Garlic is a must-grow crop for any backyard garden due to the ease of growing it and the fact that it stores so well once harvested. It does require a bit of a time commitment as it usually spends six months or more in the soil before producing a bulb, but it’s certainly worth it. Garlic can be used in almost every meal and adds tons of flavor to any dish. There are many different types of varieties of garlic with varying degrees of “heat” to suit any palate.
How Long Does Garlic Take to Grow?
Garlic is one of the easiest garden crops for seed-saving. It can be planted from cloves or corms. Cloves are the big pieces you peel and use in the kitchen. These are easily separated when you break apart the bulb. Corms are the smaller, “mini-cloves” that are usually found on the side of the bulb when harvesting. Planting cloves will result in a bulb of garlic the following warm season. Planting corms will require two years to produce a large bulb of garlic.
Many gardeners prefer keeping their garlic in the same spot every year and leave the corms in the soil after harvesting. This ensures that you have a continual garlic plot without having to replant it each year. We prefer to plant the individual cloves because we rotate our garden crops and don’t plant our garlic in the same location every year. This also ensures we maintain a proper spacing between plants so that we can maximize bulb size. Either way, planting is easy by pushing the cloves or corms into the soil much like you would plant a tulip bulb.
Soil Requirements and Planting Times
Garlic prefers well-drained soil that doesn’t consistently hold a significant amount of moisture. Garlic bulbs will tend to begin to rot in wet soil, especially as they’re getting close to maturity. If your garden area can easily get oversaturated after a heavy rain, consider mixing compost into the native soil to improve drainage and keep the garlic from having “wet feet.”
Garlic is unique in that it is usually planted at the same time, regardless of your growing zone. Unless you live in the far north, garlic should be planted in the fall once temperatures start to cool significantly. In the southern states where winter temperatures are mild, the garlic will sprout quickly and grow throughout the entire winter for a spring harvest. In the northern states where winter temperatures are colder, garlic will stay happily snuggled in the soil and sprout the following spring if mulched properly.
Always Add Mulch to Your Garlic
I always recommend mulching garlic. Mulch obviously is going to help suppress weeds and preserve soil moisture, but it also serves several other purposes depending on where you live. Mulch will help to insulate the soil in cooler climates and protect the garlic bulb throughout the winter months. While garlic can usually tolerate temperatures below zero, mulching will ensure that any root development is not damaged by snow or extremely cold weather.
In warmer climates, mulching keeps the soil cooler in the spring months and extends the growth period of the garlic. Once the garlic plant forms a seed head or has yellowing of the leaves, the bulb is as large as it’s going to get. This usually happens when temperatures start to significantly warm in the spring or early summer months. If you can keep your soil cooler with mulch and extend the growth time of the garlic bulb just a few weeks, this will result in significantly larger bulbs.
We use pine needles or “pine straw” to mulch our garlic because it’s easily accessible here in south Georgia where pine trees are plentiful. But use whatever you have. Leaves will work in addition to hay or wheat straw. If using hay, just be sure that it did not come from a field that was sprayed with herbicides that can damage your soil and have a residual effect on any plants that it touches.
Growing Requirements and Harvesting Garlic
Garlic has similar nutrient requirements to onions. It needs a somewhat balanced fertilizer initially but prefers plenty of nitrogen once it gets going. The balanced fertilizer will provide essential phosphorous and potassium for proper root development, and the subsequent nitrogen applications will ensure it has the nutrients it needs to form a big bulb. Once our garlic emerges from the soil, we like to inject AgroThrive General Purpose Fertilizer through our drip irrigation system. We’ll do this a couple times early in the life of the garlic plant to ensure a solid root system is formed. Once the garlic plants are well-established a month or two after sprouting, we’ll start giving them more nitrogen. You can do this via a granular fertilizer or manure sources that you may have on your farm or homestead.
Depending on the type of garlic you’re growing, garlic should be harvested after seed heads develop or when the bottom leaves start to turn yellow. In most cases the garlic can be harvested simply by pulling on the lower part of the plant. If you have dense soils or garlic with a very strong root system, you may need a shovel or digging fork to loosen the soil around the bulb. Store the garlic in a dry location with good airflow. We place ours on a hardware cloth rack under our pole barn and it stores for 6 months or more.
If you’re not already growing garlic in your backyard garden, we hope this information has encouraged you to give it a try. If you’re already growing garlic, we hope these tips will help you have an even more bountiful harvest. On our next blog we’ll be discussing the types of garlic you can grow in a backyard garden and the differences between each type.
Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hotsauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later.