Garlic grows better when planted in fall

By Marianne C. Ophardt, Special to the Tri-City HeraldNovember 2, 2012 

PASCO, Wash. -- Are you a gardener and a garlic lover? If so, you probably know that fall is the best time for planting garlic.

There are two main types of garlic. Many gardeners like hardneck (Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon) or top-setting garlic. These produce flowering stalks that produce little bulblets and an underground bulb. The underground bulb consists of about five to 10 cloves around a woody stem. The cloves generally are easy to peel. Because of their woody stem or "neck" these garlic are not typically the type used in garlic braids.

There are a number of hardneck varieties available, each with their unique flavor. Garlic connoisseurs like them for their strong hot or spicy flavors. There are different types of garlic within the hardneck group. Common hardneck types include Rocambole, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Asiatic, and Turban.

Softneck garlic (Allium sativum subsp. sativum ) doesn't usually produce a flowering stem and tends to have a "soft neck" without a woody flower stalk, allowing them to be braided after harvest. Their bulbs contain about 6 to 18 small cloves that are harder to peel. Softneck garlic tends to store better than hardneck garlic. Common softneck types include Artichoke and Silverskin.

Growing garlic is easy. Individual cloves, not seeds, are planted in the ground in the fall. These cloves come from nursery stock garlic bulbs available from garden stores or through seed catalogs. Grocery store garlic bulbs aren't used because they can introduce troublesome diseases and nematodes into your garden soil.

Cloves are best planted from October through early November. (Earlier is better if the weather has turned cool.) Just like spring flowering bulbs, garlic cloves need the time in the fall to develop root systems that will support top growth next spring. Garlic should be planted in a location with good drainage and full sun. The spot should also be where the garlic won't need to be disturbed next spring when the rest of the veggie garden is planted.

Plant unpeeled cloves situated with the pointy ends up and so the top of the cloves are 2 inches below the soil surface. The larger the clove you plant, the bigger the bulb will be at harvest next year. That's because the larger cloves have more stored energy to give the developing plant. In raised beds, plant the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in rows spaced 8 inches or more apart.

After planting, water the newly planted cloves to settle the soil and water again if the soil becomes dry through late fall and winter.

In early spring, garlic will benefit from fertilization. Side-dress garlic plants with .5 pounds of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per 100 square feet. Fertilize again in late April or early May.

It's also good to lightly mulch the garlic bed to help retain moisture, to insulate the cloves from cold temperatures, and to prevent weed growth. Garlic does not compete well with weeds, so be sure to control weeds in the bed. If using a garden hoe, shallowly cultivate the soil taking care not to injure the garlic roots that aren't far from the soil surface. Your garlic will be ready to harvest sometime in August when about one-third of tops have died back.

Garden note: Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is not really garlic. It's a leek that has a flavor much like mild garlic.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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