Garlic is a member of the allium family, which includes leeks and onions. It is easy to grow and tends to be fairly disease- and pest-resistant.
When to Plant Garlic
Generally speaking, if you live in a cool northern climate, plant garlic in the fall; if you live in a warm southern climate, plant garlic in late winter or early spring. For the most reliable information on planting in your area, contact your local extension office or nursery.
Types of Garlic
Garlic falls into two categories: softneck and hardneck.
Softneck garlic is the type most often found in the supermarket. The bulb is covered in papery layers, and the cloves are larger on the outside, becoming smaller and thinner as they get toward the middle. The leaves of the plant are pliable, so they can be braided. Common softneck varieties are silverskin and artichoke.
Hardneck garlic sends up a hard flowering stalk called a “scape.” Hardneck bulbs have fewer and larger cloves and fewer papery layers than softneck varieties. Common hardneck varieties include porcelain, rocambole, and purple stripe.
What is Elephant Garlic?
Elephant garlic is not actually garlic; it is more like a leek that produces large cloves. Its flavor is much milder than garlic, making it more pleasant to eat raw.
Planting Supermarket Garlic
If you like the garlic at your supermarket, you can buy a bulb and plant the cloves. But try to buy organic garlic, because it will be free of pesticides. For the best selection and highest quality, purchase your seed garlic at a nursery or garden supply shop.
How to Grow Garlic
Barbara Damrosch, in her classic text, The Garden Primer, states that garlic, like all onions, prefers “a sandy, fairly fertile loam; plenty of moisture but good drainage; cool weather to grow the tops; and warm weather to ripen the bulbs.”
When it’s time to plant, break the seed bulb into its individual cloves. You don’t need to peel them. Plant each clove approximately 2” deep and 6” apart, one clove per hole. Set the clove with the flat end down and the pointed end up. Cover with dirt. Mulch with leaves or straw for protection over the winter. This short video illustrates planting garlic cloves.
How to Tend Garlic
Garlic needs little attention. If there are problems with birds or other critters, place a net over it. Water it during long dry spells. Keep the weeds down. Know that garlic has little tolerance for a great deal of heat, for overwatering, or for over fertilizing.
If you plant in the fall, your garlic should be ready for harvesting in June or July.
How to Harvest Garlic
Harvest garlic when the plant tops turn yellow and start drying out. When most of the crop has begun drying, lift the plants with a garden fork. Shake off the excess dirt. Discard (or use immediately) any damaged bulbs. If you’ve planted softneck garlic, braid the garlic tops if you wish.
This is the time to set aside some of the prettiest, fattest bulbs to use for seed next season.
How to Cure Garlic
After the garlic has been harvested, it must be dried out enough that it can be stored without spoiling (“cured”). Hang or spread freshly harvested bulbs in a warm airy spot out of direct sunlight. Air should circulate freely around the bulbs. Leave the roots and stems attached until the curing process is complete, which takes two to three weeks. Once cured, store it in mesh bags in a cool spot. The garlic should last several months.