Planting garlic (Allium sativum)

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Happy Thanksgiving! While we navigate through this pandemic, we hope that you will be able to enjoy some happy moments in a safe and healthy environment. The colours have been beautiful this year and I have marveled at the many different shades of red, orange, yellow and green that still exist in my small urban backyard.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

Thanksgiving reminds me that it is time to plant garlic for next years’ harvest. Here is a ‘Fact Sheet’ that I have put together for those who might be interested in planting this very easy to grow root vegetable.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:

Garlic is part of the Onion Family (Alliaceae) and although there are hundreds of varieties, they all fall under two main categories; Hardneck and Softneck.

Hardneck have a long flowering stem called a scape which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. They usually have a single row of cloves and tend to do best in colder climates. They peel easier than softneck but do not store as long. They last approximately 4 to 6 months.

Softnecks are best for warmer climates, will last 9 to 12 months and have more than one row of cloves in each head. They do not develop a flowering stalk or scape. Softneck garlic are the type that are used to make garlic braids.

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is a type of leek that is grown like garlic, but is 6 to 7 times bigger and has a milder flavour.

PLANTING NEEDS:

Full sun and well-drained soil with infrequent watering.

WHEN TO PLANT:

In the Peterborough area, October is the best month to plant your garlic. It can be done in early spring but you will produce a larger harvest if done in the previous Fall. Do not use garlic from your local grocery store as it may not be the best variety for your region and it’s often treated with an anti-sprouting chemical to inhibit growth. I purchase my garlic from my local nursery or Farmer’s Market and I also use my own garlic that was harvested in early August.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

HOW TO PLANT:

Separate the inner cloves but do not remove the papery covering. Plant the largest cloves with the pointy end up. Space cloves five to six inches apart and two to three inches deep. You can mulch with straw, but I always mulch the garlic bed with shredded leaves which will be plentiful in the next couple of weeks.

CHALLENGES:

I have never had any garlic concerns; however, my daughter did deal with the leek moth this year. Adult moths lay their eggs and the hatched larvae tunnel into the leaves. She was able to keep it under control by going out each morning and removing the leaves that were encasing the larvae. If you have the space, it is always best to rotate your garlic each year.

HARVESTING SCAPES:

Garlic produces a garlic scape which appear on hardneck varieties, usually in June. They look a little like green onions that spiral and have a small bulbil at the end (which looks like a small hat). They should be cut once you see the spiral or they will become tougher the longer you leave them. Cut it at the base where it comes out of the stalk. Chop them up and fry with a little olive oil or they can be made into garlic scape pesto. It is wise to remove the scapes even if you don’t plan on eating them. This allows the energy to go back into growing the underground bulb.

HARVESTING GARLIC:

You will know your plant is ready to harvest when two to three sets of the bottom leaves have died or turned yellow. Do not leave them too long as the bulb will begin to split. Gently pull out the bulbs with a garden fork.

CURING GARLIC:

Garlic needs to be dried. Gently remove the dirt and trim the dangling white roots to approximately 1 cm. I tie my garlic together in bunches and hang it in my shed to dry for two weeks. Keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure it doesn’t get wet.

STORAGE:

Once dried, clean gently. Trim the long stalk off and store in a cool dry area. Garlic does not like to be refrigerated. You could also store them in empty egg cartons.

If you would like to learn more about growing garlic, read this extensive article from the Ontario Ministry.

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