This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Northern Gardener.
Fall is the best time for garlic planting, though you will not reap the benefits of your efforts until next summer, when you are enjoying fresh pesto, quiches and other garlic-filled dishes. Growing garlic is easy and fun. Plant the garlic cloves outside in October so roots can develop before the ground freezes, and then look for foliage early next spring.
Planting and Growing Garlic
- Garlic loves full sun and well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
- Find bulbs at a local nursery (see our list of partner nurseries). Do not plant cloves from grocery-store garlic. The garlic varieties sold in stores may not be hardy in northern gardens. Some garlic bulbs may also have have been treated with preservatives to extend their shelf-life in stores.
- Break apart the bulb to separate individual cloves, leaving the paper husk on each clove.
- Plant cloves 2 to 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the pointed end facing up. Choose the biggest, healthiest cloves since they will turn into larger, healthier bulbs next summer.
- After garlic planting, cover bulbs with a thick layer of straw during winter and remove the straw in the spring when threat of frost has passed.
- In the spring, cut off any flower shoots because they will decrease bulb size.
Harvest and Storage
When the foliage begins to yellow at the top and fall over, it’s time to harvest, This usually happens in late June to August. Harvest a test bulb to make sure the cloves are plump and the bulbs are covered in a thick, dry paper. You will know it’s too early to harvest if the paper wrapping is thin and disintegrates. If you wait too long, bulbs can split apart. Instead of pulling bulbs, gently dig them up and brush off soil. Avoid bruising the bulbs. Let bulbs dry in a cool, shady spot with good air flow for two weeks—for best air circulation, you can hang them upside down in bunches of four to six bulbs. When the roots and paper husk are dry, the bulbs are ready to be stored. Remove the tops and roots and store in a cool, dark, dry spot (not in a moist basement or refrigerator).
Save a few of your biggest, healthiest bulbs for planting next fall.