Planting Garlic

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Posted on 02 October 2006

If you love garlic and want to try to grow your own, now is the time to plant! Garlic needs a period of cold in order to produce a bulb. This plant in the onion family should be planted in late summer or early fall, while the soil is still warm so that roots can develop before winter arrives. Learn all about planting garlic in this article... 

Garlic is best planted in the fall in Wisconsin.In Wisconsin, garlic (Allium sativum) should be planted in later summer or fall, usually within a week or two after the first killing frost. This will allow the roots to develop and shoots emerge from the clove but not grow above the soil by the first hard freeze. A period of cold is necessary for bulbing, so unless given a proper cold treatment prior to planting, most garlic varieties planted in the spring will produce weak shoots and poorly developed bulbs. Artichoke types do not seem to need winter cold as much, so these would be most suitable for spring planting. (For more about garlic varieties, see Herb of the Year 2004: Garlic) Spring planting should be done as early as possible to allow bulbs to form.

The amount of garlic to purchase will depend on the area to be planted and variety (certain varieties have more plantable cloves per bulb than others). Generally, there are about 50 cloves per pound of cloves, although the average gardener isn’t going to be using that much. Single bulbs are offered for sale by many retailers. Also, locally-produced bulbs sold at Farmer’s Markets or obtained from small growers can be used.

Plant garlic cloves in fall to produce a wonderful harvest of  bulbs the following summer. Garlic does best in full sun in well-drained soil high in organic matter. Bulb expansion can be impeded in heavy clay soils, especially if they dry out. And supplemental moisture may be needed early in the season on light, sandy soils.

Prepare the soil well before planting to provide a loose growing bed for bulb growth. Separate the individual cloves from the bulb just before planting. Choose the largest cloves since they generally will produce the largest bulbs. The large cloves of some hardneck varieties are "doubles" (actually two cloves fused together) which will produce two bulbs that become flattened as they grow together. Place the cloves pointed side up, 2-3" deep and about 6" apart. Cloves planted too shallow are prone to injury during the winter and early spring. Mulching with 3-4" clean straw after planting will help minimize soil temperature fluctuations that can damage the developing roots and shoots. Remove the mulch in the spring after the threat of hard freezes has passed; it can be replaced after the shoots are about 6" tall to help control weeds for the remainder of the growing season.

Additional Information:

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin - Madison

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