Garlic “cloves” —the individual segments or “cloves” —are planted pointy side up in fall.
Garlic is one of the most rewarding, easiest, and least troublesome edibles to grow in a home vegetable garden. Such is its popularity for its distinctive taste and healthful qualities that whole festivals are devoted to it.
Selecting a variety
While cloves from supermarket garlic will grow in the garden, best results come from varieties that are best adapted to each region’s climate and soils. For example, hard-neck types do best in cold regions. Good hard-neck varieties include ‘Spanish Roja,’ ‘Music’, ‘Romanian Red’, ‘Purple Glazer’, and ‘German Red’. Soft-neck types perform better in more moderate climates. Reliable soft-neck varieties include ‘California Early’, ‘Susanville’, ‘Chet’s Italian’, ‘Inchelium Red’, ‘Early Italian’, and ‘Mild French’.
Planting the cloves
Unlike most vegetables, garlic “cloves” — the small individual segments — are planted in fall, protected with quality garden mulch through the winter, and harvested in early summer. Traditionally garlic is planted on Columbus Day – around mid-October. In the South, November is better. So plant the garlic cloves along with tulips and other spring bulbs. Select a full sun location, with loamy, loose, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic (a pH about 6.5) soil. Above all it must be well drained; wet, compacted clay is garlic’s worst enemy. Loosen the soil at least 10 to 12 inches deep and work in an inch or two of organic compost or well rotted animal manure. Make 2″ deep holes and plant the unpeeled cloves about 6″ apart with the pointy end up. Cover with soil and spread a 3–4″ mulch of leaves or straw to help insulate the soil and control weeds.
As growth commences, run a soil test. The sulfur level is especially important for pungent garlic quality. Apply a light dressing of balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 to provide a nutrient boost. Keep well watered during the growing season. Garlic that dries out often has a hot, bitter flavor. Most new weeds can be prevented from germinating with 2 or 3 applications of Preen Natural Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer 4 to 6 weeks apart.
When the leaves begin to brown and fall over, check the underground cloves. The perfect time to dig is when individual cloves have developed into noticeable segments but before they expand enough to break out of their papery skins. Air-dry the cloves for 7 to 10 days in a ventilated, shady area to prepare them for storage in a refrigerator or similar cool, dry spot. Knock off excess soil, but garlic stores best when not washed.