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How to grow

Follow these detailed instructions below to plant garlic like a pro. Also here is the extremely short version: Plant 3-4 inches down in fertile, well worked soil, & side dress with an organic fertilizer. Leave approx 4 inches between plants. Cover with soil and 4 inches of mulch. Keep well-watered during the growing season, by mid-June stop watering. Happy harvesting!

Dates To Remember
(plus or minus a week or two)

Colombus Day ~ Plant Garlic
Tax Day ~ First side dress of fertilizer
Mothers Day ~ Second side dress of fertilizer
Fathers Day ~ Check for scape growth. If curled; cut it at it’s lowest point and use it in your favorite recipe
Mid-June ~ Stop watering!
4th of July ~ Check for wilting and dying of leaves- when 50% of leaves are dry and brown; pull Garlic and dry it in bunches or on shelves.
Allow leaves and bulbs to fully dry, then cut off tops leaving 1/2″ and roots leaving 1/4″. Keep in cool, dry place for eating and/or replanting.


Crystal Stewart Regional Vegetable Specialist Eastern New York Horticulture Program Cornell Cooperative Extension Johnstown, NY 12095 

Without a certification program in place some growers wonder how they should treat new seed introduced onto the farm. Many growers have been able to find sources of nice, healthy-looking seed from sources who have tested negative for Garlic Bloat Nematode, but this result is not a guarantee that every bulb that the grower produced is GBN free; it is only a guarantee that the garlic used in the test is GBN free! Additionally, new seed may come with Fusarium or surface molds.  To minimize risk of infesting established seed stock, and to promote healthy and vigorous garlic next year, include a few safeguards and best practices in your planting plans.

1) Map it out Create a planting map for the garlic, and separate the new seed from your existing seed stock. The separation doesn’t have to be large, since GBN can move no more than one foot in soil. However, if your soil moves, the GBN can move with it, so make sure you plant new seed down hill from established seed to prevent movement with erosion. Also place your new garlic where you will be able to plant and cultivate it last. Avoiding movement of soil around GNB infested plants to areas with uninfested plants with your cultivation equipment is a key preventative action during the growing season. Label the new garlic clearly in the field for reference next year.

2) Cull bulbs or cloves with symptoms or damage when cracking: Carefully feel and look at each clove during this process, and remove anything that looks suspect. Discard cloves with unhealthy looking basal plates, with dents or lesions on or under the wrapper leaf, and any cloves that feel unusually light. Do not compost these cloves—either bury them away from the field or throw them away.

3) Treat all seed with a surface sterilizer: Sterilizing the surface of the cloves will NOT control GBN! However, it will reduce issues with surface molds such as aspergillus and will kill surface penicillium. This is a best practice for all garlic. You can either use a 10% commercial bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water) or you can use an OxiDate dip (32 oz per 25 gallons water). Remember to test bleach and OxiDate dips for activity if treating large amounts of seed, and replace solution when activity decreases. Plant cloves immediately after dipping, not after they have dried back out.

4) Optimize pre-planting soil fertility: All phosphorus and potassium should be applied at planting. Slow release organic forms of N such as alfalfa and soybean meal can be applied at planting. Quick release synthetic or soluble forms of N should be reserved for use in the spring. Optimum fertility and soil conditioning will help keep garlic healthy, and healthy garlic will withstand everything from GBN to Fusarium better than stressed, unhealthy garlic.

5) Next year, watch new seed closely: During the growing season, cull suspicious looking plants and have them tested for GBN. Selecting the most suspicious plants gives you the highest probability of detecting GBN, if present. If a seed certification program is developed, farm inspectors will take this step for you. Until then, you can act as your own informal inspector.

6) If the seed turns out to be positive you can still sell it as food. Use your planting maps to help you avoid planting the area with infested seed into any allium for four years. This is a best practice for garlic in general, so if you can move the whole garlic planting out of alliums for four years that is the best option.  After that time you should be able to safely plant garlic back into that ground.

II- Planting & Cultivating

1. Soil Preparation

For best results plan your garlic patch in a full sun location. Garlic prefers well drained, rich, loamy soil with a neutral Ph (7) amended with lots of organic matter. Prepare your beds in the fall by tilling the soil to a minimum of 4”.

Prepare furrows 3”-4” deep. Allow adequate spacing between rows, at least 6” for double and triple row planting.

2. Popping Cloves

Select your largest cloves of garlic for planting, keep the smaller ones or any that look mis-shaped for cooking. Some varieties of garlic may have more than one basal plate. If these are planted they could produce more than one head of garlic from the same plant space. This will yield mis-shaped & smaller heads.

Pop each Garlic head into individual cloves. Cloves can be treated with OxiDate ( organic fungicide, this will help your seed garlic resist and fight any bacteria in the soil to allow your garlic to grow properly. Follow directions on package for seed drenching.

3. Planting

There is a top and a bottom to garlic when planting.  The top is the pointy end, and the flat end is the bottom known as the basal plate. Orientate each clove with the basal plate down into the soil 3”-4” deep in the furrow spaced 4’-6’ apart.   If the cloves are all planted in the same orientation with the sides facing each other (or the rounded end facing the outside edge of the furrow), all the leaves will grow in the same direction making weeding and cultivating easier.   This is an extra step and will take you longer to plant but can provide good results if you are mechanically cultivating.

Place organic fertilizer on the inside edge of the furrow, and cover garlic with soil.  A standard 4-2-4   fertilizer will be fine, but it is highly recommended to do a soil sample to find out what your soil needs.  During fall planting Nitrogen is not needed for garlic, because it lays dormant and is not trying to make Green growth.  However Nitrogen is highly recommended for early spring side dressing.

4. Mulching

Organic mulch is a good way to protect your garlic during the winter and help control weed during the growing season.  Leaves and straw are good sources and will help improve your soil structure for future plantings It should be laid on top of the rows at a minimum of 3” and upwards of 6” thick.  (see Organic Weed control options below).

5. Fertilization

In early spring Garlic requires higher amounts of nitrogen, this will help the garlic have green leaf and stem growth.  Different organically derived sources of nitrogen are.  Blood meal, bat guano, liquid seaweed, kelp, alfalfa meal, feather meal, Fish emulsion.  It is recommended to test your soil to find out what the nitrogen level is in your soil before you add additional nitrogen.  The amount of Manure, and green manure that was added in the fall should be figured in when testing. Because these forms of nitrogen are slow released but are readily available to your plants immediately.

When your garlic plants are 3” we recommend to start banding or side dressing your beds with 10-13 % nitrogen, this should be done every two weeks until the summer solstice. After that your plants will not need nitrogen anymore, and will require more food for bulb growth.  Potassium (K) will be the next amendment to your soil to help the bulb fatten up. Again this can be side dressed and turned into the soil. I recommend adding this amendment two weeks prior to the summer solstice and requires no more than 2 -2 week additions.  At this time it is recommended to stop watering your garlic. To allow it to start drying down and hardening off. There should be an adequate amount of moisture in the ground to allow garlic to survive the next few weeks.

6. Harvesting Scapes

During the Month of June the garlic will start to send out a scape from the middle of the leaves.  This is garlics form of reproduction, and will provide you the first taste of garlic.  When the scape grows long enough it will start to make a curl.  Each variety will have slightly different curl and can help in identifying the variety of garlic you have.  Once the scape makes a full curl you want to cut is low on the stem and remove it.  Use this in the kitchen in pestos, stir-fry’s, on the grill, or in salads, it gives a mild but pungent taste to anything you would normally cook with garlic.

If the scape is left to fully mature it could reduce bulb size.  As the garlic will use more energy to grow the scape and this will take energy away from bulb growth.  However if the scape grows till maturity it will produce a bulbis, at the tip will be small seeds.  These seeds will vary in size and shape depending on variety.  These seeds can be planted in the fall to produce and exact clone of the garlic bulb it came from.  If you decide to grow your garlic this way it will take several years to produce garlic bulbs of good size.  Often the first year you will only grow one clove of garlic from an individual seed.

7. Harvesting

Shortly after the scape is cut the plant will start to dry down when you notice 50% of the leaves turning brown you should dig a head or two to see if the bulb looks full and feels like it is tight.  If the bulb looks like it could fill out more or there is some movement in the cloves you may want to wait another week and check again.  If the bulb is full you can start harvesting.  To harvest dig each clove carefully.  A lot of post-harvest problems can be avoided if the garlic is not bruised during harvesting.  The bulb is very susceptible to bruising before it dries down, so be sure to take care handle the garlic carefully and gently.

8. Drying

Drying garlic can be done in several ways.

  1. Bunching and or braiding garlic can be hung in a cool area with low humidity.
  2. Laying the whole plant on drying racks with a fan moving air
  3. Drying in a greenhouse with high volume of air moving over the garlic will dry it quickly

To get the best results garlic should be kept under 95 degrees and dried as quickly as possible and keep it out of direct sunlight.  If using a greenhouse be sure to have shade cover on it to avoid the sun burning the garlic.  This will usually take 2-4 weeks depending on the method you choose.  Garlic bulbs that are quickly dried have a tendency to keep longer in storage.

Once the bulb has dried you can cut the bulb from the stem about 1-2”.  The bulb can be cleaned with your hands removing only 1-2 layers of skin.  If you are keeping the garlic for storage it des not need to be cleaned because the skins will help protect it from moisture loss and allow you to keep the garlic longer in storage.  Just clean the heads when you’re ready to use them.

III- Weed Control

Weed Control in Garlic, New York 2012. Summarized by Christy Hoepting, Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Program.

Weed Control Options

Organic Straw mulch
Pros: provides OM, protects plants during winter, regulates moisture availability and soil temperature.
Cons: May introduce weeds, may inhibit mechanical harvest, may complicate N banding.

Plastic mulch
Pros: very complete weed control, may cause plant to initiate bulbing sooner, warms soil in the spring.
Cons: Must install irrigation, may complicate mechanical harvest, plastic waste.

Pros: Effective burndown of small weeds.
Cons: Limited control of larger weeds, will damage garlic.

Pros: Effective burndown of small weeds. Fun.
Cons: Limited control of larger weeds, cannot be used in mulched bed systems.

Pros: Effective between‐row control of various sized weeds.
Cons: limited in‐row control.  Possibility of damaging crop – “tractor blight”.

IV- Harvest and Storage

There is no set time to harvest garlic due to the fact that different varieties mature at different rates. A good rule of thumb however, is to harvest your garlic when 4 green upper leaves remain on the plant and all the lower leaves have browned down. The reason this rule works is due to the fact that every leaf on a garlic plant also represents a bulb wrapper. For garlic to cure and store properly, it needs at least 3-4 healthy skin layers surrounding the entire bulb. So once again, harvest your garlic plant when it has 4 healthy green leaves remaining. Harvest time does not however mark the end of successful garlic production. The best garlic needs to cure to develop great flavor and to obtain its maximum storability.

Once garlic is dug or ‘pulled’ from the soil, it is a common practice to allow the plants to lie on the ground for 3-4 days in dry conditions, or in a shed or closed area if rain is eminent. Plants are sometimes overlapped so as to cover the bulbs of adjacent plant bulbs. Attempt to avoid direct sunlight which can burn their delicate skins as they dry-down. Never wash the soil from garlic as it is curing. Next, garlic is usually hung in small bunches (10-12ea) or braided and hung in a well-ventilated shed out of direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks. After this month or so the braids or bunches can be taken down, their roots trimmed to within 1/2 inch of the bulb and their tops trimmed down to about 1 inch from the bulb to prepare them for storage. Now your garlic will be ready for storage and is edible although it usually takes another month or more to cure completely. Softneck garlic can last for up to 8-12 months if stored properly depending on the variety. Artichoke varieties usually can be stored for about 6-8 months and your gourmet hardneck varieties for only a maximum of 4 months.

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