How does garlic grow? Pretty effortlessly, if you ask me. Just give it some sun, a little water and watch it go.
Years ago my husband and I took a trip to Raven, Virginia to visit his grandparents. Like most people that lived on top of the mountain, Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw Ball had a very, very, very large garden. They grew potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cabbage, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and lots of garlic! We had just moved into a new house (back in Ohio) and wanted to build our own backyard garden. Maw-Maw Ball gave me a bag full of garlic “seeds” to get started. When I asked her what to do with them, she said in her gentle southern drawl, “Well honey, you just plant them in the dirt.”
Just plant them in the dirt.
I took them home and planted them in the dirt once…and have enjoyed 13 years of garlic from that one initial planting. Like most garden plants garlic prefer to be grown in full sun, but it does surprisingly well in shadier gardens. They are a pretty fool- proof plant.
There are two basic types of Garlic: hardneck (also called stiffneck) and softneck (sometimes called topset). The hardneck varieties produce a rigid, central stalk. The stalk curls at the top and grows a seedpod head called a bulbil or scape. Hardneck varieties tend to produce 5-7 large cloves. Cloves from a hardneck variety tend to be stronger in flavor than the softneck varieties. They are hardy and usually found growing in northern regions.
Softneck varieties are not quite as hardy. They are better for warm climates. As the name, implies, soft neck varieties do not have the rigid stalk and do not grow scapes. The soft stems are good for braiding. Softneck varieties usually have a milder flavor. Each bulb contains about 12 cloves. Softneck varieties generally have a longer shelf life than hardneck.
There are two easy ways to plant garlic.
The most commonly used method is to plant a clove. Each individual clove will grow a new bulb of garlic. (Note: The clove is the small section that makes up the bulb. I had a friend who was following a recipe for garlic cheese dip. Instead of adding 2 cloves of garlic, she added 2 bulbs of garlic. She won’t make that mistake again!)
Plant each clove (flat end down, pointed side up) two inches deep. Space them about 6 inches apart. You can expect to see growth in 4-6 weeks.
If you are planting hardneck garlic, you can plant the bulbils from the scape. This method takes longer to grow a complete bulb. If you pull your garlic up the first growing season, you’ll see what looks like one single clove attached to the stem rather than a multi-cloved bulb. If you wait until the next season, you’ll find a small bulb. Wait a third season…you’ll find a full bulb. There its no need to start them inside on your windowsill like you would tomato or pepper seeds. They are tough as nails. Just plant them in the dirt and they will grow.
Growing garlic from bulbils takes a lot longer, but it has its advantages. The main advantage being that one garlic plant contains a lot more bulbils than cloves. Growing from bulbils is also a good way to prevent soil borne diseases.
The best time to plant garlic is in the fall.
Your clove will begin to grow roots, sleep for the winter, then and then restart growth in the spring. If you are growing a hardneck variety, around mid-June you’ll find that the top stalk will begin curling and a scape forming. Its common practice to cut the scapes off so the plant can focus its growth on the bulb. Some growers claim that it makes for larger bulb. Others say it makes no difference. I prefer to leave most of my bulbils on, let them burst and fall where they please. Then I have a steady supply of garlic growing with no effort on my part. (This is a terrible idea if you have a small growing area. You’ll end up with garlic EVERYWHERE!)
If you plan on saving your bulbils for re-planting, its best to let them stay on the stalk until they are (almost) ready to fall on their own. You can store them in a brown paper bag.
Bulbils resemble small, round cloves. They smell very much like a clove of garlic and they can be sauteed or steamed. They have a much milder flavor than the clove.
Around late June/early July you’ll notice that the bottom half of the leaves are starting to dry out and turn brown. This means its time to harvest! Dig your garlic bulb and hang them out in a shady area. Do not wait until all the leaves have turned brown. Each leaf is relative to the wrapper around the bulb. If you have 5 leaves, then you should have 5 layers of wrapping around the bulb. If you let it dry too much before digging it, your wrapper will split underground.
Is wild garlic like regular garlic?
Wild garlic is a cold season perennial. It grows in small, grass-like clumps. Its edible, but has a very mild flavor. Many dishes that call for wild garlic use the leaves as well as the small bulb. Wild garlic can sometimes smell more like an onion. An easy way to tell them apart is to look at the stem. Wild onions have flat stems. Wild garlic have a hollow stem. Garlic and onions are in the same family as lilies. Much like how lily of the valley can take over your yard, so too can wild garlic. Click here to find out how to get rid of it.