Have you ever thought about planting garlic bulbs during fall? Garlic grown in late autumn tends to be bigger, tastier and just plain better, probably because the roots have all winter to get established before the heat of summer sets in.
Plant garlic two to three weeks after the first frost in autumn, but before winter arrives in earnest. This way, the garlic has time to develop roots – but not shoots — before temperatures get seriously cold. Garlic can tolerate severe cold, but too much top growth can put the plants in jeopardy. On the other hand, if you wait too long, the cloves won’t have time to produce a few healthy roots. If you live in a mild climate, you can wait until the end of the year.
Now that we’ve determined the best planting time, here’s everything you need to know, step by step.
Purchase clean, firm garlic bulbs and plant them. It’s best not to use bulbs from the grocery store, which are treated with substances that prevent sprouting and make them last longer in your refrigerator.
Prepare a sunny spot in your garden by digging in an inch or two of organic matter such as decomposed manure or compost. Avoid soggy spots; garlic requires well-drained soil.
Break the cloves apart, but leave the papery outer skins intact. Plant good-sized, plump bulbs and discard the tiny ones, or toss them in a pot of soup or pasta sauce.
Plant the garlic cloves upright, with the wide sides down. The cloves should be about 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep.
Work 1 to 2 teaspoons of organic general purpose or high-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil around the garlic. Alternatively, apply blood meal according to label recommendations.
Water well immediately after applying fertilizer.
Once the garlic is planted, you may want to surround the area with stakes or rocks; otherwise, you may forget they’re there.
Mulch the garlic bed with 4 to 6 inches of mulch if you live in a cold climate, or just lightly if winters are mild. Straw works well because it allows the soil to breath, but skip mulch altogether if you live in a rainy climate, as the cloves are likely to rot in soggy soil.
Remove the mulch in early summer when the plants are no longer producing new leaves. Stop watering and let the soil dry for a few weeks. At this point, dry soil won’t hurt the garlic, but the bulbs will keep longer in storage.
Lift the garlic with a garden fork or spade when the tops begin to die back and turn yellow – usually mid-to-late summer. Don’t wait too long, or the papery covering will break down and the garlic won’t keep as long.
When you plant garlic this fall, plant a lot of it. The garlic lovers in your family will thank you.