Gardening/ Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Perennial Garlic

You may have never heard of perennial garlic before.  Perennial garlic is actually just hard neck garlic treated differently and harvested more minimally over the course of a year than traditionally planted garlic.    

Before I really started growing it I start I always assumed that hard neck garlic would be best for storing because I figured it would be sturdy to hold up to storage.   But in reality is not as good for storing.  I like to remember “s” for soft neck, and “s” for storage.  This is the kind that you’ll braid and keep in your pantry until next year.

I have been growing hard neck garlic perennially in my orchard.  Garlic provides some excellent permaculture benefits to the orchard.  Garlic has a pungent smell that deters some of the bad pests.  Also, it grows as a bulb.  Bulbs help in preventing the encroachment of grass around your trees.  You really want to avoid the grass around your fruit trees as it will take nutrients and water away from your trees.

Garlic Reproduction

There’s two different ways that perennial garlic reproduces.  In the spring the garlic will send up a flower spike.  People know this as a “garlic scape” –they’re edible and delicious.  Many people harvest these garlic scapes at the stage when they are curled around themselves in order to enjoy eating them, or to encourage larger growth of the garlic bulb .    (Read my seven steps for growing large garlic heads here.)

When you cut off the garlic scapes you send more of the energy of the plant towards producing large heads of garlic because if you don’t the flower will put energy into the fruit, which for garlic is these small garlic bulbels.   

These bulbels can be eaten, they have a garlic flavor and you can use them as little cloves of garlic.  

Self-Perpetuating Garlic

If you leave the bulbels in place the stem will eventually weaken as they grow bigger and the stem will topple over.  Then the bulbels will root into the ground to grow more heads of garlic.   You can aid in this process, if you desire, by separating the individual bulbels and spreading them out evenly to plant.   

The main head of Garlic can also be harvested like traditional garlic or left in the ground.  

If whole bulbels are allowed to fall on the ground and grow, or if whole heads of garlic are left in the soil, they will go dormant in freezing weather.   Then the following spring, rather than just a single head of garlic growing there, each one of the bulbels or the cloves from inside the head of garlic will sprout and grow into a new head of garlic.

It is very interesting the way that these heads of garlic grow because all the garlic cloves are in this floret shape around the center stem.  So the new heads grow out from each other in this floret shape.  

When they grow together from the head like this that they end up a little misshapen because of their being crowded.  So these heads of garlic are not perfectly round they’re a little bit lumpy and flat on some sides because of how they pushed up to the other garlic. 

Maintaining a Perennial Garlic Patch

Like many other perennial plants you need to thin out and divide your perennial garlic every few years at least or else they will start to outcrowd themselves. You can spread this garlic out throughout your garden. You can also just harvest portions to eat every year while leaving some behind.  

 Hardneck perennial garlic can be clipped a half inch above the head to remove the stock.  Also you can cut of the roots.  Store these heads in a basket or another breathable container in a cool dry place, to use as you need it.  

I definitely had some heads that ended up bigger than others, but my biggest heads of garlic were the ones that I had left in the ground a whole year in this perennial fashion.  

Don’t get worried in the fall if the foliage is turning brown and dying back.   It will put on some new green growth in the fall or it’ll start first thing in the spring next year.  Let me know in the comments if I left anything out, or if you have any more questions about growing garlic perennially as a part of a fruit tree guild or even just a part of a permaculture garden.   

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