It is easy, inexpensive and rewarding to grow garlic in your garden.
Grow Your Own Food is an information series on Gardening in Canada that covers every aspect of growing your own food at home. I help you every step of the way so that you can have the garden you dream of.
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is used in cooking around the world and is so revered there are festivals dedicated to the pungent bulbs. From sweet and savory dishes to pickles and sauces they add amazing flavor that everyone loves. With a bit of planning, you can have a bounty of garlic from your own garden.
What Is the Difference Between Hard neck & Soft neck Garlic?
Hard neck Garlic
There are 2 main types of garlic we will discuss. The first is hard neck garlic. Hard neck garlic is the hardier of the 2 types and does well in cooler climates. They develop a long flowering stem in the center of the cloves, these are better known as a scape.
Scapes should be harvested in the early summer, so the energy of the plant is sent to the growing bulb. There are many delicious ways to enjoy the scapes so be sure to harvest them to use in the kitchen.
Hard neck varieties grow a single row of cloves, and the cloves are often larger. They are said to be more flavorful than the soft neck garlic though they do have a shorter storage life at around 5 – 6 months. Hard neck garlic is most commonly related to wild garlic.
Soft neck Garlic
Soft neck garlic is better for growing in warmer climates as they are not as hardy as hard neck garlic. The heads have many cloves that do not grow in a single row but in several layers. Another difference is that soft neck does not grow the flower stalk (scape). The storage life for soft neck garlic is much longer at 9 to 12 months. This is the most common garlic you see in grocery stores and is the garlic that is braided.
When Should You Plant Garlic?
Garlic requires a cold period to break dormancy. The best time to plant garlic is in the fall about 6 – 8 weeks before your first frost. You can find your expected frost dates here…. It is very important to give them that extra time before the first frost to get their roots established but keep in mind we do not want to plant too early, we are trying to avoid it from too much top growth as we do not want the plants to be damaged by freezing winter temperatures. This vastly improves winter survival rates.
What Is the Best Location to Grow Garlic?
When choosing a spot to grow garlic select a nice sunny location, preferably one that stays relatively dry and has good drainage as garlic does not like overly wet soggy soil. Work the soil well adding amendments like peat moss and compost. Be sure to weed the area well so the plants are not competing with weeds for water and nutrients.
How Do You Select?
You should buy your garlic for planting from a green house, garden center or seed company. The garlic you purchase in the grocery store has often been treated for long time storage and is not ideal for growing.
Select large firm full heads for planting. Break apart the head into individual cloves but do leave the paper cover on the cloves. Use the largest of the cloves, saving the smaller one to use for cooking.
How Do You Plant Garlic?
Plant the cloves pointed end up and give lots of extra room between the cloves, 5 inches is sufficient. Plant the cloves at a depth of 2 – 3 inches and if planting in rows be sure to space the rows 12 inches apart. Water well. In the colder parts of the country it is a good idea to place a layer of mulch 2 – 3 inches thick over the garlic growing section of the garden. This gives it an extra layer of protection from the extreme cold winter temperatures. There is no need to fertilize as it will feed of the compost you worked into the planting site.
How Do You Harvest and Store Garlic?
You will know it is time to harvest the garlic once the plants are 50% yellow. Stop watering about a week before you plan on harvesting the bulbs. Use a shovel or pitchfork to loosen the soil around the plants. Pull the heads leaving the stems intact and gently remove any excess soil you see.
The next step in the harvest is curing the garlic. It is good is to hang them in a cool dry well-ventilated space for a few weeks though spreading them out on a table works just as well, be sure to leave space between the bulbs for good air flow. Once cured trim off the roots and stems or if so inclined you can braid the bulbs from softneck varieties for long term storage, though it is not necessary it does look nice. Store the finished garlic in a cool dry location in mesh bags, paper bags of even open containers.