Autumn is the time to plant next year's garlic

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Last Updated: 
October 13, 2006

ST. HELENS, Ore. – October is the best month to plant garlic in your garden in most places in Oregon. There are several types of garlic to choose from – non-flowering, top-setting and elephant garlic are among those available from nurseries or stores.

Most commercially grown garlic varieties are the non-flowering types, including Silver, California Early, California Late and Creole.

Many home gardeners like to grow top-setting garlic, sometimes also called "hard stem," Italian Silver Skin or Rocambole garlic, which often has darker or purple-tinged skin. It is called top-setting garlic because in the summer after it is planted, it produces bulblets, tiny garlic bulbs, at the end of a tall flowering stalk, in addition to a fat underground bulb of cloves. Some enthusiasts say top-setting or hard stem garlic has a richer, more pungent flavor than non-flowering types. The flower buds of top-setting garlic can be harvested in the spring and sautéed or steamed as a delicious side dish.

Elephant garlic, actually a type of leek, produces large, mild-tasting cloves, usually fewer per bulb than the true garlics.

All types of garlic thrive in full sun in well-drained organic soil, and sandy, silty loam is best, says Chip Bubl, garlic expert and agricultural agent at the Columbia County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service in St. Helens. On heavier soil, make raised beds that are two to three feet wide and at least 10 to 12 inches deep. The plants have well-developed root systems that may grow more than three feet deep in well-drained soil.

Lime the soil prior to final bed shaping if you haven't done so recently. Before planting garlic cloves, work in a couple tablespoons of 5-10-10 complete fertilizer, bone meal, or fish meal into the soil several inches below where the base of the garlic will rest. Select healthy large cloves, free of disease.

"The larger the clove you plant, the bigger the bulb you will get the following summer," said Bubl.

Plant cloves root side down, two inches deep and two to four inches apart in rows spaced 10 to 14 inches apart. Space elephant garlic cloves about six inches apart. Garlic can be lightly mulched to improve soil structure and reduce weeds. A single 10-foot row should yield about five pounds of the fragrant bulbs. Garlic is rarely damaged by insects.

Fertilize garlic in the early spring by side dressing or broadcasting with blood meal or a synthetic source of nitrogen. Just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight (usually early-May), fertilize lightly one more time. Keep garlic well weeded, as it cannot stand much competition. As the spring weather dries out, water garlic to a depth of two feet every eight to 10 days. As mid-June approaches, taper off on the watering.

Don't wait for the leaves to start to die back to check for maturity, said Bubl. Sometimes garlic bulbs will be ready to harvest when the leaves are still green. The best way to know if garlic is ready to pull from the ground is to pull one up and cut it open cross-wise.

Start checking for mature cloves about late June, he suggested. Harvest garlic when the head is divided into plump cloves and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs is thick, dry and papery.

"If left in the ground too long, the bulbs sometimes split apart and become difficult to harvest as intact heads," said Bubl. "The skin may also split, exposing the cloves. Then it doesn't store too well."

Dig, then dry the mature bulbs in a shady, warm, dry and well-ventilated area for a few days. Then remove the tops and roots. Brush dirt off the bulbs. To braid garlic together, harvest it a bit earlier while leaves are green and supple.

Avoid bruising the garlic, as it will not store well.

Store bulbs in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Protect from high humidity and freezing. According to Bubl, the refrigerator is not the place to store garlic - the cold temperature stimulates sprouting.

Properly stored garlic should last until the next crop is harvested, the following summer. Cloves also can be peeled and frozen or made into pesto with basil and olive oil and frozen. With care and a pinch of luck, you may never have to buy garlic again.

The OSU Extension Service offers a fact sheet about "Garlic for the Home Garden," (FS 138), available on the web at:

Or, to order a printed copy, call 1-800-561-6719.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Chip Bubl