Garlic — delicious, hardy, and packed with health benefits — is a low maintenance and cold-hardy crop that actually grows best if planted in the fall. Follow these tips to help you get started.
Garlic grows best when its foliage has plenty of time to develop. The more leaves on the plant, the bigger and tastier the bulb. By planting the cloves in the fall, the plants can establish roots and get a head start. Leaves then grow in the crisp, short days of spring, and the new garlic bulbs develop as days lengthen and temperatures climb. For this reason, (and because gardening in October is usually preferable to being outdoors in February), it is best to plant your garlic now.
Can't I just buy garlic?
Garlic is not just the standard variety available at the grocery store. In fact, there are hundreds of unique varieties. They vary in flavor (from pungent and spicy to mild and sweet), appearance (from purple to silver), and climate preferences.
There are two main types of garlic — soft-neck and hard-neck. In general, soft-neck garlic is best suited for warmer climates, and hard-neck garlic can bear and indeed prefers a colder winter season. To reduce the risk of disease, it is best to start your garlic from a reputable seed supplier rather than store-bought cloves. Though you may initially invest around $15 a pound for garlic from a seed supplier, it is a one-time investment and will yield more varied and plentiful results than simply using grocery-store garlic.
Best of all possible soils
Garlic does best in soil that is enriched with organic matter. Plant bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep and in rows 5 or 6 inches apart. Plant them sometime before the first hard frost in your area, so that roots have time to develop. You can then cover the bed with either straw or shredded leaves to protect the garlic from winter cold, and sit back and relax until next summer, when your bulbs are ready for harvest and — the best part — consumption.
For more information and a list of mail order garlic suppliers, see our article Plant Now for Great Garlic.