Helen Grundmann Garden Design

Garlic Planting Tips

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What does the honking of hundreds of southbound geese have in common with hundreds of heads of garlic?

Both signal the change of seasons and all that that brings. Some say change is good. Some hate change. I fall somewhere in the middle and try to find what’s good about it. That’s where I find garlic!

In Fall, when planting bulbs, don’t forget the most important bulbs of all:  Garlic

For a tasty summer crop of garlic, here are some simple garlic planting tips.

Select firm, healthy garlic bulbs for planting. Carefully separate the individual garlic cloves, leaving the outer paper-like skin on each clove. Choose the largest cloves for planting, while keeping the smaller ones to cook with.

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Most important is what varieties to select to plant. My personal favorite, hands down, are the hard-neck varieties. They usually produce 4-6 large, evenly sized cloves that grow around a hard central core. That core is actually the dried flower scape that grows in the Spring. Scapes provide a delicious treat to cook with while you’re waiting for the bulbs to mature.

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Why plant garlic in the Fall?  …..

Vernalization. Bulbs need to go through a period of extended cold before they can germinate and flower.

General Planting Instructions:

  • Planting garlic is much like planting other bulbs. Garlic likes a sunny location with well-drained soil that is high in organic matter with a neutral pH around 6.8-7.0. Test and adjust with calcitic lime or aragonite if pH is low.
  • Dig furrows about 6-8” apart, about 5-6” deep and work in some well rotted manure or compost, phosphorus, calcium and sulfur, as garlic plants are heavy feeders.
  • Bone char, bone meal or rock phosphate are good sources of phosphorus to help establish good root growth through the fall and winter. A low-nitrogen fertilizer like Bulbtone (3-5-3) by Espoma is also suitable so it doesn’t encourage top leaf growth.
  • Working gypsum into the furrows provides calcium and sulfur, both essential for healthy growth. And sulfur compounds are what give garlic its wonderful flavor.
  • The rule of thumb for planting depth is 3 times the height of the bulb. So once you’ve amended your furrows, plant cloves (pointy side up) about 4-5” deep, spaced 6” apart in rows 6” apart. Stagger the cloves in alternating rows to give them a little more elbowroom. Once you’ve set them in place, dig and plant each clove 5-6” deep, and cover with soil.

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  • The final step to tuck your garlic in for the winter is to cover the bed with a 6” layer of loose, fluffy straw. Be sure to avoid using hay as it has a lot of weed seed. This mulch helps insulate the bulbs, keeps the soil moist and keeps weeds down. If green shoots begin to emerge through the mulch in December, add a little more straw to further insulate and protect the tender foliage until early Spring.

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I find it very inspiring that something like garlic can find nurturing and sustenance in the coldest, harshest season of all. That something as uncomplicated as a clove of garlic can take from the cold, dark, frozen earth all that it needs to thrive and grow is nothing short of marvelous. There is something very warming and comforting in this.

Sleep tight garlic – see you in early Spring!


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