Have you ever wondered how to grow your own garlic? It might seem like a complicated process, but it is actually quite easy! With a little bit of prep and timing, you will be enjoying your own homegrown garlic by the next early summer! 

​Types of Garlic to Grow

There are several different types of garlic that you can grow, each with its own unique flavor and characteristics. The two main categories of garlic are hardneck and softneck, and there are many varieties within these categories.

​About Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) is a type of garlic characterized by the presence of a hard central stem, or “neck,” that runs through the center of the bulb. This stem is woody and typically produces a flower stalk known as a “scape” in the spring, which can be harvested and used in many meals and recipes. Giving you two harvests! Garlic scapes are edible and have a delicious, mild garlic flavor.

Hardneck garlic is better suited for cold temperatures and can withstand freezing temperatures. It is often preferred by gardeners in regions with cold winters. It typically produces larger individual garlic cloves that are easier to peel. The number of cloves in a bulb varies with the variety, but it’s generally fewer than in softneck garlic.

The bulbs of hardneck varieties tend to have a shorter storage life compared to softneck varieties. Hardneck types typically produces larger cloves that are easier to peel. The number of cloves in a bulb varies with the variety, but it’s generally fewer than in softneck garlic.

Hardneck Garlic Types:
Rocambole Garlic: Known for its rich, complex flavor and easy-to-peel cloves, Rocambole garlic varieties include ‘Spanish Roja’ and ‘German Red.’
Porcelain Garlic: Porcelain garlic has large cloves and a robust, full-bodied flavor. Varieties like ‘Music’ and ‘Romanian Red’ fall into this category.
Purple Stripe Garlic: These garlic varieties have beautiful purple stripes on their bulb wrappers. ‘Chesnok Red’ and ‘Metechi’ are examples.
Marbled Purple Stripe Garlic: As the name suggests, these garlic types have marbled purple stripes. ‘Purple Glazer’ is a well-known variety.
Asiatic Garlic: Varieties like ‘Korean Red’ and ‘Siberian’ fall into this category. They are known for their adaptability to different climates

About Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic (Allium sativum var. sativum) is characterized by the absence of a hard central stem or “neck” that runs through the center of the bulb, which is a key distinguishing feature between the two types.

Softneck Garlic Types:
Artichoke Garlic: These garlic types have many small cloves and are known for their mild, long-lasting flavor. ‘California Early’ and ‘Inchelium Red’ are examples.
Silverskin Garlic: Silverskin garlic is typically the last to mature and has a strong, spicy flavor. Varieties include ‘Nootka Rose’ and ‘Silverskin.’
Creole Garlic: These garlic varieties are known for their heat and are well-suited to warmer climates. ‘Creole Red’ and ‘Ajo Rojo’ are examples.
Elephant Garlic: Although not a true garlic, elephant garlic is a related species. It produces enormous bulbs with large cloves and has a mild, garlic-like flavor. It’s often used in cooking and is known for its large, easy-to-peel cloves.

Softneck garlic bulbs typically contain more cloves than hardneck garlic, with a greater number of smaller cloves crowded around the central core. The individual cloves are tightly packed and can be more challenging to peel than those of hardneck garlic. Softneck varieties generally have a longer shelf life compared to hardneck varieties. Under proper storage conditions, it can be kept for several months without significant sprouting or deterioration.

The flexibility of softneck garlic stems and leaves makes them well-suited for braiding. This is a traditional method of storing and displaying garlic, where multiple bulbs are braided together and hung in a cool, dry place. Softneck types are more adaptable to a wider range of climates and is often the preferred choice for gardeners in regions with milder winters and warmer temperatures.

​What Type of Garlic Should You Grow?

The choice of garlic type to grow should be influenced by your local climate, specifically your USDA Hardiness Zone. Different garlic varieties have different temperature and climate preferences.

  1. Hardneck Garlic:
    • Cold Climates (Zones 1-6): Hardneck garlic varieties are well-suited for colder climates, where winters are cold and frosty. They can withstand freezing temperatures and require a period of vernalization (cold exposure) to produce bulbs properly. Some hardneck varieties like Rocamboles and Porcelains are excellent choices for these regions.
    • Temperate Climates (Zones 7-8): Hardneck garlic can also grow well in areas with milder winters but may not require as much cold exposure as in colder zones.
  2. Softneck Garlic:
    • Temperate to Warm Climates (Zones 7-11): Softneck garlic varieties are better suited for regions with milder winters and warmer temperatures. They are less cold-tolerant than hardneck garlic and can be grown successfully in areas with relatively mild winters.
  3. Elephant Garlic:
    • Temperate to Warm Climates (Zones 7-11): Elephant garlic, while not a true garlic, is a related species and is generally more tolerant of milder climates. It’s not as cold-hardy as hardneck garlic but can thrive in areas with mild winters.

Where to Get Garlic Plants?

You can purchase seed garlic from your local garden centre or farmers market. You can even plant the garlic you buy from the grocery store as long as it was also grown locally. Avoid grocery store garlic that has been shipped overseas. You want to make sure the garlic you are planting can withstand your climate. A goood rule of thumb is to always choose garlic that is as local to you as possible. 

When to Plant Garlic

Garlic is usually planted in the fall, typically in September or October. Fall planting allows the garlic cloves to establish roots and develop during the winter months. The cold temperatures are essential for bulb formation. It is a good idea to check your first frost date, and get your seed garlic in the ground late autumn. We are zone 4b and plant our garlic late October. 

Zones 0 to 4 should plant garlic in late August to September, while zones 5 to 8 should plant garlic in mid-October through mid-November, and zones 9 to 10 in late November to December or before the ground freezes.

Planting garlic in the fall serves the purpose of providing garlic with a head start for it’s long growing season. After garlic is planted, it initiates root development. During the onset of cold weather when the ground becomes frozen, garlic enters a dormancy period, resuming growth once the soil starts warming in the spring. The following year, when the garlic cloves begin to grow again, the bulbs start to form once the days become longer and warmer.

How to Plant Garlic in The Fall

Choose your varieties of garlic: Choose the garlic varieties that are best suited to your local climate and culinary preferences. There are hardneck and softneck garlic varieties, each with its own characteristics.

Purchase garlic bulbs: Purchase garlic seed bulbs from a reputable nursery or use cloves from garlic bulbs you’ve bought from the grocery store. Ensure that the cloves are firm and healthy.

When planting garlic for your second year, remember to save the biggest and healthiest cloves for planting. By saving a large bulb for planting, you will continuously be rewarded with larger bulbs year after year.

Prepare your garden: Choose sunny location with well-drained soil. Garlic prefers soil with good organic matter and a slightly acidic to neutral pH (around 6.0 to 7.0). Remove any weeds or debris from the planting area, add in some natural compost, and prepare the soil by loosening it with a fork or tiller.

Prepare the garlic cloves: Carefully separate the garlic cloves from the bulb without damaging them. You want to keep the papery skins on the clove. This acts as a barrier and protects the clove from mold, pests and disease.

Plant the garlic cloves: Plant each clove about 2-4 inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Spacing them 4-6 inches apart in rows that are 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) apart. Cover the cloves with soil and press it down gently.

Mulching: Apply a light layer of mulch, such as straw or leaves, over the planting area to help insulate the garlic and suppress weed growth.

Water: Water the garlic well after planting to help the cloves settle and encourage root growth. Avoid overwatering, as garlic doesn’t like overly wet conditions.

​Early Spring Garlic Care

When spring arrives, and the snow melts and the ground warms up, you’ll see green garlic sprouts emerge from the mulch you laid last year. At this time I like to remove a layer of mulch and feed the garlic with a light fertilizer, followed by a light water. My favorite fertilizer for our garlic is fish emulsion fertilizer. Simply mix it into your watering can as per the instructions and water away! 

How to Water Garlic Plants

Garlic requires approximately one inch of water every week, either from rainfall or manual watering, especially when the bulbs start to develop. Water your garlic when the soil feels dry about an inch deep. Allow the water to penetrate 6 to 8 inches into the soil to promote deep root growth.

When watering, it’s best to do so in the morning or early afternoon, and it’s essential to avoid wetting any part of the plant. To deliver water at the soil level, you can use drip irrigation, a soaker hose, or hand water with a watering wand. Garlic does not like to be too wet, so try not to overwater.

Add New Spring Mulch to Garlic

When spring arrives and the soil warms up, I like to add new thing layer of mulch after fertilizing. This will avoid any disease or pests that harboured over winter in the old mulch. The new mulch will help keep the moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. 

​Keep Up With Weeding

The straw mulch will help keep the weeds down, but you will need to remove any weeds that sprout through so they don’t compete with your garlic for nutrients and moisture. Weed your garden often, especially early on when the plants are young.

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes, also known as garlic tops or garlic stems, are the curly, green, flower-bearing stalks that emerge from the center of hardneck garlic plants. These scapes grow as the garlic plant matures and usually appear in the late spring or early summer, depending on your local climate and the specific variety of garlic.

Removing the scapes redirects the energy of the garlic plant into bulb development. By harvesting the scapes, you encourage the garlic to put more resources into increasing the bulb size, and producing more flavorful bulbs.

Timing: Garlic scapes are typically ready for harvest when they have formed one or two curls or loops but are still tender and before they straighten out or become excessively rigid. The precise timing can vary depending on your climate and the garlic variety you’re growing but is often in late spring or early summer.

Visual cues: Examine the scapes closely for their appearance. The ideal time to harvest is when they are around 8 to 12 inches long and have a bright green color. If you can easily bend the scape without it breaking, it’s likely ready for harvest.

Before flowering: It’s important to harvest the scapes before they start to flower. When the scape uncurls and forms a small, bulb-like structure at the tip, it’s about to flower. Harvest them just before this stage to maximize tenderness.

Regular inspection: Keep a close eye on your garlic plants, as the timing of scape development can vary. Check them regularly, and once you notice the appropriate characteristics, harvest the scapes immediately.

Fertilizing Garlic for Best Results

Pre-planting fertilization: Before you plant your garlic cloves, mix in a rich organic compost with the soil to help give the garlic a good, healthy start. You can use an organic compost from the store or homemade compost from your compost tumbler

Early spring fertilization: ​Once your garlic starts to emerge from the soil in early spring, remove the mulch and fertilize with a fish emulsion fertilizer deep into the soil while watering. 

Post-scape harvest fertilization: After the scapes have been harvest, give the garlic an extra boost by giving another does of fish emulsion fertilizer. 

Best Fertilizer for Garlic

Use this fish emulsion to grow the biggest garlic you’ve ever seen!

When to Harvest Garlic

Garlic is finished growing when the bottom garlic leaves begins to turn brown. Leaves grow from the bottom up, so the lower leaves will die back first. Dig up a test bulb once the bottom 2 to 3 leaves turn brown. The cloves should be large, and the skins filled out and tight. This is when you should stop watering and wait for a dry period to dig up the rest of the garlic heads.

Curing Garlic

After harvesting, allow the garlic bulbs to undergo curing. This entails hanging them in a warm, well-ventilated space, such as a garage or porch. Curing aids in flavor development and facilitates the drying of outer layers.

How to Store Garlic

Once the garlic has been thoroughly cured, store it in a cool, dry location with effective air circulation. Garlic can be safely stored for several months.

Prepare for Future Planting

After harvesting and curing your garlic in the summer, take some time to sort through your garlic bulbs. Look for the bulbs with the largest, healthiest cloves. These are the cloves that will produce robust garlic plants in the next growing season.

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