When to Plant Garlic
Plant garlic about 6 weeks prior to the ground freeze. In the Northern States, 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.
Garlic can be planted into frozen ground and usually does well. If you are late planting in the fall, it is better to get some garlic planted as it usually grows into nice garlic bulbs, 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 sprout. Many growers are finding that planting in late September in northern states is very desirable because the garlic will root down and the sprout will pick up chlorophyll from the sun feeding and developing strong roots. Although the fall green spouts/leaves 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 finding that bulb size can even be larger with an earlier plant date. Experiment with your garlic to see if there is a difference. We love to hear your results!
Planting garlic in the spring
Garlic can be planted in the spring, and it is better than no garlic. It does not produce as well, and the harvested bulbs are usually smaller. They may only develop into solo garlic without clove development since it did not go through the cold virilization period. If you are planting in the spring, you could try to put your garlic in the refrigerator for 40 days to replicate winter. Different regions may yield different results.
Good garlic seed is usually very limited in availability in the spring and what is sold in garden centers and big-box stores is usually imported from other countries and does not grow well here. We know we tried growing this stuff for 7 unsuccessful years until we found a local garlic farm called “We Grow Garlic”. They taught us how to grow garlic and we captured their infectious love for growing garlic. Thank you, Mike and Karen!
Planting into Frozen Ground
Garlic can be planted into the frozen ground, but it will be a miserable task. Most believe some garlic is better than no garlic. 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. Many, many garlic growers plant late successfully, so give it a try. Try to soak your cloves for faster rooting, and mulch the garlic well for a 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 smaller-sized bulbs, although they came from a large bulb.
Planting large size garlic bulbs can offer the largest percent increase of growth while still reaching market size. 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 the ones planted and can be used to multiply an attractive garlic strain quickly since you will have more plantable cloves per pound. For example, I purchased 1lb. of small Spanish Roja garlic bulbs, and planted them. Next summer, I ended up with a nice crop of about 8 pounds with mainly medium-sized 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 about 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.
Get a Good Garlic Crop
Garlic is a heavy feeder! Make sure to get your soil nutrients down in the fall before planting your garlic. 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 macronutrients 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.