4 Things About Planting Garlic

More About Garlic

This is definitely the time to plant garlic. (It’s also the time to plant other alliums, not least the ornamental alliums, like my favourite, “Purple Sensation”. But on with garlic…)

This is my third year planting garlic, so I’ve harvested twice before. The best of the harvest goes to the planting bed; the bigger the cloves that are planted, the bigger the cloves that are harvested. So I’ll get a better crop every year. In theory. This year I didn’t get nearly as many cloves as I’d expected. I may have not watered enough through the summer drought, or harvested a bit too early, so the cloves were a bit more vulnerable to rot. Whatever the reason, I think I only got about 20 cloves.

Preparing the bed

Mound of compost ready to be spread.
Mound of compost ready to be spread.

I cleared out extraneous material, then spread a 1-2″ layer of compost. This bed has never had any allium-family plants before; if you’ve had onions or shallots or scallions, choose a different spot. Most crops benefit from a four-year rotation cycle, which decreases the pest load, and allows the different vegetables to use nutrients in different percentages.

Hardneck variety--don't know the cultivar.
Hardneck variety–don’t know the cultivar.

These garlics were harvested in late July, and allowed to “cure” since then. I tried to delay the harvest until  ⅔ of the leaves were yellowing, but I may have jumped the gun on that. I could have cut off most of the stem and foliage, but the stiff stem made it easier for them to dry standing upright in a vase on the back deck.

Hardneck variety, few cloves, all the same size.
Hardneck variety, few cloves, all mostly the same size.

Separating the cloves

The hard stem is a convenient lever to pry apart the cloves.
The hard stem is a convenient lever to pry apart the cloves.

Carefully pull off any loose papery skin, and then twist apart the cloves. Be careful not to take off the clove’s own skin and the “basal plate”. The basal plate is actually the stem of the plant, out of which the roots will grow. No basal plate, no roots. Thus the sad story of a garden blogger who had 75 garlic bulbs. While preparing the planting bed, her teenage son decided to be very helpful, and “prepared” the garlic cloves by completely removing all the outer and inner skin, including the basal plate.

This is a clove ready to plant.
This is a clove ready to plant.

I may have got fewer than I’d hoped, but the size is still pretty impressive.

Large garlic clove.
Large garlic clove. Admittedly, I have a pretty small hand…

Some of the cloves were rotten, many of the bulbs only had two (large) cloves. So out of 16 plants I only got 16 cloves. That’s just not enough, so I’ll break down and go buy some. This hasn’t been a good year for the local garlic harvest (presumably the long drought), so the selection is pretty limited.

Apparently only 16 cloves.
Apparently only 16 cloves.


Previously I planted the cloves around 3-4″ deep, but I recently read they can go more like 5-6″ deep, so I’m opting for deeper. I’m hoping the squirrels won’t be interested–I think they dislike the allium smell. But just in case, the deeper they are the less like the squirrels will bother with that much excavating.

Before levelling out the soil.
Before levelling out the soil.

They’re planted about 5″ apart–they really don’t like to be crowded. They also don’t like to be shaded, so if you add them to a perennial bed, make sure the perennials grow lower than the garlic leaves. Oh, and label the spots–for sure you’ll forget you put them there among the sedums and convallaria and geums…

Then mulch

Protect the soil, insulate the bed, and help prevent weeds (another thing garlic doesn’t like) by mulching with an organic mulch. This rather effusive Campsis radicans will drop its leaves sometime this month, and provide a lovely bed of mulch for my garlics. I’ll have to monitor for weeds in the meantime.

Future mulch!
Future mulch!

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