When to Plant
Garlic is best planted in the fall (mid-September to mid-October). Planting in warmer climates can be done later and spring planting can be done, but fall planting is highly recommended.
Garlic likes full sun and loose soil with good drainage. Garlic prefers a neutral pH (6.8-7.2). Adding organic matter to the soil is also suggested. Break the bulb into cloves no more than a day or so before planting. Plant clove basal plate side down. Plant cloves 4-6 inches apart and thumb cloves about 1 inch deep into loose soil, rake soil over top of them to cover about 2 inches. Mulch well, at least 2 inches of clean straw, leaves, organic compost, grass clippings, etc. Garlic does not do well in a weedy area and likes even moisture, so mulching will help both of these areas. If you don’t plant on mulching, plant cloves 4 inches deep in colder climates.
One inch of water or rainfall a week is needed for optimal growth. Garlic prefers even moisture. Uneven moisture will cause irregular shaped bulbs. Drip irrigation works best for garlic and for water conservation. Stop irrigating 2-4 weeks prior to harvest.
Most pests that attack onion will attack garlic. This includes onion thrips, onion maggots, grasshoppers and gophers. Always rotate the area in which you plant garlic. At least a three year rotation is recommended. This will prevent soil fungus and bacteria, which cause disease, to not build up in the soil. Also, grains, such as wheat and barley, can house the same fungus and bacteria as garlic. It is not recommended to use these as green manure crops within a few years of planting. Always inspect seed and do not plant any which are ‘suspect’ to having disease.
Garlic is a heavy feeder. Your soil should be loose, well drained and full of humus. We fertilize with horse manure in the fall before planting. When the plants are 3 inches tall in the spring we foliar feed with kelp and fish one week and spread composted chicken manure between rows the next week. Alternate between foliar feeding and row fertilization for 6 weeks and follow with row feeding for an additional 2 weeks.
Hardneck varieties grow a center stalk called a scape. Cutting the scapes upon emergence will increase bulb size. Leaving them on will increase storage time. It is up to you as to when or if to cut scapes. We usually do it early so they are tender and succulent. Garlic scapes are a tasty addition to sautés, stir-fries, pesto, soups, salads and even pickled.
Stop watering 2 to 4 weeks, depending on how wet of a climate you live in, before you want to harvest. Bulbs will double in size during the last month of growth. If harvested too soon, the skins won't form around each clove. If harvested too late they can blow open and not store well. Generally when the plant has grown 3-4 brown leaves or 40% brown/ 60% green, they are ready to harvest. Dig up one bulb to check before harvesting the whole crop. The outer skin should be tight with fully developed and well formed cloves. Dig the bulb and leave attached to the leaves. Gently brush dirt from bulb and around the roots before drying. Do NOT clean with water! Try to harvest when it is coolest (early morning or late evening). Do NOT harvest when the ground is muddy and keep the garlic out of the sun.
Drying and Storing
Before garlic is stored or sold, it must be dried. It needs to hang for 3-4 weeks to help the neck cells constrict and hold the juice in the bulb. Leave stem and roots on during drying. Hang out of direct sunlight and in a location with good air circulation. They are ready to trim when you can cut the stalk and garlic juice does not ooze out. Once cured, trim stalk and roots. Store in a cool dry place, 50-60 degrees is ideal. White mold is a post harvest disease that may show up in stored garlic. It is caused by fungus that will spread. Check stored garlic monthly.