Top 10 Questions About Garlic Plants

By Amy Grant | November 10, 2019
Image by NetPix
by Amy Grant
November 10, 2019

Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, and many of those include issues surrounded with growing garlic. We try very hard to provide answers to the best of our knowledge. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions about garlic plants in the garden.

1. How do you know what kind of garlic to grow?

There are basically two different kinds of garlic: softneck and hardneck, also called stiffneck. The type of garlic that is most commonly grown is the latter, of which there are two common varieties: artichoke and silverskin. Hardneck garlic has larger cloves than softneck with a more robust flavor, but it has an easy-to-peel skin that shortens its shelf life. Also, unlike softneck, it sends out a woody scape. Color can also be a clue. Artichoke garlic, for example, may have purple streaks on the skin. If you have a mix of color and scape production, it is possible you have both softneck and hardneck garlic varieties.

2. How and when do I plant garlic bulbs?

Garlic grows best in cool weather, therefore plant garlic cloves in late September and October in the eastern states, in October in the Mid-Atlantic, and in the fall about 6 weeks prior to the first hard freeze in the northern and central U. S. Individual cloves should be planted an inch deep spaced 2-4 inches (5-10 cm.) apart in rows that are 12-18 inches (30-46 cm.) apart.

3. Can I buy garlic at the grocery store and plant?

Yes, you can plant garlic cloves purchased from the grocers, but just be sure they are organic. Other garlic is likely to have been treated with a chemical anti-sprouting agent and will likely be a dud. Also, be sure to select the largest, nicest looking cloves to plant.

4. Should I fertilize garlic plants?

Garlic takes from 180-210 days until harvest. Because of this lengthy growing time, yes, it is advisable to give the plants a boost by fertilizing them. Start at the onset, planting time, by incorporating plenty of compost, blood meal, manure, or an all-purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer into the soil. Fertilize garlic again in the spring (if you planted in the fall) by side dressing or broadcasting a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Fertilize yet again in mid-May just as the bulbs begin to swell, but this time avoid a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen which can stunt the bulb size.

5. When do you harvest the garlic?

Depending upon the variety, garlic takes from 180-210 day until harvest. The approximate harvest date isn’t the only way to tell if garlic is ready to pull up though. Another clue is when the leaves begin to brown. Wait to harvest the garlic until about one third of the leaves have browned and then carefully excavate around a bulb to check the size. If it is still small, cover back up with dirt and wait, but if it is the size you desire, carefully dig it up and check the other bulbs for readiness.

6. What is the best way to store garlic?

Once you have harvested garlic, it needs to cure, or air dry. Lay the garlic out on a layer of newspaper, making sure to leave space between each bulb, in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for at least a couple of weeks. When the garlic is sufficiently cured, the skins will be dry and paper-like and should keep for 5-8 months. Store the garlic in a mesh bag or other airy container.

7. Can you grow garlic in containers, or indoors?

Yes, garlic can be container grown, even indoors, provided you follow a few rules. The container should be at least 6 inches (15 cm.) deep and wide enough to accommodate a space of 6 inches (15 cm.) between bulbs. Many types of material can be used for the container, from terra cotta pots to a plastic bucket – just be sure they have sufficient drainage holes and remember that some materials evaporate more rapidly and will thus need watering more frequently. Also, be sure to use a well-draining soil rich with compost or amended with an all-purpose slow release fertilizer.

8. My garlic isn’t forming bulbs. How come?

It may be that they have not had enough time to split into cloves; remember, garlic can take 180-210 days to come to fruition depending on the variety. It may also be that they have not received enough nutrients. Garlic is a heavy feeder and should be started in a compost rich soil and fertilized or side dressed regularly. Lastly, garlic needs a cold spell to form cloves and it could be that you planted at the wrong time so the plant didn’t get the chill it needed.

9. Are the tops of garlic going to seed?

By the tops, I assume you mean that the garlic set a scape. This means that you are growing hardneck garlic and not softneck, which does not set a scape. Most people snip the scape off in late June to encourage the bulbs to fatten up (and eat the scapes, as they are divine!). If yours has bloomed, then yes, what is left is seed. They will look like small black onion seeds and should be planted in the same manner.

10. Will having garlic next to the tomatoes affect the taste?

I may be prejudiced, but what goes better together than tomatoes and garlic? But to answer your question, no, the tomatoes will not take on the flavor of the garlic. The garlic might have beneficial effects on the tomato, though, by repelling spider mites and other pests.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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