In the garden forums I subscribe to there is a constant stream of garlic-planting related questions from September to November. They usually follow a similar pattern: Early in September the question arrises “Is it too early to plant garlic?” Then the usual question: “When is the best time to plant garlic.” Then later we hear the questions “Is it too late to plant garlic?” And sometimes my favourite: “My garlic has already come-up, what do I do?” While these questions may be of grave importance where you live, where I am, in Southern, Coastal British Columbia this constant line of questioning suggests a wide-spread over-thinking.
Garlic is not a complicated plant to grow. Its needs are minor, and it succeeds in a wide variety of conditions.
I am going to write this article in hopes that people can find all the answers they need.
I love garlic. I plant a lot of it. I prefer cooking with hard stem (cloves are bigger), but I grow a variety. I also like to weave my garlic for storage and to make my hobby farm seem more legit.
First, a challenge!
When you harvest garlic next, either leave a bulb in the ground or (if you have to move it) pull it up, separate the cloves and bury them where they’ll be growing next year. Even if you harvest in July, try this. Chances are very high that the garlic will remain dry and dormant for the remainder of the summer, then with the fall rain it will shoot out of the ground. But days will become short and the garlic spike will slow and eventually stop growing in the winter. Then, next Spring…boom! The garlic will start to grow and by the following summer you’ll have a nice head of garlic. Here’s why: Garlic is a plant. It can exist without human interference. If we don’t harvest the garlic, it will do what many bulbs do: divide and produce new plants. So that alone tells you that while there are some ideal times to plant garlic, it really isn’t a major issue.
See, look below. This is a clove I missed at harvest, but pulled up in November. Well on it’s way!
The main reasons for pulling all garlic and planting it again later is for spacing – to get bigger bulbs; and for curing – to dry them and protect from some pathogens. Again, this is not essential, but is common practice and considered best practice.
So, when to plant garlic? I plant early in October. In (sometimes) dry, loose soil. This year I was busy and didn’t do it until early November. Why I prefer it early is because I like to see the shoots come up before winter. Here on the coast, it will freeze over night sometimes and we’ll get a few days where it stays below freezing, but the garlic isn’t effected. And even if it is, bulbs are stored energy and a new shoot will pop up when it feels like it. Those shoots can take advantage of a long growing season if (as is sometimes the case) we have lots of mild weather in the winter. It is fairly common to go long stretches with temperatures around 10C, and if that sun is shining you can bet plants are taking advantage of it.
How to sow:
I sow all garlic cloves a few inches deep, root side down and choose only cloves that are enclosed in skin, not squishy and have no concerning marks like moulds, invertebrate damage or other. I tend to space cloves six inches apart. I make a row, and then the next row is alternatively spaced so each clove is the same distance apart from those in its row and the rows adjacent. None of this is essential, but I like the way it looks. That being said: too tight of spacing can lead to under-developed bulbs, and too far apart can lead to greater weeding requirements and (in my opinion) a waste of space. However, there are many intensive planting plans to interplant other companion plants amongst the garlic. I have done this in the past with coriander, but found I prefer the simpler approach.
I simply replant my own garlic. This was the most consistent looking group I braided, so I chose them. It’s always best to use your best to replant. However, growing from clove to bulb and then repeating the process is not a genetic selection process since they are more-or-less clones of themselves. Nevertheless, it is always good practice to put your best seeds/bulbs back in.
I like to lay the cloves out first in order to more accurately determine the spacing. Then I’ll go around and push them into the soil and burry them. It’s a bit tedious, especially in this 5′ x 15′ bed, which ended up taking nearly 200 cloves.
Here’s what some of last year’s garlic looked like in June of last year. The tall ones are the garlic planted early the year previous (just two rows each) and the large space between the garlic is onions planted in early spring.
So, remember. Pull the garlic (leave one in and try my challenge) and cure them properly. Then plant each clove about six inches apart and one to two inches deep. And plant them when you feel like it once weather cools. I’d say any time between the last week of September and the first week of December. If it’s not in by then, plant them as soon as you can in the spring and hope for the best.
Oh, and of course I have to mention pest control. Garlic has few troublesome pests here. Above ground you’ll see some damage from slugs in the spring and from thrips in the summer. These aren’t usually a problem. Below the ground you typical weevil or beetle larva damage can be a concern (think wire worms and the like). However, your best practice for pest management is simply to rotate beds. And anything in the allium family (leeks, onions, garlic) should follow this rotation. avoid planting them in the same bed year after year. And then the very obvious solution for any lingering pests is, of course, Stratiolaelaps scimitus, the essential beneficial mite that should go into all of your gardens. Always apply Stratiolaelaps (or Gaeolaelaps gillespiei) when planting a root/bulb crop.
For more, read the following:
Or, see how my garden goes: