Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Garlic Planting Time is Now

Garlic is a garden specialty that can be successfully grown in Kentucky. It does take some advance planning. It is a long season, over-wintered crop, with planting best done in the fall months for a bountiful harvest next summer. 

Like flower bulbs, garlic and its close relative, elephant garlic are perennial bulbs. When fall-planted, garlic cloves will root and make limited growth before the first hard freeze. In the early spring, growth resumes, bulbs and eventually seed stalks form, then the tops die down in early summer.

Garlic may be spring planted, but an internal chill requirement must be met for the cloves to properly grow. Thus spring planted garlic should be stored in the refrigerator for at least 8 weeks prior to planting to ensure proper chilling. Fall-planted garlic will obtain its chilling in the soil and has the advantage of gaining fall root growth and earlier maturity. If properly planted, cold temperatures will not hurt garlic. 

Fall-planted garlic should be done by mid-October. Depending on local conditions, too early may lead to too much tender top growth by winter; too late and not enough root development occurs.
Soil requirements for garlic include high organic matter levels and good drainage. A waterlogged soil will cause cloves to rot. Form raised beds if your soil is heavy or poorly drained. Lay out planting rows 15 to 18 inches apart. Separate individual cloves from the main bulb and plant them about 4 to 6 inches apart in the row. The larger cloves of elephant garlic should be set 6 to 9 inches apart. As a general rule, the larger the clove, the larger the bulb will be at harvest. Cloves should be set with tip up, and 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. 

Because garlic is a poor competitor, good weed control is important. Though fall and winter weed problems are minor, spring and early summer weeds can be invasive and should be controlled. Mulch helps provide winter protection and conserves moisture during the summer. 

Only during drought-like conditions should garlic be watered. As bulbs approach maturity avoid any supplemental watering. One or two soluble fertilizer applications in early and mid-spring will help promote vigorous and uniform growth. 

As flower shoots (scapes) form in late spring, be sure to cut them off (hardneck types produce scapes). This helps to increase the bulb size. As an added bonus, garlic scapes are considered a delicacy and can be chopped fresh into salads.

Cloves from 'Music', these should be planted tips up

Garlic scapes on hardneck types
Harvest garlic before the tops completely die down, preferably with 4 to 6 green leaves still attached. Remove excess soil, but do not wash, and lay whole plants on screens or hang in small bunches to dry. Allow it to cure completely in a warm, well-ventilated room, but not in direct sunlight. Watch for rotting bulbs, remove these and increase air circulation if needed using a box fan. Curing will take about 4 to 6 weeks. 

After that, roots and tops can be trimmed, and outer dirty skins can be removed. Store cured garlic in a cool dry place. Remember all garlic varieties taste the same at harvest time, but after curing and a few weeks of storage time, individual variety flavors will come out. 

A few good varieties include 'Music' and 'Bogatyr' (hardneck types). Others include 'Polish' (softneck type). There are many varieties of garlic, and the best sources of planting stock are mail-order and internet specialty seed companies and diverse garden centers.

Harvest time, leaves are beginning to yellow and die
For more information on vegetable crop growing, take a look at University of Kentucky publication Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky

Pictures by Beth Wilson, Pulaski County Horticulture Agent 

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