Garlic (Allium sativum) is a versatile and indispensable ingredient in many culinary dishes. Growing your garlic can be rewarding, and it all starts with understanding how to plant garlic properly.
Garlic has a relatively long growing cycle compared to many other garden crops. From the time it’s planted in the autumn to its eventual harvest in early to mid-summer, garlic typically requires about eight to nine months to complete its growth cycle.
This extended period allows the garlic bulbs to develop and mature fully, resulting in flavorful and well-formed cloves. Garlic undergoes several stages throughout this time, including overwintering, spring growth, and bulb formation. The long growing cycle of garlic requires patience and consistent care, but the reward is a bountiful harvest of fresh, aromatic bulbs that can be enjoyed in various culinary dishes.
This comprehensive guide will take you through every step of garlic planting, from selecting the right garlic cloves to harvesting your flavourful bulbs.
1. Selecting Garlic Cloves for Planting
Softneck garlic V Hardneck garlic bulbs
Softneck garlic and hardneck garlic are two primary categories of garlic, each with its own characteristics and suitability for different growing conditions. Both can be grown successfully in the UK, but they have distinct advantages.
Softneck garlic is the more common choice for UK growers as it tends to adapt to the milder climate. It typically produces smaller, easier-to-store bulbs with a longer shelf life. Softneck garlic also boasts a flexible, braided stem, making it convenient for hanging and curing.
On the other hand, hardneck garlic varieties are known for their robust, bold flavour and are favoured by culinary enthusiasts. They develop a hard stem in the centre of the bulb, which can be used for garlic scapes, a sought-after delicacy. While hardneck garlic can thrive in the UK, it may require extra protection during cold winters. Ultimately, the choice between softneck and hardneck garlic depends on your preference for flavour and your local climate conditions. Both types offer the satisfaction of homegrown, fresh garlic for your culinary creations.
Once you know what garlic category you will grow, you must choose the right cloves for planting. Here’s what to look for:
- High-Quality Seed Garlic: Start with seed garlic purchased from a reputable source, ideally suited to your region and climate. Seed garlic is grown specifically for planting and should be free from disease or damage.
- Cloves with Intact Papery Skin: Carefully separate individual cloves from the garlic bulb, ensuring the papery skin surrounding each clove remains intact. This skin acts as a protective layer during planting and growth.
2. Preparing Your Garden Bed
Preparing the soil is essential for a successful garlic crop:
- Location: Choose a sunny spot in your garden with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Well-Drained Soil: Garlic thrives in well-drained soil. You can improve drainage by amending the soil with compost or organic matter.
- Soil pH: Garlic prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
3. Planting Garlic Cloves
Once you’ve selected your garlic cloves and prepared the soil, it’s time to plant:
- Planting Depth: Plant each garlic clove about 2 inches (5 cm) deep with the pointed end facing up. The flat root end should be planted facing downward.
- Spacing: Space the cloves approximately 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart within the row. Leave about 12 inches (30 cm) between rows to allow for proper growth and easy access.
- Mulching: After planting, apply a layer of mulch, such as straw or leaves. Mulch helps regulate soil temperature and moisture, suppresses weed growth, and protects the cloves during winter.
4. Care and Maintenance
Proper care throughout the growing season is essential for healthy garlic plants:
- Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Garlic requires regular watering, especially during dry spells.
- Weeding: Remove weeds that compete with garlic for nutrients and space.
- Scapes Removal: When garlic plants send up scapes (flower stalks), consider removing them. This diverts the plant’s energy back into bulb development.
- Fertilization: Fertilize your garlic plants with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. Apply it in early spring and again when the leaves start to yellow.
5. Harvesting Garlic
Knowing when to harvest garlic is critical to achieving flavourful, well-formed bulbs:
- Leaf Condition: Harvest garlic when about half to two-thirds of the lower leaves have turned yellow or brown. The upper leaves should still be green and healthy.
- Bulb Check: Carefully dig around the base of one of the plants and examine the bulb. You’ll want to see well-developed individual cloves within the bulb.
- Timing: In the UK, garlic is typically ready for harvest in early to mid-summer, depending on when it was planted.
6. Curing and Storage
After harvesting, curing and proper storage are essential to preserve the quality of your garlic bulbs:
- Curing: Allow harvested garlic bulbs to dry in a well-ventilated, shaded area for several weeks. This process enhances flavour and extends shelf life.
- Storage: Store cured garlic in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. Garlic can be braided, hung, or stored in mesh bags.
7. Preparing for the Next Crop
To ensure a continuous garlic harvest, save some of your best bulbs for planting the following season. These are known as “seed garlic,” and they should be stored in a cool, dry place until the next planting season.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!