How to Cultivate Garlic: A Simple 10-Step Guide

Garlic, a beginner-friendly and low maintenance crop, holds the title for being one of the easiest plants to grow. If you’re new to gardening or simply want to try your hand at growing your own food, garlic is the ideal choice. With just a few steps, you can have a successful garlic harvest and enjoy the flavorsome bulbs all year round. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of growing garlic from start to finish.

Planting Garlic in the Fall

Unlike most garden crops that are planted in the spring and harvested in the summer, garlic requires a different approach. It’s best to plant garlic in the fall, allowing it to establish roots during the winter months. As spring arrives, new shoots will emerge, and you’ll care for the plants until they’re ready for harvest in the mid to late summer.

Understanding Garlic Varieties

Before diving into the planting process, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties thrive in cold climates, while softneck varieties prefer milder regions. There is a wide range of garlic varieties to choose from, so feel free to experiment until you find the ones that suit your taste preferences and growing conditions best.

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Step 1: Choose the Right Time for Planting

In colder regions like Northwestern PA, garlic should be planted between August and November. Aim to plant your garlic bulbs approximately 3-5 weeks before the first frost in your area. By doing so, you give them enough time to establish roots before the ground freezes. For warmer areas, February to March is the recommended planting time.

Step 2: Determine the Quantity of Garlic to Plant

Consider how much garlic your household consumes and whether you plan to give any away as gifts. Each garlic head can be divided into 10-15 individual cloves, and each planted clove will yield a full head at harvest. Keep this math in mind when deciding how much garlic you need to plant. Start with a moderate amount and adjust accordingly in subsequent years.

Step 3: Planting Garlic

Prepare your garden beds by loosening the soil and removing any weeds or debris. Garlic doesn’t require a lot of space, so planting it in raised beds works well. Dig trenches that are around 2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart, ensuring the cloves are around 4 inches apart within the rows. Plant the cloves with the root end facing down, and cover them with soil.

Step 4: Preparing for Winter

Once all the cloves are in the ground, cover the area with a thick layer of straw, leaves, or mulch. This protective layer will insulate the garlic bulbs during the winter months. To keep the covering from blowing away, lightly anchor it with a piece of fencing or similar material.

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Step 5: Await the Arrival of Spring

During the winter, there’s not much you need to do for your garlic plants. Simply let them rest and wait for spring. As the weather warms up and spring arrives, you’ll start to see green shoots emerging from the ground, signaling that your garlic is ready for the next stage of care.

Step 6: Watering and Weeding

Beginning in spring, water your garlic plants as needed. Monitor your garden for pests and diseases, addressing any issues promptly. As the plants grow larger, remove any protection or fencing that was used to cover them during winter. Don’t worry about chickens or other animals; they won’t bother the garlic once it’s too big for their interest.

Step 7: Harvest Time

The timing for harvesting garlic depends on the variety you planted. Generally, garlic is ready to be harvested around the end of July. Look for yellow or brown, drooping leaves as an indication that the bulbs are ready. Before harvesting the entire crop, perform a test dig to ensure the heads have reached maturity.

Step 8: Proper Drying

After harvesting, allow the garlic bulbs to dry for a period of time. Lay them in a single layer in a dry, shaded area to let excess soil dry. Once the soil has dried, gently remove any remaining dirt from the bulbs without removing the outer protective layers. Afterward, bundle the garlic heads together and hang them in a location with good air circulation.

Step 9: Cleaning and Storing

Once fully dried, garlic bulbs are ready for storage. Cut off the stalks close to the heads and remove the outer husk layers, leaving a few protective papers intact. Trim the roots completely and store the garlic bulbs in mesh bags or other breathable containers. Keep a few heads aside for planting in the next season.

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Step 10: Proper Garlic Storage

For short-term use, store garlic in a dark, cool pantry, allowing air circulation by using mesh bags. If you have an abundance of garlic, consider preserving it by canning it in a vinegar solution. Canned garlic can last up to a year when stored in the refrigerator. Remove the cloves from the vinegar before use.

With these simple steps, you can embark on a fulfilling journey of growing garlic in your very own garden. From planting to harvesting, and finally to storing, follow this guide to enjoy the rich flavors and numerous benefits of this versatile and aromatic herb. Happy garlic growing!

Ames Farm Center