Fall is traditionally the best time to plant garlic. Just like onions and other plants in the Allium family, garlic is sensitive to day length and matures during the longest days of summer. Fall planting gives it a jumpstart on the growing season and it will be one of the first things to come up in the garden next spring.
Planted in September and October, the soil is still warm and will encourage growth, while our fall rains will keep them moist. Soil needs to be rich and loose. Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter so the soil remains uncompacted through the long growing season. Growers with heavy clay soils should add a lot of compost before planting; those blessed with lighter soils having naturally loose texture need add only small amounts of organic matter, or grow and till in green manure prior to planting.
Separate the garlic cloves, but don’t peel them. Break the bulb into individual cloves. Small cloves usually grow small bulbs, so plant only the larger ones. Use the small cloves in your kitchen. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch deep, root side down; where winter is severe, put them 2-4″ deep and mulch lightly, immediately after planting. In spring, the garlic will have no trouble pushing through an inch of mulch. Minimum spacing on raised beds is 4 x 8″. To grow the largest bulbs, try spacing your plants 6 x 12″.
After garlic has overwintered it must be kept well weeded, as garlic doesn’t like competition. Do not damage the shallow roots when cultivating. Garlic needs to be moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in spring. Organic gardeners can side-dress a little chicken manure, seed meal or strong compost. Garlic also likes high-nitrogen foliar fertilizer, sprayed every ten days to two weeks.
You will start seeing the sprouts as early as January. While the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil moist as you would for any other leafy green like lettuce or spinach. Fertilize again in March. Once bulbing begins, fertilizing is useless, maybe even harmful to getting the best quality bulbs. They’ll be ready to harvest in July when the bottom third of the leaves have turned yellow.
Note; Hard-neck varieties of garlic put up a tall, woody flowering stalk or “scapes,” green shoots that can be especially delicious and tender when they’re young. Think of them as garlic-flavored scallions. They also make a wonderful addition to pestos, soups, and butters.