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Growing Garlic

Question: I read your column a couple of years ago. It recommended planting garlic. I’ve never grown garlic. Could you give me more information?


Answer: No garden should be without garlic or “stinking rose”, which is believed to fight disease, thin blood, reduce cholesterol, season foods, and repel vampires.


Garlic is divided into two basic types: those with hard flower stalks and those without.  Hardneck garlic produces a tall flower stalk with a cluster of tiny bulbs (bulbils) and undeveloped flowers at the top.  Hardneck varieties are sometimes grouped together under the name rocambole.  Because of their better, more complex flavor, hardneck varieties are considered gourmet.  However, most do not store as well as softneck garlics.


In general, when growing hardneck garlic remove the topsets as the stalk fully emerges and begins to uncoil.  If the topsets are left, they will sap energy from the developing underground bulb.  Removal of topsets is a tedious job, but will result in much larger bulbs. Tender topsets and stems can be used in cooking.


Softneck garlics do not produce a hard central stalk or aboveground clusters of bulbils.  These bulbs often have many more cloves than hardneck types.  The leaves form a false stem above the ground, which softens and falls over as the garlic matures, very much like onion tops.  Softnecks are traditional supermarket garlics, because they yield more, store better, and are easier to grow than hardnecks. The soft, pliable stems of softnecks are the best for braiding.


Garlic is planted in autumn about 6-8 weeks before the ground freezes. Cloves root and produce shoots below the soil surface in fall.  In spring, garlic begins growing as soon as the soil warms.


The size and weight of the clove planted affects the eventual size of the bulb formed. Bigger cloves make bigger bulbs.


Garlic is a fairly heavy feeder that prefers fertile soils.  Organic matter and a balanced fertilizer should be thoroughly worked into the bed before planting.


Just before planting, break bulbs apart into individual, unpeeled cloves.  Plant the cloves 3-4 inches deep and about 4 inches apart.


Protect garlic from winter injury with a layer of organic mulch.  Apply shredded leaves or straw after the ground freezes.  Mulch prevents frost heaving, cold injury, and premature growth in the late winter.


Once garlic begins to grow in spring, side dress once or twice with a high-nitrogen fertilizer and water as needed to prevent the soil from drying out.  Stop watering in summer as garlic nears maturity.


Early garlic varieties mature about the middle of July, and harvest finishes for all types by mid-August.


Garden Q&A for September 22, 2011
Barb Larson, Horticulture Educator
Kenosha County UW-Extension