Planting Garlic in Ohio: Tips and Tricks for a Successful Harvest

Garlic, a culinary staple in many kitchens, is an easy-to-grow crop that requires minimal space in the garden. Native to Central Asia, garlic belongs to the same family as onions, shallots, and leeks. While onions have round and hollow leaves, garlic leaves are flat. Each garlic head consists of cloves enclosed in a papery bulb cover. Interestingly, each clove is actually a small bulb made up of unexpanded leaves.

Garlic in the garden

Even a small area in your garden can produce enough garlic to last a year. It also works well in a crop rotation with other vegetables. In this article, we will explore the best practices for growing garlic in Ohio and discuss important considerations for a successful harvest.

Garlic Site Requirements

Garlic thrives in rich loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 6.5. However, it can tolerate a wide range of pH levels between 6.0 and 8.0. Avoid poorly drained and highly compact soils as they can lead to disease problems and smaller or misshapen heads. Before planting garlic, it is crucial to prepare the beds in the prior season. If you have harvested other vegetables earlier, like summer squash, green beans, or garden peas, garlic can make an excellent follow-up crop. To ensure optimal growth, remove any perennial weeds and newly emerged winter annuals using labeled herbicides or mechanical cultivation.

Suggested Cultivars: Groups of Garlic

There are three common groups of garlic grown: hardneck, softneck, and elephant garlic. Hardneck and softneck garlic both belong to the species Allium sativum, while elephant garlic is Alium ampeloprasum.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic has fewer, but larger cloves. These cloves are easy to peel but don’t store as long as softneck types. Hardneck garlic can be further divided into purple stripe, porcelain, and rocambole types. While rocambole types are not suitable for warmer climates, they thrive in the northern part of Ohio. Popular hardneck cultivars in Ohio include ‘Music,’ ‘Georgian Fire,’ and ‘Georgia Crystal.’ It’s beneficial to experiment with different varieties to find the best fit for your area. Hardneck varieties also produce flower scapes, which are clusters of small garlic bulbs. These scapes should be removed during the growing season to improve bulb size.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic can be classified as artichoke or silverskin types. These garlics produce many cloves per head, usually ranging from 14 to 20, depending on the variety. Softneck types store well, with silverskin types having the best storage characteristics. Artichoke garlics have soft stems and are often displayed as braids of dried garlic heads. Commonly planted softneck cultivars in Ohio include ‘Broadleaf Czech,’ ‘Italian Late,’ and ‘Red Toch.’

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Elephant Garlic

Despite its name, elephant garlic is not a true garlic but is more closely related to leeks. It has a mild flavor and large cloves that range in color from cream to yellow.

Garlic Chart

To find the perfect variety for your larger-scale production, it’s recommended to experiment with several types of garlic.

Planting Garlic

Garlic is ideally planted in late fall, after other tasks in the garden are completed. During this time, the cloves produce roots and minimal shoot growth before going dormant. The growth resumes in spring, and the bulbs start to develop in mid-summer. Fall-planted garlic matures into larger bulbs compared to spring-planted cloves.

It’s best to time the planting so that the first garlic leaves emerge above the ground before freezing temperatures in the fall. Planting too early may result in excessive above-ground growth that is susceptible to winter damage. Avoid using garlic from grocery stores, as they may have been treated to prevent sprouting. Instead, choose healthy bulbs for replanting. Since garlic is propagated asexually, selecting high-quality propagation stock will maintain desirable characteristics from year to year.

Separate the head of garlic into individual cloves, ensuring each clove has a flat bottom (basal plate) where the roots will emerge and a pointed top where the leaves will emerge. Use undamaged large cloves for planting and place them 2 inches deep in prepared beds, spacing them 4 to 5 inches apart in rows. Leave 18 to 24 inches of space between rows. If you have a large planting, dig a furrow and press the cloves firmly into the furrow so they remain upright when covered with soil. For smaller quantities, dig individual holes, placing the cloves 2 inches deep with the flat basal plate firmly pressed into the hole.

Separating garlic cloves

To control winter annual weeds, consider applying pre-emergent herbicide or using a thick layer of mulch after planting. Four inches of clean straw can work well as mulch, but be cautious not to use hay as it may contain weed seeds. The mulch not only suppresses weed growth but also provides winter protection. When spring arrives, rake off the mulch from emerging garlic and leave it between the rows to minimize germination of spring and summer weeds. If necessary, you can use pre-emergent herbicides to control weeds, but ensure they are labeled for garlic and follow the pre-harvest interval restrictions.

Fertilizing Garlic

Garlic is a heavy feeder, requiring a high level of nutrients. It is crucial to have your soil tested for accurate fertilizer recommendations tailored to your specific site. If you need assistance, contact your local OSU Extension office for information on soil testing. The ideal soil pH for garlic is between 6.0 and 7.0. Correcting the pH prior to planting is essential, as high organic matter soils can discolor the bulb wrappers, especially if harvest is delayed.

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Fertilizing should be divided into two or three separate applications. Apply half of the recommended fertilizer at planting to promote root development. The second application should be made when growth resumes in spring and the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. This application encourages leaf growth and bulb development. If needed, a third application can be made about six weeks after the early spring application. In soils with high organic matter content, you can reduce fertilizer rates by 10 to 20 percent. Avoid overwatering, as it can wash away nutrients. If plants appear yellow, small-leaved, or lack vigor, consider an additional fertilizer application before bulbing to restore plant health.

Below are typical fertilizer application rates for various situations:

  • 1 to 1.25 pounds of 19-19-19 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed
  • 2 pounds of urea (nitrogen-only fertilizer) per 500 square feet of bed
  • 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre

Irrigation may be necessary, particularly during bulb formation, to ensure the plants receive approximately 1 inch of water per week until June. Drip irrigation is preferable to overhead sprinklers, as it provides better control and reduces water usage.

As the leaves begin to yellow, reduce irrigation, as the bulbs are forming and the plant needs to dry down. Continual irrigation at this stage can lead to bulb rot.

Pest Management

Garlic is generally free from significant pests, and the ones it encounters are usually well-tolerated by the plant. Regularly monitor your garlic planting for any signs of plant injury and make control decisions based on the pests present. Here are some common pest problems:

Insect Management

  • Thrips: These insects suck juices from the leaves, causing damage. While thrips may cause the leaves to turn silver with patchy, dry spots, they typically don’t affect the quality of the garlic bulbs.
  • Bulb maggot: The larvae of this fly feed on developing bulbs but rarely cause significant damage. Soils high in organic matter can attract bulb maggot. Crop rotation is an effective way to control this pest.

Disease Management

  • Bloat nematode: This microscopic worm can cause swollen or misshapen heads and cloves by feeding inside the garlic heads. Unfortunately, once nematodes are established in the soil, it’s challenging to control them without intensive treatment. To prevent nematode introduction, purchase plant stock from trusted and clean sources. Regularly inspect cloves for signs of nematode infestation.
  • Bulb rots: Wet years or poorly drained soils can lead to bulb rots. Proper management, such as well-drained beds and appropriate fertilization, can help prevent these diseases. Fusarium, sclerotinia, and botrytis are common fungal problems that can be controlled through crop rotation and good soil drainage.
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For effective pest control, it is vital to practice proper rotation, even in small plantings. Avoid planting garlic in areas where any onion family crops grew in the previous year or two. Longer rotations improve pest control.

Harvest and Storage

When the lower leaves of garlic start to yellow, it’s time to harvest. These leaves are connected to the bulb wrappers below, so waiting until they turn brown can result in rotted or damaged wrappers. Additionally, as the bulbs mature, they may dry and split, leading to shorter storage life or bulb rot.

To harvest garlic, it’s best to dig rather than pull the plants. Be careful not to wash the heads, just remove the soil. Preserve the papery bulb cover intact. Allow the garlic heads to dry in a shaded area for several days.

Harvesting garlic

Garlic heads can be consumed immediately after harvest or sold. For long-term storage, the bulbs must cure for two to three weeks. Find a location where the temperature stays above freezing but does not exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity levels no higher than 75 percent. Net bags or open containers that allow air circulation are ideal for storing garlic. Avoid storing garlic in plastic bags.

Conclusion

Growing garlic in Ohio can be a rewarding experience. By following the right planting techniques, optimizing site conditions, and managing pests effectively, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh, flavorful garlic. Experiment with different cultivars to find your favorites and make the most of your small or large-scale garlic production.

For all your gardening needs, explore the Ames Farm Center, where you’ll find a wide range of quality products to support your gardening endeavors.

References:

  • Everhart, E., C. Haynes, R. Jauron. 2003. Garlic. Iowa State University Horticulture Guide.
  • Ford, T., et al. 2014. Garlic Production. Penn State Extension Agricultural Alternatives.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 2010. Growing Garlic. 2010 Seed Catalog.
  • Engeland, R. 1991. Growing Great Garlic. Filaree Productions: Okanogan, WA.
  • Purdue University. 2015. Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers.
  • Russ, K. 2003. Onion, Leek, Shallot, and Garlic. HGIC 1314. Clemson Cooperative Extension.