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10 Tips For the Best Garlic Crop Ever

Growing garlic is easy if you follow these ten simple tips.

Garlic is one of my favorite crops to grow.

Not only do you plant it in the fall when you aren't busy with other garden chores, nothing ever seems to bother it - not insects, my chickens, the deer, wild turkeys, raccoon, nothing.

So that means I can plant it outside my fenced in garden area where it's not taking up space where I will be planting vegetables seeds come spring.

A few years ago I wrote a comprehensive guide to planting garlic (there's even a video!), so if you've never planted garlic, you might want to start there.

10 Tips For the Best Garlic Crop Ever

However, if you have tried planting garlic, but had less than stellar results, then you might want to try these few simple tips. 

Size Matters

Choose the largest cloves to plant and you'll end up with the biggest bulbs the following spring. Separate the bulk into individual cloves to prepare for planting, and be sure to leave the papers on.

Think of the papers as little "jackets" for the cloves to sleep in through the winter!

Till Just Prior to Planting

If you plan on tilling your garden, you'll want to till just prior to planting your cloves.

Choosing to till when the soil is fairly dry will work best.

This "just prior" tilling ensures loose soil structure that will allow the cloves to send out nice roots before the ground freezes.

Plant your Garlic Between Halloween and Thanksgiving

This brings me to the timing. I think many people plant their garlic too early. A good rule of thumb is to plant between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Here in Maine, I aim for the first week of November, but if you're further south, you can still wait a bit.

You need to plant early enough to allow the cloves to start to root, but not so early that they send out shoots. If green shoots start to grow in the fall, that could mean the end of your garlic harvest. 

Fertilize, but Don't Over-Fertilize the Soil

Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it needs a good-quality soil, but too much nitrogen in the fertilizer will lead to more shoots, leaves and scapes and less root growth.

Root growth is what we're going for here, so take it easy on the nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Instead think about tossing some eggshells, chicken feathers or other natural soil enrichment materials to your garden plot.

Give your Cloves Breathing Room

Each clove should be spaced about six inches from the other when you're planting them.

I plant mine in rows spaced six inches apart with six inches between each clove in the row.

This ensures that each clove will get enough nutrients from the soil, enough sun for the leaves to grow and enough space to grow to its fullest potential.

Plant Deep Enough

Garlic cloves should be planted at least three-four inches deep.

I plant my cloves about three inches deep and then mulch them with about six inches of straw over the winter.

This not only keeps the weeds down in the spring, but helps hold warmth in the soil and reduce the chance of frost heaves that can push the cloves to the surface and kill them.

Plant Right Side Up

Garlic cloves should be planted with the pointed end up and the flat end down.

The roots grow from the flattened end, and the leaves and scapes grow from the pointy end.

Upside down cloves will face challenges to say the least!

Add Some Mulch

While mulch isn't completely necessary for your garlic bed, it will help keep your garlic warm and happy through the winter.

It will also cut way down on weeds come spring.

I mulch my garlic with the straw from my chicken coop in the fall when I clean out my coop before winter. About 6" is a good amount. You can also use dried leaves, shavings, hay or grass clippings.

Snap those Scapes

In the spring, you'll start to see green leaves poking up through the mulch. That's good.

You can leave the mulch right where it is.It will continue to retain moisture and keep weeds down until it's time to harvest your garlic.

You'll want to keep an eye out for any scapes though.Those are the tubular growths that start to curl up from the center of the leaves.

Snap them off.

You want your garlic to concentrate on growing a larger bulb, not the scapes (and eventually a flower). But don't toss the scapes. You can slice them thinly and use them as you would scallions.

Pull a Test Bulb

Once the leaves turn yellow, it's time to check to see if your garlic is done. Pull a test bulb. If its not as large as you want, wait a week and try again.  

Use the smaller bulbs you pull to add to your chickens' water or cook with.. and save the largest cloves to plant the following spring. (See above!)

And remember, there's more information about planting garlic here.

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