How to plant garlic cloves in the fall


As we harvest the last of our summer vegetables and begin to clean up our gardens, it can start to feel like the growing season is over. That’s true for most things, but not for everything. For garlic, things are just beginning.

Fall is the ideal time to plant garlic. When planted in the fall and overwintered, garlic will be ready to harvest by mid to late summer.

When to plant garlic

Garlic cloves need to be planted three weeks before the ground freezes. That way they have enough time to develop roots, but not enough time to poke through the surface of the ground before winter.

Incidentally, the perfect time to plant garlic is right around the same time garden cleanup begins.

Preparing your garden

As you begin to remove debris from summer vegetables, start preparing your garden to plant garlic. Follow these tips:

  • Apply compost heavily to the soil.
  • Make sure the soil is well-drained and aerated.
  • Avoid planting anywhere you’ve grown onions, shallots, leeks and chives. These vegetables are closely related to garlic and require at least two years between successive plantings to allow the soil to recover.

Selecting bulbs

Start by considering what’s available in your area. Locally-grown garlic seed is more suited to the climate and pest conditions in your region and produces a better bulb. Local farmers who grow garlic are a good place to start.

Next, select cloves that will work for your flavor and use preferences. Hardneck garlic has a strong central stem and does well overwintering in cold climates. However, it produces smaller bulbs than softneck garlic. Softneck garlic is abundant producers of big bulbs with many cloves.

Planting garlic cloves

Start by pealing your bulbs and splitting your cloves apart, carefully. Then, sort your cloves into two piles, reserving the larger ones for planting and saving the smaller ones to be used in recipes. The larger cloves will produce larger bulbs at harvest time.

Once your bulbs are separated, follow these steps:

  1. Plant each clove pointed end up and root side down, 2-4 inches deep and 5-6 inches apart.
  2. Sow rows 18 inches apart.
  3. Cover cloves with soil.
  4. Water thoroughly for 3-4 days after planting.
  5. Top cloves with 4-6 inches of mulch. You can use grass clippings, leaves or straw.
  6. Cover the area with black plastic — black trash bags will work.
  7. Weigh down the edges of the plastic with bricks.
  8. Allow the garlic to overwinter.

Picking back up in the spring

You’ll know when it’s time to uncover your garlic when you start to see it poking up under the black plastic cover. Then, you’ll need to add 4-6 inches of additional mulch to suppress weeds.

Your garlic will form buds by early summer. To redirect each plant’s energy to bulb formation, break the stem. When the tops of the stalks turn brown, it’s time to harvest your garlic.

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