I love growing garlic. Here in Vermont, it is best planted in fall because of its need for a dormant period of two months below 40 Fahrenheit degrees. Just as the reality of summer’s end sets in, planting the garlic is like planting the promise of spring. Seeing the little shoots emerge just behind the receding snow are well worth the small effort required.
Plant your garlic in late September to mid-October. This allows it to put down some roots but not develop significant tops before the ground freezes.
Avoid planting garlic from the grocery store. It may have been treated to prevent growth. Store purchased garlic also may be a variety adapted to warmer climates with longer growing seasons.
Purchase garlic from growers in your area or from catalogues that are focused on the Northeast. Look into the numerous varieties available and consider trying several. Whatever your source, plant the largest cloves from the biggest bulbs available to you and save any small cloves for cooking.
Because garlic retains the genetics of the mother clove, you can plant garlic grown in your own garden and get excellent results. I save some of my best bulbs for planting.
There are two basic types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic produces five to eight large cloves. It also produces scapes, which are flower stalks prized by many as a garlicky vegetable.
Left on the plants, they produce tiny seeds that can be planted but take several years to develop into normal-sized bulbs. Softneck garlic has 12 or more smaller cloves and no scapes.
Before planting garlic, incorporate compost or well-rotted manure to provide nutrition and improve soil quality.
Garlic does not like competition from weeds or getting too dry. In my sandy soil that tends toward dryness, mulching retains soil moisture and keeps my garlic nearly weed-free. I plant garlic in 4-foot-square beds divided into 16 1-foot squares (think graph paper). In each square, I plant nine cloves and mulch thoroughly.
Plan spacing with your preference for cultivating in mind. My square foot method does not easily yield to a hoe. Some gardeners plant cloves 4 inches apart in rows about 8 inches apart for cultivating ease.
Consider whether your soil holds a lot of moisture. If so, don’t count on mulch to keep down weeds and perhaps even implement raised beds to allow for proper drainage. Too much moisture can cause garlic to rot.
Plant unpeeled garlic cloves 3 inches deep with the point up, root down. Cover. Press soil gently, but firmly. Heavy mulching can help prevent winter kill and cloves being pushed up and out by frost but may need to removed in spring if the soil stays very wet.
Clean your tools, finish your fall chores and hunker down for winter knowing your garlic will appear with the daffodils to herald the start of another gardening season.