Plant Garlic This Fall
Known throughout the ages as the “stinking rose,” garlic has been used to enhance food flavors for more than 7,000 years. Native to central Asia, its use has spread around the globe.
The Planting Plan
Last to be sown in the fall garden, garlic should be planted in late September through early October. Whether you purchase your bulbs locally or by mail order, be careful to purchase those recommended for growing in your area. Hardneck varieties, such as Porcelain, Rocambole or Purple Stripe, tolerate cold winter climates and therefore do well in Indiana.
Just before you are ready to plant, break the bulbs into cloves. Like most of our garden favorites, garlic prefers a fertile, well-drained soil with a neutral pH and a sunny location. Working additional compost into the soil before planting is always a plus.
Garlic should be planted after the first fall frost, while soil is still workable but has cooled. Each clove should be planted 4 inches deep and about 6 to 8 inches apart with the pointed ends up. Roots will develop in the cool of fall, but we don’t want their new leaves to break the surface before winter arrives. Cover the crop with 3 to 5 inches of organic mulch – such as shredded leaves, straw or grass clippings mixed with leaves – to keep the soil moist and protect the crop through winter’s freeze and thaw cycles.
When Spring Arrives
As the soil warms, shoots will work their way through the mulch and into the sunshine. Water the crop about 1 inch per week, and foliar feed as soon as leaf growth begins. For optimum growth, use a hydrolyzed fish fertilizer every three weeks through May 15. Keep the garlic weed free so it doesn’t have to compete for nutrients in the soil. Watering and fertilizing the garlic should stop on June 1.
As the garlic leaves grow, they produce scapes, a curled flower stalk. Snipping these off will encourage larger bulbs, plus scapes can be used in many dishes, such as soups, salads and even pesto.
How to Harvest
Garlic will be to ready to harvest when a third of the leaves appear withered and pale. Use a digging fork to carefully loosen the soil, then lift them out of the ground. Lay the whole plants out to dry in a warm, airy location protected from rain and direct sun. After a week has passed, brush off the bulbs and clip the roots to a half-inch, then wait another week to clip off the stems. Leaving on its paper-like covering, store the bulbs in mesh bags at 50-60 degrees, saving the very largest of the bulbs for next year’s seed stock.
The only thing left to do is enjoy that flavor favorite.