The Best Time to Plant Garlic in Massachusetts

October is the ideal month to start planting garlic in Massachusetts. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you get started.

Can You Grow Garlic?

If you can successfully grow onions in your garden, you will have no trouble growing garlic. As a member of the onion family, garlic shares similar cultural requirements with onions. To ensure optimal growth, garlic needs at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Additionally, it thrives in loose, deep, fertile soil with good drainage and a pH level between 6.5 and 7. A soil test will help determine if any necessary amendments, such as limestone or organic matter, are needed prior to planting. A balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, can be applied based on soil test recommendations.

Choosing the Right Garlic Cultivar

The sheer number of garlic cultivars available can be overwhelming. The choice of which to plant ultimately depends on personal preference, the rate at which you consume garlic, and trial and error. Softneck and hardneck are the two main types of garlic. Softneck varieties have a longer storage life, while hardneck types tend to have a stronger flavor.

As a garlic enthusiast, I currently grow nearly 30 different cultivars. Each year, I discover new favorites that consistently perform well and provide the distinct flavor I desire. Some noteworthy cultivars include Polish Jenn and Music, which are hardneck varieties known for their moderately spicy cloves. For those who enjoy a more intense flavor, hardneck types like Spanish Roja, Hnat, and French Red are excellent choices. If you prefer milder garlic, Inchelium Red, a softneck variety, is perfect for raw consumption.

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Where to Obtain Garlic for Planting

Attending regional garlic festivals is an excellent way to obtain high-quality “seed” garlic, which refers to the large bulbs that can be separated for planting purposes. These festivals offer a wide variety of garlic cultivars, including both popular and rare varieties. Local nurseries and farm supply stores are also reliable sources for starter garlic. While mail order catalogs offer convenience, hand-picking the best bulbs from local sources is preferable. Once you have established your garlic plants, you can save bulbs from each year’s harvest for future seasons.

When and How to Plant Garlic

While it is possible to achieve decent garlic yields by planting in early spring, fall planting after a hard frost provides the best results. By planting in the fall, garlic plants have a head start on spring growth, resulting in larger bulbs. Opt for the largest and healthiest-looking bulbs to start your garlic plot. It is important to keep bulbs intact until it’s time to plant, as separating cloves too far in advance can decrease yields.

Plant individual cloves 1 inch below the soil surface, with the pointed side facing up. Space the cloves 3 to 5 inches apart within a row. To save space, consider planting garlic in double rows and leave 6 to 8 inches between rows. Allow 18 to 30 inches of space between each bed of double rows. After the ground freezes, cover the beds with 3 to 4 inches of straw mulch. This will regulate temperature fluctuations and prevent frost heaving of the cloves.

What’s Next?

Now that you have planted your garlic, make the most of the winter months by learning about proper care for your garlic plants during the growing season. Ensure they receive sufficient water and nitrogen for healthy leaf development. Additionally, rearrange the straw mulch around the plants to maintain moisture, cool soil temperatures, and control weeds. In June, you will need to cut the young scapes to enhance bulb size at harvest time. Once approximately one third of the leaves turn yellow or brown, it’s time to lift the bulbs. Cure them in a dry, airy, warm space for two weeks before storing. And by this time next year, you’ll be savoring the zesty taste of your very own fresh garlic and selecting the best bulbs from your harvest to start the process anew!

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For more information on growing garlic and to explore a wide range of cultivars, visit the Ames Farm Center.