Early spring at the last sign of frost is the perfect time to get your spring garlic in the ground. We use a lot of garlic here, and having fresh, organic garlic year-round is an important ingredient.
From pizzas to side dishes to garlic bread and dips, this root vegetable is hard to pass up. It’s also a significant cost savings if you can grow and harvest your own. So, each spring and fall, we plant a little extra. Here’s how to get your Spring garlic planted for a fall harvest.
First, Prepare the Garlic for Planting
Garlic requires cold temperature storage prior to planting for the best results. In most cases, seasoned garlic aficionados make sure to get cloves in the ground by late fall so they have time to winter over.
But if you missed your window, you have two options – store the garlic in a root cellar, or store it in the fridge before planting.
Taking the time to acclimate the bulbs will encourage growth through the top and green sprouts will emerge from each clove in the bulb. If you don’t have a root cellar or space in your fridge, try a countertop zeer pot and check on the cloves every week or so until you see the sprouts.
Break a Garlic bulb apart (the whole thing) and put the cloves inside a big mason jar with equal parts of baking soda and liquid seaweed (I opt for around 1 TB). Leave the cloves in the jar for at least 2 hours prior to planting. This is necessary as it does an amazing job at preventing bacterial and fungal growth!
If you had a garlic cluster that went to seed last year, or if you got a bundle from your local nursery, you should be able to direct-sow your starts. These smaller versions are easy to drop in place.
If some of your garlic went to seed last fall, you’ll start to see small clusters come up. You can pull the clusters and separate the starts to get full bulbs by fall. If you leave them as clusters, they will remain small and choke each-other out.
Instead, take a moment to pull them from the ground by setting a spade a few inches back and prying the root ball up. Then you can rinse off the dirt and get ready to separate the starts.
To separate, take the cluster and rinse it thoroughly or immerse it in water. Using your fingers and a gentle touch, separate the roots from each other and lift apart the bulbs one at a time.
Put them in a container with water to keep the roots wet. If they are tightly bound, use extra water and keep in mind you may have to sacrifice one or two to release the bundle. They should separate easier once you get started.
Next, Prepare the Soil
Garlic grows best in well drained soil — not sand! Make sure that your space is free of weeds and rocks, then dig 3-4″ down. Place the cloves into the spaces about 8″ apart. This will ensure that you do not have anything TOO close together! When placing the cloves in the soil be sure that the root end (flat part) is pointed DOWN and the other end UP!
Garlic grows best in well-drained soil such as sandy loam — but not sand! An ideal pH should be between 6.0 and 7.5 and nitrogen-rich soil will aid in growth and flavor. There are various methods to neutralize your soil and amend it with fertilizers.
In general, the best patch for garlic is an area where you’ve had other plants fix nitrogen into the soil. Cover crops like peas, beans, legumes and clover are examples of a few nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
If you haven’t planted a cover crop, you can add high-nitrogen fertilizer or take green grass clippings to jumpstart the soil and add a bit of nitrogen quickly.
When ready to plant, make sure your space is free of weeds and rocks, then dig a small hole for each clove about 3-4″ down, or trench a solid row. Place a single clove into each space or along the row about 8″ apart. This will ensure that the bulbs don’t fight for nutrients by being too close together!
If they are clustered too near to each other, the bulb growth will be stunted. When placing the cloves in the soil be sure that the root end (flat part) is pointed DOWN and the other end UP!
Nurture, Harvest, and Re-Plant
Once your garlic starts to sprout, you just keep it watered and wait! After a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see green shoots coming out of the bed and you know that it’s growing!
In the meantime, you can cut some of green garlic chives and use them for seasoning in cooking, or fresh in salads.
Harvesting garlic is a guessing game until you’ve done it a time or two. In general, the shoots will show signs of dying back from the tips. They’ll go from a rich green to a light tan and begin to curl back. Once the shoots have dried up, the garlic will be ready for harvesting.
Waiting too long may cause your cloves to go to seed. Pulling the cloves too early may result in a smaller-than-anticipated spice. If you are unsure when to pull the garlic, you can expose the ground around each clove and turn them to the sun to dry out, but be sure to pull your cloves before fall or they will begin to mold.
After you’ve had some success this year, be sure to set a clove or two aside and replant in fall. This will save you some work next spring and will act as an indication of when the soil is ripe for planting next year.