I decided to plant garlic for the first time this year. After spending a couple decades loving garlic, and a couple minutes researching how to plant garlic, I concluded that it was both a gardening undertaking I could handle and a project that would reward me greatly. The large amount of pleasure that I’ll get from eating and sharing homegrown garlic next year is so going to be worth the (small) amount of effort planting it this fall required.
When and how to plant garlic
The best time to plant garlic bulbs where I garden in Toronto (Zone 6) is five to six weeks before the ground freezes. I may be a few days late, but I’m willing to take the chance of slightly smaller bulbs (because they won’t have as long a growing season).
In order to harvest your own tasty garlic next year, you need some tasty garlic to plant this year. I bought mine from a local garlic grower at a farmers’ market. I don’t know much about my garlic’s back story, except that it’s called ‘Candy’ and it’s delicious. You need to know that the garlic grows in conditions like the ones you’re going to offer it, so garlic from a grocery store won’t cut it. It also just doesn’t taste as good and juicy as the garlic you’ll find at produce stands and farmers’ markets. Once you have said tasty garlic, you’re going to have to resist cooking and eating all of it, though.
Garlic heads are grown from individual garlic cloves. I gently broke two heads apart, leaving the papery casing around the individual cloves. The garlic bulbs need to be planted in a sunny spot (seems everything needs a sunny spot, yet I have so little of it) and in fertile soil that drains well; work some compost in if you have it. The quality of soil and sun will affect the quality of your harvest next year.
Plant the cloves pointy side up, about two inches (5 cm) deep and spaced four to six inches (10 to 15 cm) apart. Due to the lack of available planting space in my backyard, I decided/was forced to use containers. If you’re going this route, the container should be at least 16 inches (40 cm) deep, because the garlic bulbs are going to need the space. Once your cloves are planted, it’s best if you can put a layer of mulch over the soil surface in order to keep the temperature consistent over the winter. The soil could freeze and thaw more times than the garlic can handle.
Keep weeds away from your garlic, because the weeds will win. Mulching around your garlic plants in the early spring will help keep weeds at bay (straw or grass clippings will work). The garlic I’m growing in containers likely won’t have to deal with many weeds, but I’ll still keep a close eye on them.
There are more detailed instructions on growing garlic in the Fall 2010 issue of Garden Making, but in the name of keeping things simple and non-intimidating, this is how I decided to plant garlic for the first time. And this is how, I’m sure, many other beginner gardeners can try planting garlic, too. Like I said, the small amount of work this fall (oh, and all that labourious mulching next spring) will be worth it when I harvest garlic in my own backyard late next summer.