Growing Garlic in Colorado: A Beginner’s Guide to a Flavorful Crop

As gardeners prepare to wrap up this season, the anticipation of next year’s crops begins to build. If you’re considering adding garlic to your garden, now is the perfect time to get started.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is not only easy to grow but also an ideal crop for beginner gardeners. While you’ll be able to harvest in July, it’s crucial to plant before the end of October. It’s important to note that if you plan to grow your own bulbs, you’ll need to purchase them from a garden center, farmers market, garlic farm, or seed catalog. Grocery store garlic is often treated with anti-growth products, rendering the cloves unsuitable for planting.

As you embark on your garlic-growing journey, you’ll be amazed by the wide variety of garlic available. Each variety boasts a distinct flavor and an average number of cloves per bulb. Take the time to research and choose the right variety for your taste preferences.

Choosing Garlic Varieties

There are two main types of garlic: hardneck (ophioscorodon) and softneck (sativum).

Hardneck

Hardneck garlic is easy to identify by its hard stem in the center of the bulb. Although hardnecks don’t store as long as softnecks, they are known for their intense flavors. These garlic plants produce scapes, which are curly spikes with small bulbous ends. Scapes should be removed to channel more energy into the development of the new bulb. The good news is that scapes are also edible. Popular hardneck varieties include Chesnok Red, Music, and German Extra Hardy.

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Softneck

Softneck garlic, known for its longer shelf life, has a milder flavor. You’ll often find softneck garlic at grocery stores, characterized by smaller and more abundant cloves. Softneck varieties are commonly used in garlic braids. Popular softneck varieties include Inchelium Red, Silverskin, and Lorz Italian.

Planting Garlic

Garlic plants don’t require much space and can even repel rabbits and deer, making them excellent choices for bordering vegetable and flower beds. Select a sunny spot and prepare the soil by digging a trench. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, amend it with compost before planting.

When preparing the garlic for planting, break each bulb into cloves while keeping the wrapper intact. Plant only the largest cloves to ensure robust bulbs in the summer, reserving the smaller cloves for cooking. Plant the cloves immediately after separating them from the bulb to minimize disease and drying risks.

Create a trench in the soil about three times as deep as the clove. Plant each clove with the pointy side facing up, spacing them four to six inches apart. Cover the cloves with soil, water thoroughly, and then mulch the trench with leaf litter, grass clippings, or other organic materials. Remember to water the garlic occasionally (around once every three weeks) during the winter season, as it requires moisture to thrive.

While the tops of the plants may start emerging during winter, don’t panic. Garlic is a resilient plant that can handle the cold. Remove any weeds that might hinder bulb growth.

For future reference, label each garlic variety in your garden to keep records of performance and flavor preferences.

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Although garlic is relatively easy to grow, it is susceptible to various types of rot. Ensure you only plant healthy cloves and take care not to damage the bulbs while planting other crops nearby in the spring.

Harvesting and Curing Garlic

The ideal time to harvest garlic is when the green tops turn brown and begin to wither, typically in July if you planted in October. If the soil is loose, gently pull the new bulb out by hand. For compacted soil, use a hand tool to extract the bulb, being cautious not to puncture any cloves. Puncturing the bulb or stem can lead to fungal infections. Once out of the soil, carefully remove dirt from the bulbs and let them dry while they cure. Fresh bulbs are delicate and can bruise easily, so handle them with care.

To prolong the shelf life of your garlic harvest, curing is essential. After pulling the bulbs, spread them out or hang them in a warm, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Avoid covering the bulbs with heavy materials that hinder airflow and encourage rot. A lightweight cotton sheet can be used if necessary. Cure the bulbs for two to three weeks at a temperature of 40-60°F.

For a visual demonstration of garlic planting, you can watch “How to Grow Garlic in Colorado” produced by Tagawa Gardens, a partner in PlantTalk Colorado.

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Growing your own garlic in Colorado can be a rewarding and tasty endeavor. By following these guidelines and selecting the right varieties, you’ll soon be savoring the robust flavors of homegrown garlic. Happy planting!

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