Growing Great Garlic

Dave Haupert, Extension Master Gardener Intern, Anoka County

garlic.JPG

As fall approaches, it’s time to clean up the garden and consider planting garlic for next year’s harvest. With a small amount of effort, you can grow great garlic right here in Anoka County that meets all your culinary needs.

  Growing great garlic starts with variety selection. You can find many options at garden centers, in seed catalogs and at local garlic festivals. Avoid selecting garlic found in grocery stores as it is most likely a variety suited for California climates. The garlic that performs well here is the hard neck type. A friend recommends Music (mild, rich flavor) and German Extra Hardy (strong flavor, great roasted). I have had good results with Deerfield Purple (mild, rich flavor) and Duganski (big, bold flavor).

   Garlic prefers well drained soils rich in organic matter with a pH between 6-7. A soil test to determine your soil pH is available from the University of Minnesota for a $17 fee. See http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/testing-services/lawn-garden for more information.

   Planting site preparation starts in September with weed removal and the addition of compost or well-rotted manure to the soil. In October, plant your garlic one to two weeks after the first killing frost but before the ground freezes. Separate the individual cloves from the garlic bulb a day or two before you plant. The largest cloves tend to produce the largest garlic bulbs. 

   Plant the cloves in a double row 6” apart along the edge of the garden. This makes weeding and watering easier. For multiple rows, allow 30 inches between the set of double rows. The clove is planted with the base two to three inches deep with the pointed end facing up. To grow larger bulbs, plant each clove 5-6 inches apart. Watering at this point will help the cloves form roots and improve next year’s performance. As the ground freezes, add about 4 inches of winter mulch. A mulch of straw or dry leaves helps protect the planting from the freeze/thaw cycles of winter.

   Once spring arrives, remove the mulch to allow the soil to warm. As shoots emerge, add a high nitrogen fertilizer and return the mulch to preserve moisture and reduce weeds.  Avoid fertilizing after the first week in May or bulb formation can be delayed. Keep the bed weed free and watered as your plants grow.

  The flower spike of the garlic appears in mid to late June and is known as a scape. Once the scape starts to curl, remove it so the growth energy is directed into garlic bulb formation. Scapes are delicious and are similar to a mild garlic chive. They can be used fresh (pesto is delicious) or dried for later use.

   In early July it is harvest time. Once half of the leaves on the plant have turned yellow/brown, harvest by loosening the soil with a garden fork and remove the plant. Allow the bulbs to dry in a shaded, well ventilated space with the leaves still attached. Save some bulbs for next fall’s planting and enjoy the rest. Bon appétit!