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growing garlic

Gardening/ Vegetable Gaden

Seven Steps to Growing Larger Garlic

Garlic is on of the easiest things to grow in the garden and also it grows at a time of year when nothing else is growing which is really motivating and enjoyable as a gardener.

There are some important tips to help the garlic that you grow to be even bigger. I know that I hate peeling off a little garlic papers when I’m trying to chop garlic for dinner so bigger cloves of garlic is definitely a win.

To grow the biggest cloves of garlic you need to select the largest heads and cloves for planting, plant in the fall for proper vernalization with generous spacing, fertilize properly, and avoid harvesting prematurely.

Read along and I will explain each of these steps.

Plant only the Largest Cloves

The first thing to do is separate the clothes of garlic from the head. You will start to see that some of the cloves are bigger than the others. Only keep the largest cloves to plant. You can take these little ones and put them in the cupboard or in fridge to use in your cooking.

You want to leave the paper around the clove in tact. It is going to help the clove to not rot in the soil before it starts growing.

Consider how many heads of garlic you use in a week or month to decide how many cloves to plant. Each clove of garlic will grow a whole new head of garlic.

Plant 4-6 Inches Apart

I plant my garlic at least 4 to 6 in apart. This will give the garlic plenty of space to for the heads to plump up nice and big.

Every once in a while I’ll accidentally plant two smaller cloves of garlic that are together wrapped up in paper and look like a single large clove. When that happens I’ll get two shoots growing out of the same spot and both of them will compete for sunshine and nutrients and I end up with two very small heads.

Plant with the flat side down–that’s where the roots are going to come out. And the pointy side up–that’s where the shoots grow from. Plant 2-3 inches underground. The hori hori is a great tool for this job.

Plant in Late Fall

For most places the proper planting time is late fall. In the Northern Hemisphere this is usually mid-October to mid-November. This is after we’ve had our first freezes but before the ground is frozen solid.

(If you live somewhere that doesn’t go through such a harsh winter– you may not need to plant your garlic so early. You may wait until January or later to plant your garlic so just check your local Extension office.)

With a good late fall planting there’s enough time before the ground freezes for the garlic to start start to sprout a little bit. And it will send out some roots and it will just wake up from its dormancy a little bit. It may even get a few inches of shoots above ground.

If it goes fully dormant for the winter before it has sprouted the garlic will sit there in the ground and it could simply rot.

If you wait until spring planting time to start planting your garlic what you’ll end up with his clothes of garlic that will grow and they will send out shoots out the top but they will never form a head of garlic underground. This is still usable product it goes by the name of green garlic and it’s delicious for making pesto or for using in stir fries.

It does not form a head because it did not get it’s period of cold vernalization. You can experiment with getting around this by purchasing pre-chilled garlic, or try chilling it in your fridge for a few weeks before planting.

Mulch 4-6 Inches

Cover the garlic with a nice thick 4-6 inch layer of a light mulch like straw or leaf mulch.

This is to help the soil retain moisture and to prevent erosion and prevent nutrient loss over the course of the winter. This is going to let the garlic start growing nice and early in the spring as soon as conditions are perfect.

Spring Maintenance

There are two necessary jobs to do in the spring.

Even though you planted your garlic in fertile, healthy soil, garlic is a heavy feeder which means it really needs an application of fertilizer in the springtime. Liquid seaweed fertilizer is a great natural fertilizer to use.

The second job you only have to do if you are growing hard neck varieties of garlic. Hardneck garlic will grow scapes in the springtime which need to be trimmed off.

Scapes are flower buds that grow out the middle of the plant on a stalk. The flower bud develops into small bulblets of garlic. These bulblets are intended to grow new garlic plants, so a lot of energy from the plan goes into develop those plants. So if you’re growing your garlic for nice large heads you want to trim off those garlic scapes to prevent that energy loss.

Don’t Harvest Too Early

To get the largest head of garlic it’s very important to harvest at the right time. Many people may see their garlic pop up in the spring and think that then it should be ready to harvest in a month or two, but this is not the case.

In most areas of the country garlic is not ready to harvest until at least the first week of July. To see if your garlic is ready to harvest, look for the bottom two sets of leaves to start to dry up and turn brown.

When you see this sign you can dig down a little bit and pull out a test head of garlic from the ground. Look for ridges or lines between the cloves showing a definition between the cloves of garlic. Once they start to form ridges with this definition between cloves you know that the head of garlic has reached its peak of growing and that it’s about as large as it’s going to get, and you can harvest at that point.

Plan for Next Year at Harvest Time

I like to pull off the outer set of leaves right at the time of harvest because they come off so easily at that point. Then you have beautiful clean, white garlic. You need to set out the garlic in shady spot with good air circulation to cure until the stems are dry.

This is a great point of time to sort your heads of garlic and put aside the largest head. Save your largest heads for planting next year.

This process of only planting the largest heads that you grow and only planting the largest cloves of garlic from each of those heads is going to over time select for those growing properties. And your garlic will grow larger and larger over the years.

There’s always variations of weather and climate from year to year which will cause variations. So it’s not always a linear progression but over time you will see larger and larger heads of beautiful garlic.