewhat less flavorful than hard-necked garlic but will store much longer. Hard-necked garlic will have fewer cloves with a richer flavor than soft-necked garlic. The bulb you purchased will contain from 8 to 20 cloves depending on the variety. Each clove of garlic contained in the bulb gives rise to one garlic plant. Do not break apart the bulb until you are ready to plant. This may dry out the cloves causing them not to sprout once planted. Once you have prepared the ground for planting, break apart the bulb and inspect the cloves for damage and sort by size. Damaged cloves may not sprout. Plant only the largest of the cloves. Large cloves will produce larger bulbs; small cloves will make small bulbs. Use the larger cloves for planting and the smaller cloves for cooking.  Plant unpeeled cloves pointed end up, 2 to 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Top-dress the plants with compost and soil. Mulch to help retain moisture and discourage weeds. Place a thicker layer of mulch down after the ground freezes for better protection from harsh winter cold.

Harvest Matters

Remove the mulch in spring so that the ground can warm. This will stimulate new growth in the garlic plants. Once the plants are well on their way in late spring, feed the plants again with a side-dressing of Zamzows Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer and put down a new layer of fresh mulch to help retain water and discourage weed growth. Do not feed garlic plants after May. Too much nitrogen in the soil will actually reduce bulb size.  Provide about an inch of water per week during the warm summer months. Garlic likes to be kept moist, but not soggy wet.  For hard-necked garlic, cut back the flower stalks that develop. The plant will use nutrients to grow the flower stalk instead of putting nutrients into making a bulb. If the flower stalk is not cut off, the bulb with being less flavorful and smaller.  Stop watering garlic once you see the leaves start to yellow. This will allow the bulbs to mature without the risk of molding. Harvest garlic when half the leaves have turned brown. Test maturity by digging up one bulb. If the bulb is full of good-sized cloves covered in several layers of parchment-like paper, it is time to dig them all up.

For long storage, set garlic in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Allow the leaves to completely dry out. Do not wash the garlic, this will only lead to moldy garlic. Once dry (about 1 week) cut off the leaves about an inch above the bulb and trim the roots. Using a soft-bristled brush, remove any remaining dirt. Store garlic at temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees, in low light. Do not refrigerate garlic as it will attempt to sprout and will compromise the taste. Harvested and stored properly, garlic will keep for up to 6 to 8 months.