How To Grow

How To Grow Garlic

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Garlic is a plant with a bulb that is part of the onion family, and people grow it for cooking and medicine. Known for its pungent flavor, garlic is essential in various cuisines worldwide. It comes in different varieties, with softneck and hardneck being common types. Garlic is easy to grow, making it a popular choice for home gardeners.

Apart from adding taste to dishes, garlic is valued for its potential health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains allicin, a compound known for its antimicrobial effects. Planting garlic involves separating and planting individual cloves in well-drained soil during the fall, with a harvest expected in late spring or summer. Learn these 14 steps to grow garlic in your own yard.

1. Choose Right Garlic Variety

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Garlic comes in different varieties, and you need to choose the right one for your garden. There are mainly two types: softneck and hardneck. Softneck varieties are known for their good storage capabilities, keeping well over time. So, you want garlic that stays fresh for a longer duration; this might be a great choice for you.

On the other hand, hardneck varieties usually yield larger cloves and offer a more intricate flavor profile. The choice between the two depends on your preferences and the local climate. If you prefer a bolder taste with larger cloves, a hardneck variety might be the better fit.

2. Use Quality Garlic Bulbs

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Pick high-quality cloves for flourishing garlic plants. Obtain disease-free garlic bulbs from a reputable garden center, and avoid using store-bought garlic, as it may be treated to prevent sprouting. When selecting cloves, look for ones that are firm, plump, and have unbroken skins while steering clear of any with soft spots or mold.

If you have garlic cloves from your past harvest, they are suitable for use as long as they remain free of any diseases. But remember, the quality of your garlic not only aids in better flavor but also contributes to a successful planting. Keeping it simple by opting for healthy bulbs is key.

3. Prepare Planting Site

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Once you get quality cloves, ready the planting site by choosing a sunny location with soil types that drain effectively and are rich in organic matter. They like fertile soil with a pH value of around 6.5. This makes raised beds or containers suitable options. Plus, garlic is a heavy feeder, and it prefers loose soil over clay soil.

If your soil lacks quality, incorporate compost to enhance fertility. To address suboptimal soil conditions, separate the garlic cloves and soak them in a fertilizer solution before planting. This pre-planting step helps improve the cloves' nutrient absorption.

4. Plant At Right Time

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Plant garlic in the fall, a few weeks before the first hard frost. This timing helps the garlic cloves develop strong roots before winter sets in. In the upper Midwest, I choose to plant them in mid-fall, around late September or early October when the autumn foliage paints the landscape in vibrant hues.

This specific season is ideal for garlic because it provides the right conditions for its initial growth. As temperatures cool, the cloves use this time to establish themselves in the soil, preparing for the colder months ahead.

5. Break Apart Bulbs

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Before planting, separate the garlic bulbs into single cloves, leaving the thin outer skin on each one. And choose the biggest and healthiest cloves for planting. Breaking them apart helps each clove grow independently. 

If you plant the whole bulb without separating it, the cloves might not have enough space to develop properly. Breaking them apart exposes the clove, allowing it to establish itself in the soil while the outer skin provides protection during planting.

6. Planting Depth

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To plant cloves, dig holes that are around 2 inches deep in the soil, making sure the pointed end of the clove is facing upwards. Place the cloves with a spacing of 4-6 inches between them in rows, and leave a gap of 12-18 inches between each row. If you are using a raised bed, make sure the soil is loose and well-draining.

For containers, choose a pot that is at least 6 inches deep and fill it with potting mix. In both cases, it's important to provide adequate sunlight, water the cloves regularly, and consider adding compost to the soil to provide essential nutrients. Adjust the planting depth based on your local climate conditions.

7. Mulch Planting Area

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To shield your garlic plants from harsh weather conditions, take the simple yet effective step of mulching the planting bed. Begin by applying a generous layer of straw or leaves around the base of each garlic bulb. This natural cover serves as a protective barrier, guarding the plants against both hot and cold temperatures.

Mulching with wood chips, straw or leaves helps maintain more stable soil conditions for your garlic to prosper. Additionally, this process aids in suppressing unwanted weeds and keeping your garlic bed tidy. It further allows the plants to absorb nutrients without competition.

8. Watering

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Once the garlic is uncovered, it needs to be watered once a week, beginning in the spring after the last frost. Give it about 1 inch of water each time. When summer arrives and the leaves turn yellow, stop watering to prevent the bulbs from rotting or breaking.

If it rained during the week, you might not need to water your garlic extra. Use a rain gauge to measure how much water your plants receive, ensuring you don't accidentally overwater them. Following these steps will prevent problems associated with excessive water, which can be harmful to garlic.

9. Fertilize

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Fertilize with a balanced organic fertilizer in early spring when your garlic begins to grow. Pay close attention to the signs of emerging shoots to determine the best time for fertilization. Avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers, as they may prioritize leafy growth at the expense of bulb development.

Choose organic fertilizers that offer a complete blend of nutrients, supporting both foliage and bulb formation in your garlic plants. Keep a close eye on your plants, regularly inspecting them for visual cues, such as the emergence of green shoots, to determine the optimal timing for fertilization.

10. Scaping

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In the middle of June, if you planted hardneck garlic, you will notice curly stems called scapes popping out among the leaves. These are the flower stalks. Taking care of these scapes is essential for fostering better bulb growth. Wait until the scapes curl, forming a loop; this is the opportune moment to snip them off.

By doing so, you assist the plant in directing its energy towards producing larger bulbs instead of flowering. To scape, use clean garden shears or scissors and cut the scape near its base where it connects to the plant. There's no need to worry; cutting the scapes won't harm your garlic.

11. Harvesting

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For harvesting, wait until late June or early July when the lower leaves start turning yellow and dying. This signals that the bulbs are ready. Gently dig them up from the soil, using a spade or fork to loosen the soil around the bulbs before lifting them out. Handle these bulbs with care to avoid bruising or cutting during harvest.

Once dug up, let the garlic bulbs undergo a drying process in a shaded, well-ventilated area for a couple of weeks. Proper harvesting not only ensures optimal flavor but also contributes to the longevity and storage quality of your garlic crop.

12. Curing Garlic

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After harvesting, let it dry in a warm and ventilated location for 2 to 4 weeks. This crucial step enhances the flavor and extends the shelf life of the garlic. During this curing period, the garlic bulbs undergo changes that improve their taste and make them suitable for longer preservation. 

Moreover, adequate drying ensures the outer layers become papery, protecting the bulbs and allowing them to be stored without issues. It's important to maintain a consistent, dry environment throughout the curing process to achieve the best results. Once cured, your garlic will be ready for long-term storage.

13. Trim And Store

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Once the curing process is complete, trim the roots and tops of the garlic, leaving about 1-2 inches of stem. Store the garlic in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. This step is essential in preparing the garlic bulbs for storage, as it removes excess roots and tops to prevent decay and ensures the bulbs remain in good condition.

Appropriate storage maintains the quality of garlic. A cool environment helps slow down sprouting or premature growth, while dry conditions prevent mold or rot. Adequate air circulation further ensures that the garlic stays fresh, ultimately guaranteeing a longer shelf life and providing you with well-preserved cloves for future culinary use.

14. Save Cloves For Planting

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Set aside some of the largest cloves from your harvest for planting in the upcoming season. This practice allows you to sustain the cycle of growing garlic. By saving these large cloves, you can grow your own garlic for the next planting season.

It's important to choose healthy and large cloves, as they are more likely to produce robust and healthy plants. Continue storing these selected cloves in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them. It's a simple method contributing to sustainable garlic cultivation, letting you be self-sufficient with seeds for future harvests.