Growing your own Garlic is very rewarding

By Sherry Stover VCE Southside Master Gardener Garlic is winter hardy, grows easily, and takes up very little space in a garden and grows well in containers. An ancient bulbous vegetable, it grows from a single clove that multiplies in the ground. Most people grow it as an annual. You can have a perennial garlic by harvesting only the big plants and leave behind the small ones as they will regrow every year. Close relatives include onions, shallots, and leeks. Garlic is used for flavoring many recipes and provides healthy benefits for your immune system. Garlic is a forgiving crop, so you can be optimistic about its chances for growth even in an imperfect environment. It should be planted in a warm, full sun spot in fertile, well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet in winter and not recently used for garlic or other plants from the genus Allium. Hardneck garlic is resistant to frost and even hard freezes if the soil is well-drained. Most varieties actually prefer a cold climate. But if you have soggy soil, the cold winter temperatures will freeze the water causing the garlic to rot as the soil warms in the spring.
This softneck garlic, growing in our native soils, is good for braiding for storage. With all garlic it is good to remember that weed suppression and mulching is essential for a good harvest. Garlic comes in several varieties. Softneck garlic varieties don't produce a stiff central stem, is easier to grow, does better in warmer climates, produces larger bulbs and more cloves and stores well. This is the type of garlic you'll find at most supermarkets. It has a relatively mild flavor. Softneck garlic is the best choice for regions with mild winters, and it's the type to grow if you want to make garlic braids for storage. Some softneck varieties ‘Albigensian Wight’ - heavy cropping with large bulbs. ‘Blanco Veneto’ (‘Venetian Wight’) – forms large bulbs with a strong flavor. ‘Doocot – intense sweet flavor, easy to peel cloves and ideal for roasting. ‘Early Purple Wight’ – mild, purple-tinged bulbs. ‘Iberian Wight’ – produces large bulbs with plump cloves, good to braid. ‘Solent Wight’ – medium sized, snow-white bulbs not too pungent good raw, stores well. ‘Wight Cristo’ - reliable, easy to grow, produces large bulbs, stores well. Hardneck garlic varieties produce a stiff stem that grows up through the center of the bulb, tend to have a sharper flavor, with more variation in flavor among the varieties. While less hardy and not as long-lasting they do better in cold climates. Once harvested, the bulbs have a somewhat shorter shelf life than softneck varieties. Some hardneck varieties: ‘Caulk White’ – a new variety with spicy flavor, temperatures down to -20°C . ‘Chesnok White’ - has attractive purple stripes, best variety for garlic bread. ‘Red Duke’ – hard durable with strong flavor and scent and purple-skinned cloves. Elephant garlic bears giant, mild-flavored bulbs for a lighter garlic flavor. However, it isn't a "true" garlic but rather is more closely related to the leek. You can purchase garlic from your garden supply store, seed source or the grocery store. (While I have read that some of the grocery store variety garlic has been treated so that it won't germinate, I have yet to ever find this to be true.) Plant in Jan, Feb, Mar or Oct, Nov, Dec. Harvest in May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep. Plan to plant garlic in fall about four to six weeks before the ground freezes. A raised bed works very well. Loosening the soil to a depth of at least 8" and working several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with 10-10-10 fertilizer. This herb prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH balance 6.5 to 7). Just prior to planting, break up the garlic heads into individual cloves, leaving as much of the papery covering on each clove intact as possible. Plant cloves 7” apart, 3” deep with the pointy ends face up and 12 - 18” between rows. Water gently if it is dry then cover the bed with a 3" to 6" layer of straw. The soil will stay warm enough for them to establish roots before the ground freezes. You might see some green shoots form in fall, this won't harm plants, they'll begin growing in earnest in spring. Plant cloves as early in spring as soil can be worked, about the same time as onion sets. Spring planted garlic should be put in the ground in the same manner as in the fall. If you have heavy clay soil, it would be better to plant garlic in spring. This type of soil tends to hold a lot of water, especially over winter, which can cause the garlic cloves to rot. You could also try growing garlic in mounds or use raised beds. For mounds make them 6” tall and 8” wide at the base. Plant the garlic cloves into these mounds, 6”-8” apart and 3”-4” deep. Because garlic only requires a relatively small space to grow in, it can be cultivated in containers that are eighteen inches deep and at least twelve inches wide. Select something with holes in the bottom to for good soil drainage. Rehabilitate an old crate lined with burlap or material pots because air flows readily through the sidewalls of the container. If garlic was fall planted, remember to clear the straw when the weather warms. Many gardeners choose to keep mulch in place after spring to limit weed growth. Fertilize at three-week intervals during spring, and keep the soil moist. For Hardneck varieties, you’ll notice a round, leafless flower stem emerging from the center of the leaves about three weeks before harvest. This is the scape. Some growers cut off scapes to produce a more robust bulb. If left uncut, garlic scapes will bloom into pretty, whitish-pink pom-poms that bees love. Water your garlic every three to five days in spring when the bulb is forming. Don't water it after July or the bulbs may rot. Consider harvesting your garlic early if you're experiencing a particularly wet summer. Fall weather is usually wet enough to support healthy roots until winter sets in. But if you’ve got a hot, dry fall, soaking your garlic once every 10 days and letting the soil dry between waterings will encourage deep root growth. If you’re growing garlic in a place with relatively warm winters, water your plants occasionally over the winter. Weed your garlic regularly. Mulching in the spring helps limit weed growth. In the summer when the garlic plants stop producing new leaves and begin to form bulbs remove any remaining mulch and stop watering. The garlic will store better if you allow the soil around the bulbs to dry out. Pests are not a problem because this herb actually repels them. Plant a border of garlic around your vegetable garden to ward off hungry deer, rabbits, cabbage worms, spider mites, aphids, carrot rust flies and Japanese beetles. Garlic is susceptible to white rot, a fungus that attacks the roots and leaves of garlic in the winter, and garlic rust, a fungal disease that attacks the leaves. To prevent rot from spreading make sure to clean it up all infected plant residue after harvesting so it doesn't spread throughout the garden. Do not compost infected leaves or roots. Planting your garlic in a new spot each year also helps fend off fungal disease. You will know when to harvest garlic when most of the leaves have turned brown. This usually occurs in mid-July to early August, depending on your climate. At this time you may dig the bulbs up, being careful not to bruise them. If the bulbs are left in the ground too long, they may separate and will not store well. Lay the garlic plants out to dry for 2 or 3 weeks in a shady area with good air circulation. Be sure to bring the garlic plants in if rain is forecasted for your area. When the roots feel brittle and dry, rub them off, along with any loose dirt. Do not get the bulbs wet or break them apart, or the plants won't last as long. Either tie the garlic in bunches, braid the leaves, or cut the stem a few inches above the bulb. Hang the braids and bunches or store the loose bulbs on screens or slatted shelves in a cool, airy location. You may want to set aside some of the largest bulbs for replanting in the fall. During the winter months you should check your stored garlic bulbs often, and promptly use any that show signs of sprouting. Softneck garlic should stay in good condition for nine months to one year. Hardneck garlic can begin turning after four to six months. Your garlic should not be refrigerated. Garlic is a well known Companion Plant. Pair garlic with beets, celery, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage to reduce damage caused by common pests of these plants. The chemicals that make garlic a powerful pest deterrent can also inhibit the growth of peas, beans and asparagus so keep it separate from these crops. Adding this flavorful vegetable to your favorite meals can help you boost your consumption of Vitamin C, Manganese, Vitamin B6, and many more beneficial nutrients. Studies have found that properties of garlic can help lower blood pressure, reduce your risk for heart disease, and boost your immune system. It also contains antioxidants that may help people avoid Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Roasted Garlic Spread Recipe | Yield: 1/2 cup | Time: 60 minutes | Roasting garlic mellows out the sharp bite while deepening the flavor. This spread is great straight, served on bread, or in sauces. You can stir in Dijon mustard or olive oil, or mix the spread into a cream-based dip . Ingredients: 4 heads of garlic Olive oil for drizzling 1/4 tsp salt 1/8 tsp pepper Preparation: 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 2. Cut the tops off of each garlic head so that the cloves are exposed. Drizzle each with enough olive oil so that it runs down into the cloves (about 1 tsp per head). 3. Wrap in foil and roast in the oven for 50 minutes. 4. When the garlic heads are done, the insides should be soft. Squeeze out the garlic from the cloves and mash with a fork. Add salt and pepper. Garlic Roasted Mushrooms Recipe Yield: 4 servings | Time: 25 minutes | This is beyond a doubt one of the best ways to prepare mushrooms. When roasted at high heat, mushrooms manage to maintain their meatiness and quickly become tender - they also leave behind delicious juices. The final sauce in this dish is rich and buttery, made all the more interesting by the addition of garlic and capers, and rounded out at the end by fresh parsley and lemon. Ingredients 1 pound button mushrooms 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped 3 garlic cloves, minced 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 tablespoons vegan butter 2 teaspoons lemon juice ¼ cup chopped parsley Salt and pepper Preparation Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour into a 2 quart casserole dish. Top with pieces of vegan butter. Roast stirring occasionally until mushrooms are golden, 15-20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley and serve. While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings remain closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask and consider growing some garlic this fall.