A Fall Hope
I’ve written several times proclaiming my appreciation for fall and fall gardening. Garlic is one of the reasons. I actually planted garlic for the first time once several years ago and met with disaster due to my own ignorance, and unreasonable expectations. Since then, I have actually taken the time to do a little research on growing garlic.
Getting To Know Garlic
When I started learning how to grow garlic, the first thing that struck me was that it is a fall planted crop. Interestingly, my local independent garden centers always sold garlic in the Spring. Lesson learned: the “experts” don’t know everything. They have since begun selling seed garlic in fall.
Another interesting thing is that growing garlic in Georgia is rumored to be a challenge in the first place. Although I have long been aware that there are day-length requirements for growing onions, for some reason it never entered my mind that garlic may have similar requirements. In fact, garlic is sensitive not only to day length but also temperature. So, our shorter day lengths combined with cool winters and warm springs make growing garlic a difficult (but not unmanageable) proposition.
Successfully Growing Garlic
Any species of plant on the market will be available in several varieties that carry slightly different genetic traits. When purchasing seed, make sure you choose varieties that are the best for your climate. Garlic can be temperamental in my area (Zone 7, Northeastern Georgia). It is important to get multiple recommendations from trusted sources including the seed supplier. I chose four different varieties based on those recommendations. What I received in the mail are garlic bulbs, which is divided into cloves to plant them in the garden. Each clove will be a whole bulb next summer.
How to Plant Garlic
Garlic needs a sunny location with fertile, well-drained soil. The quicker it roots in and gets growing, the better the chance of success. Plant the cloves in an area not recently used for garlic or other plants from the onion family.
Plant cloves in mid-autumn in a sunny location with rich, well-drained soil. Set cloves root side down 4-6″ apart in rows 1-1/2 to 2′ apart, and cover with 1-2″ of fine soil. In the North, put down 6″ of mulch for winter protection. Garlic may begin growth late in fall or early in spring.
By late April, the amount of leafy growth on each garlic plant determines the number of cloves it will have.
Freshen up the mulch in spring to try and keep the soil cool as long as possible. Once the days start getting longer, it is important to keep the soil from heating too quickly. It seems that the day length “turns on” clove growth and the hot weather turns it off.
As the soil temperature gets into the mid to upper eighties, the clove growth stops and the tops begin to die back. When most of the leaves have turned yellow, it’s time to harvest, braid, and the garlic. Reserve the best heads/cloves to create your own seed stock for next fall.