Just as most of us are putting our gardens to sleep for winter, some of us are gearing up for fall planting of tulips, daffodils, muscari (aka grape hyancinth), hyacinths and garlic. That’s right, garlic!
October is the ideal time to plant garlic. It needs cold weather in order to form decent size bulbs that are divided into cloves.
There are two types of garlic to grow; softneck garlic and hardneck garlic. There are several varieties of garlic within each of these 2 types. Softneck garlic is easier to grow and stores well, but hardneck garlic, although it winters well in colder climates, is not as long lasting once harvested yet is said to have the best flavour. I do not recommend using supermarket garlic as seed garlic, as there is a risk of virus infection. You are best to buy proper planting stock from a market or from a grower.
Garlic is a rather greedy feeder so you want to plant in good fertile soil with lots of compost and have good drainage.
Now to get started, you will take the garlic bulb and separate the cloves; you don’t want to plant small cloves. The bigger and fatter the clove is, the bigger your resulting bulb will be. Plant them much like you would a daffodil, about 3-4 inches deep with the pointy side up. Space them out generously, about 6 inches apart, give them a bit of water and you are done. Your winter wait will be rewarded with signs of green shoots appearing next spring!
As hardneck garlic grows to maturity, it will develop flowers, or “scapes”, near the top of the leaves. These should be removed in order to allow the majority of nutrients to feed the garlic bulb. The scapes (also called garlic shoots, stems, stalks or spears) can be used like a vegetable in stir fries or salads. The long, edible stems have the consistency of a green bean and the flavor of garlic crossed with green onion.
When the garlic plant leaves start to turn yellow and droop, around mid to late July, it is a sign to begin harvesting your garlic. You will want to use a garden fork rather than a spade to gently lift your bulbs. Once you’ve brushed off most of the dirt, lay them out to dry in a warm sunny location for about a week. Once dry, you can trim off the root hairs, then braid or tie the stems into a decorative string for storage or immediate use.