In this complete guide to growing garlic learn about the different types, how to plant and grow garlic. Garlic is an essential in my home cooking. That is why learning how to grow and preserve garlic in my own garden was a priority for me when I started growing my own vegetables. Here I will give you a basic rundown on how to plant and grow garlic.
Types of Garlic
There are many different types of garlic. Varieties range in color, shape size and flavor but the numerous varieties fall into two main groups; hardneck and softneck. These two broad groups can be broken down into 11 types of garlic. In this post we are going to delve into the two main types of garlic, so you may better chose what will suit your gardening and culinary needs.
Hardneck varieties of garlic tends to have a bit more flavor than its soft neck counterpart. This garlic is characterized by its hard woody central stocks and a long flower stalk called a scape.
Hardneck garlic tends to grow best in areas with very cold winters, because they require a longer time of vernalization (they need a long, cold winter to be dormant so they can flower in the spring). This variety can be the harder of the two to grow because it requires a hard freeze and very cold winter to germinate.
Softneck garlic is believed to have evolved from its hardneck cousin and it comprises most of the garlic you buy in the grocery store today. It has a more mild flavor than hardneck garlic and because it doesn't grow scapes softneck garlic typically has more cloves. This variety of garlic can thrive in varying zones, it does not require a hard freeze to grow and will germinate even if you have a very mild winter. Softneck garlic is the garlic type that you can braid an it will last for up to eight months in a cool dry atmosphere.
When to plant garlic
I plant my garlic cloves in well-drained beds after the first frost has passed and the soil is cool, but preferably not frozen. I pant into beds that have been amended with chicken manner or compost months before. Cloves can also be planted in late winter as soon as the soil thaws, but fall-planted garlic produces bigger, better bulbs.
Now for the fun part! Did you know that you can literally just use the outer cloves from (most) store bought garlic to start your crop of garlic? Remember most store bought garlic is softneck, and if you want a harneck variety you will most likely need to ask a gardening friend for some of theirs or buy seed garlic from a seed company or your local gardening store.
Plant cloves root side down 4-6" apart in rows 1-½ to 2' apart, and cover with 1-2" of fine soil. In colder regions it is necessary to use a layer of mulch over your planted garlic cloves. You can do this by layering leaves, straw, or even grass clippings over the planted garlic cloves. I recommend a 2-4'' layer depending on how cold your winters are.
The majority of garlic that I grow in my zone 7b garden is hardneck. I prefer it because I love to eat the garlic scapes with eggs and in stir fries in the spring. My climate in zone 7b is also perfect for growing hardneck garlic. Although I don't grow much softneck garlic I do love a good garlic braid and so I typically add a few rows in just to make a few braids for friends and to use in my own kitchen.
Your garlic should start to sprout out of the soil in early spring (depending on when you planted). at this point if the mulch has decomposed, add a layer to help retain moisture and keep weeds under control. Before harvesting usually in late spring to early summer, stop watering. The garlic will store better if you allow the soil around the bulbs to dry out.
You will know when to harvest garlic when most of the leaves have turned brown. This usually occurs in mid-July to early August, depending on your growing zone and time of planting. Carefully pull or dig the bulbs up. If the bulbs are left in the ground too long, they can separate and will not store well. Lay the garlic plants out to dry for 2 or 3 weeks in a shady area with good air circulation. Do not allow the plants to get wet and check for moisture issues. When the roots feel brittle and dry, rub them off, along with any loose dirt. Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.