How (and when) to plant garlic

As October marches on one of my favorite fall activities is quickly approaching. Garlic planting! This is our seventh year with Garlic (Allium sativum) and we're very excited to try some new varieties! I think planting garlic is one of my favorite gardening activities because it's like one last hurrah of planting for an ending season. 

planting fall garlic

I like to plant both hardneck and softneck varieties. Even though I try to keep them separated, I always seem to get them mixed together. When they are growing side by side it's easy to tell which is which as they grow. The hardneck varieties will get scapes. I cut the scapes off after they start to curl and saute them in butter, they're so yummy! If you don't cut the scapes off, the bulbs don't grow as big...and I love some big garlic bulbs!

When to plant garlic

The best time to plant garlic is in fall, usually around the end of October. You should plant about 2 weeks before your first frost date. I wrote about How To Determine Your First Frost Date and if you want to get specific, you can use that to help you figure it out. Or you could just plant in the last 2 weeks of October, which seems to be a safe bet. 

That planting garlic by the moon thing

My grandfather always said you should plant your garlic during the waning moon right before it freezes the pumpkins, but I was sure it was just something he made up! Then I thought about it. It makes sense since the full moon is usually mid month, the 2 weeks after is when the moon is waning. Roots crops are often planted during the waning moon anyway. 

His planting schedule puts us right in the last 2 weeks of October...and I bet if you head up to that link above and determine your first frost date, you'll find 2 weeks before is right around the same time. Weird how those old wives tales work isn't it?

Related reading: Planting by moon phase, fact or fiction?

You want to give your garlic enough time to 'get settled' before the freeze comes. The ground needs time to pack back down so it doesn't freeze as quickly. 

The garlic seed will begin to grow some roots to help anchor it in the soil over winter. It might even sprout and pop up above the ground. Don't worry, garlic won't die off when the snow hits it, though you do want to add more mulch if you do see sprouts! 

Some people like to plant garlic in spring instead. It's said that if you wait till spring to plant, then the bulbs don't grow as big. I've only done it a few times, and in my experience they have been smaller. 

However, I usually only plant garlic in spring if I forgot to do it in fall or found a new variety to try after winter had set in. In these cases, smaller bulbs are better than no bulbs! 

Planting garlic by the moon.

How to plant garlic

In order to grow garlic, you need to start with a head of garlic. I order organic seed garlic online, but many stores and plant nurseries carry it. I order mine online so I can choose different varieties each year. Locally I only have a few options, though the organic farms near me do have an interesting selection.

I've read that some people have luck with grocery store garlic, but it's never worked for me. There's also a possibility that it's been treated with pesticides or a growth inhibitor so if you want to try growing garlic from the store, make sure it is organic!

Choose garlic that is firm and not soft or squishy. Garlic gets soft with age and at that point is usually too old to grow. Starting with a head of garlic, separate the cloves removing the papery covering but leaving the thicker skin on each clove. 

I choose only the biggest cloves to plant. The small ones will grow too, they just tend to produce smaller heads. Plant each one about 3" deep and 6" apart in rows. Make sure the flat part is down, pointy end up. I like to use a dibbler to make the right size holes. It's basically a pointed stick with a handle that's made for planting.

garlic planting

Using a dibbler helps me to measure how deep the cloves are being planted so they're all in uniformly. I learned the hard way that I don't guess real accurately when it comes to planting depth. It's better for me to use some type of tool to measure how deep I'm planting. 

This dibbler works great, though if you don't want to buy a special tool you can just use a marker to make a line on a stick at the correct depth. I also have a set of garden Augers I bought off amazon for $15! They fit on a regular drill and basically drill a hole in the ground for you. They work great for planting garlic and other bulbs.

After the garlic clove is in the hole, I fill with aged compost and add several inches of mulch. I usually use leaves I chopped up by running them over with the lawnmower. (shhh, don't tell hubby! Why is that such a big deal anyway?) 

I plant garlic in October although some people plant in early spring. If you plant in spring you don't need to mulch as thick. The mulch helps to keep the cloves insulated through the freeze-thaw cycle of winter. When spring hits simply rake up the mulch and you should see tiny garlic plants starting to grow.

How to grow Garlic

As I mentioned earlier hardneck varieties will develop scapes and soft neck varieties will not. This will happen when they leaves get to be about knee high. Cut the scapes off once they start to curl. They're super yummy and have a mild garlic flavor. 

While the soft neck varieties do not get scapes they do have those lovely soft leaves that are easy to weave into a garlic braid.

Garlic scapes growing on hardnecked garlic varieties.

Once the leaves on either variety start to droop down and die it's time to dig up the garlic. I like to dust off the dirt and hang them to dry in the shed. (see picture above) If you decide to braid them you'll want to do it right away since the leaves get brittle when they dry.

The nice thing about garlic is that it comes out of the garden so early in the season that you can use the space again. I usually replace mine with lettuce and marigolds, since I can always use more salad and flowers!

While you're at it, October is a great time to Plant flowering bulbs for spring flowers.


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