It’s time to plant garlic!

Courtesy photo

I never thought much about growing my own garlic (Allium sativum) because it was so accessible in the stores. But I decided to try it one year and now I am hooked! I found the texture and taste of my homegrown garlic to be far superior to the store bought and it’s fun and easy to grow.

Fresh garlic may offer some health benefits as studies have shown antibiotic potential and heart disease prevention. It’s also useful in the garden as a general repellent, especially of aphids. When planted next to rose bushes, it can protect them from black spot and other diseases. When planted throughout vegetables, it helps protect them from a host of insect assaults. Just be careful as it can stunt the growth of peas and beans.

There are two main types of garlic, Hardneck and Softneck. Softneck is less cold hardy and grows better in warm climates. It’s easiest to braid for hanging and has a long storage time. This is the type most seen in grocery stores with the white wrapper. Another gardener here has had good results with the softneck variety called Transylvanian.

Hardneck varieties are more suited for cold winter areas and is what I plant here. They will send up a seed stalk known as a garlic scape which the softnecks do not. Scapes curl into a loop and should then be cut off to encourage the plants to put energy into bulb formation. The scapes are delicious and can be chopped and added to anything you want to have a mild garlic flavor.

Late in the fall is the best time to plant garlic in the northern Black Hills. The cloves may also be planted in early spring, however, the resulting bulbs will not be as large as those sown in September or October. Garlic does best in rich well drained soil although it’ll grow in a wide range of soils. It prefers full sun but will still grow in partial shade. Don’t use the common white grocery store garlic for planting. It’s usually grown in warm climates and is often chemically treated so it won’t sprout. You can order garlic cloves from nurseries and catalogs but I recommend purchasing your garlic from a local organic grower. They will have experience with varieties that grow well here. There are many varieties and they all taste differently so it’s fun to 

try several.

Planting garlic is easy. Separate the cloves from the bulb leaving the paper on each one. Plant each clove pointed end up about 3 inches deep, about 6 inches apart. (The larger the clove, the bigger the bulb you’ll get.) Cover the bed with about 6 inches of mulch. I use straw and since it settles down over the winter to about 2 inches, I just leave it on for the plants to grow through it in the spring. During the dormancy of winter, cloves need cold temperatures for 8-10 weeks to form new bulbs.

Harvest fall planted garlic in August thru September depending on the variety. The foliage will have faded and started turning yellow. Don’t wait too late as the bulbs will open up and store less well. Also stop watering about 2 weeks before digging as this will help prevent splitting and rotting.

To store garlic, hang the newly harvested plants to dry in a cool, well ventilated, shady spot for 3-4 weeks. I use my covered porch. After leaves, roots and outer wrappers are completely dry, brush off loose soil, trim roots to ¼ inch, and cut the tops back to an inch or two above the bulb. Hardneck garlic will keep about 6 months, softneck about 8 months. Keep in a dry dark location just above freezing.

I can smell those garlic mashed potatoes … hurry and start planting!

For assistance with horticultural questions email the Northern Hills Master Gardeners at northernhillsmastergardeners@yahoo.com. You can also find us on Facebook.

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