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Easy-to-grow garlic inspires gardeners

August 19, 2013
  • Annette Ipsan
Annette Ipsan

What gives a kick to pesto, sass to sauces, and may ward off vampires? Flavorful, healthful garlic.

One of the oldest known horticultural crops, garlic can trace its roots back 5,000 years to the ancient Egyptians and Chinese.

Since then, it has become favored across the globe for its culinary uses and health benefits.

Garlic is ridiculously easy to grow. You plant in the fall and harvest in late June. The wait is the hard part. 

So, how do you get started? Garlic likes full sun and rich, crumbly soil. So, pick a sunny spot, loosen the soil, and work in an inch or two of compost. 

Garlic is a bulb made up of sections called cloves. It’s the cloves you plant in October. 

But don’t grab a handful of bulbs at the grocery store: those have been treated to discourage sprouting.

Instead, buy them at a local garden center or order them online. 

There are two types of garlic: softneck and hardneck. Softneck garlic stores longer and is easier to braid.

Hardneck garlic has a broader range of flavors and produces a curly, edible flowering stalk called a scape that tastes like chives. Both grow well here.

When you’re ready to plant your garlic, separate the cloves and pick the biggest ones to plant, discarding any blemished cloves. Plant them point up so that the tip is 2 inches deep. Space them 6 to 8 inches apart with 12 inches between rows.
 
Cover your newly planted garlic cloves with 3 to 6 inches of straw. This insulates them over the winter and stays put through harvest. Water them in well. It’s OK if they sprout. That lets you know they are growing robust roots, the benefit of fall planting. 

Longer spring days and warm weather trigger growth in the spring. Leaves will shoot up a foot or more, each one representing a layer of the bulb’s papery wrapper. 

To boost bulb size, water and fertilize. An inch of rain a week is ideal, so water through June 1 if it’s dry.

Fertilize in early spring with dilute fish emulsion or one-quarter pound of 10-10-10 per 10 feet of row.
 
Harvest your garlic when half the leaves turn yellow and fall over or when only three of four green leaves remain. Don’t pull the bulbs out. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil to avoid damaging them.

Next, cure before you store. Lay the garlic out to dry — with the roots and leaves intact — in a warm, dry, shady, well-ventilated spot for two or three weeks.
 
When the outer wrapper is dry, braid the stems or cut them off, leaving a half-inch stub.

Don’t remove the papery wrappers: they prevent rot and sprouting. Store trimmed bulbs in recycled mesh onion bags.

Hang the cured garlic in a cool, dry area such as a basement or garage. Hardneck garlic will keep six months while softneck garlic will keep eight months to a year.

Set aside a few of the best bulbs to plant in fall to ensure an endless supply of glorious garlic. 
 
Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland in Washington County.  She can be reached at 301-791-1604 or aipsan@umd.edu.

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