If you’re a garlic fan and have a green thumb, it’s easy to grow your own. Wherever you are in the US, there is a variety of garlic that’s right for you if you understand the needs of this culinary powerhouse.
It’s also relatively easy to grow and suits square-foot gardening quite well, so long as you understand the needs of your crop. Keep reading to see how you can get your garlic garden started!
Square-foot gardening is a concept that divides our gardening beds into equal, one-foot square sections.
Mel Bartholomew was tired of weeding his veggie garden. His method of dividing raised beds into small, 1-foot square manageable segments was a pioneering idea that found favor with many gardeners.
Typically, a gardener starts with a raised bed measuring four-feet square. This technique offers sixteen equal squares, each dedicated to a specific plant.
It’s highly organized and allows you to harvest a square and easily replant it throughout the growing season.
However, the square foot method is adaptable to almost any garden. Just section off your squares and plant them according to your needs!
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Plus, it’s relatively easy to grow in most of the US!
Whether you’re looking to harvest and store garlic in bulk or growing a few plants to use and eat as they mature, this veggie is an almost ideal addition to your garden.
With wide varieties, you can find one that suits your local climate and even your flavor palette!
You can also store garlic for a fairly long period, so this year’s crop can last all winter. You only need enough space to grow all you need for eating and to propagate next year’s crop.
Garlic is a global crop. Though its origin probably lies in southern Europe and the Middle East, it is found in folk medicines, foods, condiments, and seasonings almost worldwide.
Many different cultivars represent different, localized varieties of the plant. Overall, there are two distinct species of garlic. But that’s almost immaterial for a home gardener.
For gardeners, species isn’t as important as determining whether the hard or soft neck variety is better for their region. The neck of the garlic plant refers to the stalk or leaves at the center of the bulb.
Here’s a quick table to reference.
|Type of Garlic||Hardneck||Softneck|
|Ideal planting time||Late fall||Early winter|
|Center||Tall, tender scape||Leaves|
|Size of cloves||Larger||Smaller|
|Storage||Six months plus||Nine months plus|
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Hardneck garlic cultivars have a stiff, woody stalk that grows in between the individual cloves of a garlic bulb.
Garlic aficionados sometimes prize this stalk, harvesting it before it becomes tough. In this form, it’s called a garlic scape.
This is a tender shoot with a mild flavor, and it can be found in various seasonal recipes.
While there is some variation, hard necks also tend to have thick, tough skin that cracks and peels easily. Hardnecks also tend to have more complex flavors that reflect where it grows.
Hardnecks are ideal for colder climates, as they survive even the hardest winters when planted correctly.
They last for anywhere from three to five months in storage, though ideal conditions can extend their shelf life.
There are more than 200 hardneck garlic varieties, with names like purple stripe, Asiatic, creole, rocambole, and porcelain.
Softneck varieties of garlic don’t develop the central stalk. They have flowery leaves instead. Softnecks do best in areas with only mild winter weather and hot summers.
They don’t need cold winters to make their bulbs grow, and hard necks do.
While you don’t get a chance to harvest a scape, you can more easily roast a whole bulb of softneck garlic, as there is no woodiness at the center.
Softnecks mature more quickly but have smaller cloves, and the skin is sometimes harder to peel.
Softneck varieties include California, Corsichan Red, French Red, Silver, and Blanco Piacenza.
The principal advantage of softneck garlic over hardneck varieties is that they can last for a longer storage period. They can have a shelf life longer than one year in ideal conditions.
So, if you can grow softnecks and you want to store them long-term, you might want to consider them.
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If you live in an area with harsh, cold winters, hardnecks are a sure bet. If you live in an area with mild winters, look to softnecks to increase your shelf life for storage.
But, most garlic gardeners find themselves somewhere in the middle, and it’s often a good practice to grow some of each variety.
Make sure that you have relatively deep, rich, and well-draining soil. Raised beds work well, and well-tilled, loose soil is key to aiding bulb development.
Fertilizers that encourage root development can also help grow larger, heavier bulbs.
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Both softneck and hardneck varieties of garlic should usually be planted in the early winter or late fall. This timing lets the bulbs set their roots and then overwinter safely and comfortably.
In the spring, you’ll see green shoots emerge from the soil.
Softneck varieties don’t need to overwinter, so you can plant them in the spring. But they likely won’t get as big without being in the ground over the winter.
In a few weeks, you’ll see the same green shoots from your spring softnecks. They’ll grow faster than hardneck varieties, generally speaking.
With the basics of garlic gardening in mind, you have to apply its preferences to your square foot method. Once you know what kind you’re planting, here’s how to do so.
- Separate your garlic bulbs into individual cloves.
- Leave the husk or skin intact, as the papery covering acts as a shield.
- Always choose the healthiest, firmest, and biggest cloves for the best results.
- With the pointy end up and the root end down, insert the cloves about 3 inches deep into your soil.
- In general, leave at least 4 inches between cloves.
- Mulch over the top with straw, leaves, or hay to protect your seedlings in the winter.
- When the threat of frost begins to subside in the spring, scrape away about half of your mulch layer.
To start, section off your raised bed into one-foot squares. Use a measuring tape to mark off one-foot marks along the sides. Then, use a straight edge to create lines in the soil.
When you’re done marking out your bed, you should have a grid of one-foot squares. Alternatively, you could use a series of strings to create your grid.
Garlic does well when it’s not crowded. So, look to your particular variety of garlic and the instructions you got from the nursery or farm where you bought it.
In general, you’ll be able to plant between four and nine cloves per square foot, depending on the cultivar. Then you can plant your other squares with more garlic, different varieties, or other veggies.
Remember, garlic starts short but can grow quite tall. When it’s three or more feet, it will create shade areas around it.
Be sure to plant your garlic strategically so you don’t inadvertently block your other plants.
If you’re planting a full bed of garlic, you may want to stagger your plantings. By planting a set each week for a few weeks, you will allow each to get their own time in the sun as they grow.
With some thoughtfulness, you can have more mature, taller plants at the back of your bed, while shorter, younger plants are getting started closer to the sun at the front of the bed.
Make sure you keep your growing space weed-free, as garlic doesn’t like competition for real estate in the garden.
If you have hardneck varieties, some growers like to snip the scape off when it develops a curl at the top. The reason for snipping the scape off is two-fold.
First, it stops the flower’s development at the top of the scape, hopefully sending more energy into the development of the root bulb.
Plus, you can eat the bright green and tender scape, which offers a milder, garlicky bite and is ideal for some pesto recipes.
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You’ll know it’s almost time to harvest your garlic when the leaves begin to turn yellow. If you still have a lot of green leaves, the bulb is probably still growing.
But when the summer is beginning to ebb, and you see two leaves or more that are rapidly turning pale yellow and wrinkly, it’s time to dig up your bulbs.
If you’re unsure, or you want to wait a bit longer, there is no harm in digging up just one bulb at a time to inspect it.
Start with a small hand shovel. Insert it into the ground about 5 inches from the stalk, and work it under the bulb. Pull the shovel out, and do the same thing on the other side of the bulb, freeing it from the soil.
Grasp the stalk and pull steadily while using the shovel to lever the bulb up and out of the ground. Hopefully, you’ll have a fairly large, tight bulb with firm cloves and a ‘hairy’ set of roots.
The roots may be quite dirty. Resist the urge to wash your garlic, especially if you’re storing it long-term.
The water can inundate the bulb, making it too damp, leading to potential mold issues.
If you think you’ve harvested too early, it’s ok to wait a bit before you harvest the rest of your square footage of garlic.
But don’t wait too long, as once the garlic stops growing, it can begin to lose its firmness.
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Once you harvest your garlic, you must decide what to do with it. Sure, if you have a small amount, you can make one of your favorite recipes with it right away.
Some favorite garlic-centric recipes might include
- Tomato sauce
- Garlic bread
- Garlic and oil dressing
- Roasted garlic
- Garlic butter
If you have enough garlic that you want to store some, first, you’ll want to clean it and sort it. To clean it, use a gentle brush and a cloth towel to remove loose dirt from the roots.
Then, you can trim the stalk about eight inches above the bulb. Then, hang your garlic in a low-moisture environment without any direct sun exposure. You want to let the garlic cure a bit.
Any garlic bulbs that have started to separate should be consumed in short order. The bulbs that hold together and maintain their papery skin are best for storage.
After about ten days, you can trim the stalk off closer to the root and determine which bulbs will go to storage.
Remember that the biggest bulbs and healthiest cloves are most likely to give the greatest yield in future generations.
You can trim the roots now. Just be careful not to cut into the bulb. Find a cool, dry place for your bulbs to sit. Hanging them in small bundles within mesh bags is ideal.
With ideal storage conditions, your garlic will last quite a long time. And it better last because the cloves you save now are the same ones you can’t plant in the fall for next year’s crop!
If you plant nine cloves this year and yield nine bulbs with nine cloves each, that’s 81 cloves. You could plant half and eat the rest and end up with a substantial haul next year!
Garlic is a sturdy crop with many cultivars that are suitable for growing in almost any region.
Whether you live in upstate New York, where the winters are cold and snowy, or sunny southern California, where snow is a rarity, there is a garlic variety for you.
And with the concept of square-foot gardening, you can keep your garden beds organized, weed-free, and efficient. It’s up to you, but you might just decide to grow a whole bed of garlic!
Then, you can harvest your crop and replant it with other late-season veggies before the frost sets in!
With square-foot gardening and your green thumb, you can have all the garlic you need for your favorite recipes and next year’s planting season!
Furthermore, you may like some more gardening articles:
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- Square Foot Gardening Squash [Most 7 Benefits]
- Square Foot Gardening Zucchini
- Square Foot Gardening Cucumbers [Helpful Tips]
- Square Foot Gardening Parsley [How & Where to Grow]
- Square Foot Gardening Bush Beans [Best Methods to Grow]
- Square Foot Gardening Kale
- What You Need To Know About Square Foot Gardening Spacing
I’m Elsa, and I love gardening. I started GardeningElsa.com as a resource for other gardeners, and I offer expert advice on gardening topics such as plants, flowers, herbs, and vegetable gardening. On my website, I share my latest tips and tricks for creating beautiful gardens. When I’m not working on my website, you can find me in my own garden, tending to my plants and flowers. Read more about me.