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Planting garlic should be done 6 weeks prior to ground freeze. In the Northern States in the US, the best time to plant is about the 2nd week of October. The middle to southern sections of the US can plant later than Mid October. But, garlic can be planted even into frozen ground, so even if you are late planting in the fall it is better to get your garlic in and planted as it usually results well into good garlic since it is such a hardy plant.
It was always thought that planting too early is not desirable because it wastes plant energy by sending up a allows the sprout which was thought not to be desirable, since the thought was winter kill does waste plant energy. Many growers are finding the planting in late September in northern states is very desirable, because the garlic will root down really well and the sprout will pick up chlorophyll from the sun feeding the roots. Although the fall greens will die off during the cold winters (in the northern states), they will re-sprout in the spring and grow into wonderful garlic plants. We are not finding that it is affecting bulb size either.
Garlic can be planted into frozen ground, but it will be a miserable task. But most believe, some garlic is better than no garlic. So, if you do plant late, it should still grow into a great plant, but it also may not allow the clove sufficient time to initiate its roots and anchor itself in the soil which may result in winter injury and heaving out of the ground in the spring, but many, many growers plant late successfully. Try to soak your cloves for a faster rooting, and mulch the garlic well for better success rate.
There is a positive correlation between the size of the clove planted and the size of the bulb harvested. Some growers grade their cloves by size/weight and plant the largest.
Jumbo cloves yield Jumbo bulbs, as long as there are no limitations in the environment. In Jumbo or large garlic bulbs, there may still be some small cloves in the bulb. These smaller cloves usually yield the smaller sized bulbs although they came from a large bulb.
Large size garlic bulbs can offer the largest percent increase of growth while still reaching a market size and you will harvest more bulbs as you get more plantable cloves per pound since there are more bulbs per pound.
Culinary sized bulbs can still be planted and usually produce slightly larger bulbs than planted and can be used to multiply an attractive garlic strain quickly since your will have more plantable cloves per pound. For example, I purchased 1lb. of small Spanish Roja garlic bulbs, and planted them. That summer, I ended up with a nice crop of about 8 pounds with mainly medium size bulbs. In the fall, I planted about 4lbs. of all the cloves in the larger bulbs and ate the rest! The next summer we yielded in approx. 12lbs. of large bulbs, 25lbs. of medium size bulbs, and 8 lbs. of small bulbs.
Small Cloves or really small bulbs for green garlic:
Small cloves or bulbs have their value too! Spring Green Garlic! Plant either the small cloves 2-3” apart in a row or plant the entire small garlic bulb 3-4” apart, and harvest in the spring when it looks like a green onion. This is a delicious rare treat in our kitchen in the spring. This is a great addition to a farm market stand in early spring when there are few vegetable crops available.
Garlic is a heavy feeder! Make sure your soil nutrients down in the fall before planting your garlic, because you can't make up nutrients in the spring by fertilizing then. It is best to get a soil test that looks at micro and macro nutrients and get a fertilization plan based on your soil test. Soil prep and building good soil is the key to a good crop. Every time a crop is taken off the land, nutrients must be put back into the soil with tillable cover crops, compost and fertilizers to build the soil in order to continue to get a good crop.