In this post, we will learn all about planting garlic in the fall. Garlic is a must in every garden because it’s a must in every kitchen! Garlic is flavorful and packed with healthy goodness that our bodies need. It also stores very well so you can grow a large amount of it and enjoy a yearly supply. Let learn more about growing garlic and why we should be planting garlic in the fall and not in spring.
We all agree that garlic is a must in the garden, yes? Not only it’s a staple ingredient in cooking, but it’s also a powerful medicine.
So aside from adding it pretty much in every savory dish (hey, I am from Israel… We put garlic in everything!), we can also use it as medicine.
Garlic is used for many conditions related to the bloodstream and heart like high blood pressure, for example. And it’s also a powerful remedy to treat colds and flu and other infections. It has the ability to strengthen the immune system and is considered a natural antibiotic.
In this house, every time we feel this funny feeling in the throat like a cold is coming, we start eating a couple of garlic cloves each day. No, it’s not fun. Yes, it’s stinky, but the garlic will chase the nasties away and we feel much better after a few short days.
Planting Garlic in the Fall…
In garlic, there is a chemical called allicin. This is what makes the garlic smell like garlic and it’s the active ingredient in it. Some health products are made odorless but by doing this we take away the effectiveness of the garlic.
When it comes to cooking, you want the real stuff with the strong flavor and when it comes to medicine you also want the real stuff. You want to bite into a clove and let the juice explode in your mouth and stomach, stinky smell and all…
So let’s grow it! Because you know that everything you grow yourself is seven times better than what you can get at the store. And you are free to choose and try different varieties too which makes it even more interesting!
Here is what we are going to go over…
- Which garlic variety to grow?
- Where to get garlic seed.
- Planting garlic in the fall.
- How to plant garlic.
Let’s start at the beginning…
Which Garlic Variety to Grow?
Let’s start by saying that you shouldn’t plant garlic that you got at the grocery store. First, you’ll see below that it might not be the right kind for your area, but even if it is it might have been treated with chemicals to prevent it from sprouting.
If you’re going to do the work of planting and caring for your garlic, you want to make sure that you are going to get a nice harvest. Also, remember that you can plant extra in the first year and use some of your harvest as seed garlic for next year.
If you do that, make sure to keep the largest and healthiest and most beautiful bulbs for planting. Really, it’s easy to become self-sufficient when it comes to garlic.
Garlic is divided into two categories… Hard neck garlic and soft neck garlic.
Hard Neck Garlic – is suitable for cold climates. Let’s say up to zone 6 (some varieties may do good in zone 7).
This kind of garlic will give you a scape a few weeks before the bulb is ready for harvest. The scape is the flower bud of the garlic.
If you grow garlic in cold climates and choose a variety of hard neck garlic you are really going to get two harvests! You want to harvest the scapes somewhere around late June to allow the plant to focus its energy on the bulb and then, a few weeks later you’ll harvest the bulb itself.
The scape is edible. It tastes like garlic and you can use it in salads and cooking. Learn more about how to use scapes here.
Soft Neck Garlic – this is the kind you are getting at the grocery store. Most of it is coming from California or Mexico or some other warm area.
It’s suitable for warmer climates. Let’s say zones 6 and up and it won’t give you a scape (<== insert sad face).
Here in the South (NC, zone 7b) we usually harvest it in June.
So the first thing you need to know before you go and purchase your seed garlic is your growing zone. You can find it easily online by googling “(your town and state) growing zone”.
This is less of an issue if you are getting your garlic at a local farm supply store or plant nursery because they probably only carry what is growing good in your area, but if you order online or just for general knowledge it’s important to know.
Where to Get Garlic Seeds?
I find that it’s a bit hard for me to find seed garlic at the local farm supply stores. Sometimes they have them, sometimes they don’t, they never can tell me if they are going to have them and if they do have them they disappear before I even know they ever had them.
I used to have a friend at the local Tractor Supply… An insider if you will (wink, wink), but he is no longer working there which is a very bad thing for me but a very good thing for him.
Anyway, you might be able to find them locally or you can order online. Pretty much every seed company has seed garlic but I usually use The Potato Garden for my seed potatoes and seed garlic. It’s a family-owned farm that specializes in potatoes and garlic.
In their catalog, you can see all the available garlic varieties (stay focused on the garlic, don’t let the potatoes get you… But if you are interested in growing potatoes too check out my post on how to grow potatoes), make sure to look for either hard neck varieties or soft neck depending on your growing zone.
Another great thing about ordering online is that you can usually place the order in the spring when you order other seeds and forget about it. It will ship to you automatically in early fall so you can get ready to planting since planting garlic in the fall is the best way to go (more on that in a minute).
Not all online companies do this. Make sure to check before you order.
Planting Garlic in the Fall…
The best time to plant garlic is in the fall, 4-6 weeks before your first frost.
Our first frost here in zone 7b is November 15th. This means that we want to plant garlic at the beginning or the middle of October.
Theoretically, you can plant garlic in the spring… But you won’t get a beautiful, big bulb like you would if you plant in the fall. Like all bulbs, garlic benefits from the cold temperatures of winter. It gives it time to work on its underground root system and then when the weather warms up a bit in the spring it shoots up and starts growing its green leaves and then its bulb.
Really, the main reason for planting garlic in the fall is the time it allows it to develop a strong root system before the above-ground growth of spring and summer.
How to Plant Garlic…
Prepare your garden soil – choose a full-sun location, rich and loose soil, and most importantly a well-drained area.
I am going to say this again… Garlic is not fussy about the amount of organic matter you have in the soil and you can always feed it during the growing season by adding compost, however, it won’t do good if the soil is too wet for long periods of time.
Garlic needs water just like other plants but it will rot if the soil around it is constantly wet.
If your garden soil is a little heavy and doesn’t drain well, you might want to consider building a few simple raised beds and planting your garlic in raised beds.
Prepare your garlic for planting – once your soil is ready and you are ready to plant you can go ahead and break the seed garlic heads into individual cloves. Make sure to be gentle so that you don’t damage the cloves.
Don’t peel the cloves and use the largest, healthiest cloves for planting. If I plant the tiny cloves that are in the center of the bulb, I plant them for the greens.
The garlic leaves are edible too! You might not want to pick the leaves from a plant you’re growing for the bulb but you can plant the tiny cloves especially for the young, delicious greens (add them to salads!).
If you don’t want to plant the small cloves you can use them in cooking.
Plant your garlic – dig a trench or make individual holes about 3-4 inches deep.
Place your clove in the center of the trench or in the hole with its flat end down and its pointy end up. Then cover it with soil.
space your cloves 4-6 inches from each other in all directions.
Mulch… Or don’t – many places will tell you to mulch your garlic… But remember I said before that garlic doesn’t do good in soil that is always moist or wet? Well, this is what mulch does… It keeps the soil around the plant moist and it holds water itself.
You see… The hardest thing about growing garlic is the weeds. There are really not many if any pests to deal with. Even the chickens will stay away, but garlic leaves are thin and they don’t cover or shade the soil so many weed seeds are exposed to the sun and germinate during the growing season.
So many gardeners will want to mulch garlic so they can control the weeds.
I did this too a few years ago. I planted more than a thousand garlic cloves and mulched them heavily so I didn’t have to weed the massive bed. Well, I didn’t do much weeding but I also didn’t do much harvesting.
We have a lot of rain here in the spring and the straw mulch that I used kept the garlic bed too wet. Almost all of my cloves rotted away in that wet soil.
So here is my advice to you… When you plant in the fall, don’t mulch. If you plant six or so weeks before the first frost your cloves will germinate. Let them be.
Then just before the first frost mulch the garlic bed for the winter. You can use dry leaves since there are so many of them in the fall or straw or wood chips… Whatever.
Pile the mulch high so it will protect the young greens from the frozen temperatures.
Come spring, move the mulch away from around the bulbs. If you want you can move it away completely but the most important part is that you move it away from the base of the plant. Leave some exposed soil around the base of the plant so the sun can dry it.
It also depends on your growing conditions. If you are in the desert and can’t water much you might want to keep the mulch, but if you are in an area with wet springs and summers than I’d say move the mulch away from the plants.
Another suggestion that I have is to grow cover crops between your garlic. I’ve never tried it but I can imagine garlic will grow great in ryegrass for example. Learn more about the benefits of cover crops here.
Also, don’t forget that garlic is a great companion to many plants. Pests don’t like garlic and it can actually help other plants that struggle in this department. You can plant your garlic in between the other plants in the garden if it’s not pressing for you to plant it in a neat row.
The garlic will send the pests away and the other plants will shade the ground better and fight the weeds. It’s a win-win.
That’s it! We will go over how to harvest and store garlic in a different post but again…
Find your growing zone and determine if you need a hard neck or soft neck garlic variety…
Purchase your seed garlic…
Prepare your bed and plant your garlic 4-6 weeks before your first frost…
It will germinate, you’ll see a tiny shoot coming up…
The next step is to mulch it for the winter…
Once spring arrives, move the mulch back and water your garlic like you water the rest of your garden plants (one inch per week)…
And watch it grow!
Make sure to keep the bed clean of weeds. If you grow hard neck remember to harvest the scape.
What I love the most about growing garlic is that there are no pests! Oh, it’s so amazing not to worry about them. Garlic is also easy to plant because the cloves are big and you can space them correctly at planting which means there is no need to do any thinning.
And the best thing, well aside from the harvest, is that you can easily be self-sufficient when it comes to garlic! Just remember to save the largest cloves for planting next fall.
If you are new to growing garlic I hope this information helps. Share your thoughts with me in the comments below. Also, my friend Teri from The fabulous blog Homestead Honey compiled a lot of great information from all over the web into her post Growing, Harvesting, and Storing Garlic so make sure to check it out.
If you did grow garlic in the past share your experience with me in the comments below.
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