Tips for Successful Fall Garlic Planting

By Judy Scott, 541-737-1386; Source: Chip Bubl, 503-397-3462; ST. HELENS – Garlic grows well in the Northwest, and September through November is the best time to plant. Root systems develop in the fall and winter and by spring are ready for rapid top growth that is necessary to form large bulbs. All types of garlic thrive in full sun in well-drained soil, and a sandy, silty loam is best, according to Chip Bubl, a garlic expert and horticulture faculty member at the Columbia County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service in St. Helens. "In heavier soil, plant in raised beds that are two to three feet wide and at least 10 to 12 inches deep," he said. "Garlic have well-developed root systems that may grow more than three feet deep in well-drained soil." Many home gardeners like to grow top-setting garlic, also called "hardneck," varieties. Top-setting garlic produces tiny bulblets at the end of a tall flowering stalk in addition to a fat underground bulb of cloves. Softneck garlic rarely produce floral stems and tend to grow bigger bulbs because energy isn’t diverted to top-set bulblets. Some enthusiasts say top-setting garlic has a richer, more pungent flavor than non-flowering types. Both types can be harvested in early spring like green onions and sautéed as a delicious side dish, or allowed to mature in mid-July to a bulb with cloves. Common hardneck types include Korean, Siberian, Music, Chesnock Red, German Red and Spanish Roja. Softneck varieties include Silverskin, Inchelium Red, California Early and California Late. Another type, elephant garlic, is actually a type of leek that produces large, mild-tasting cloves, usually fewer per bulb than the true garlics. Bubl suggests the following ways to grow garlic successfully:

•        Lime the soil prior to final bed shaping if you haven’t done so recently. Before planting cloves, work in a couple tablespoons of 5-10-10 complete fertilizer, bone meal or fish meal into the soil several inches below where the base of the garlic will rest. Select healthy large cloves, free of disease. The larger the clove you plant, the bigger the bulb you will get the following summer.

•        Plant cloves root side down, two inches deep and two to four inches apart in rows spaced 10 to 14 inches apart. Space elephant garlic cloves about 6 inches apart. Garlic can be lightly mulched to improve soil structure and reduce weeds. A single 10-foot row should yield about 5 pounds of the fragrant bulbs. Garlic is rarely damaged by insects.

•        Fertilize garlic in the early spring by side dressing or broadcasting with bloodmeal, pelleted chicken manure or a synthetic source of nitrogen. Just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to lengthening daylight (usually early May), fertilize lightly one more time. Keep garlic well weeded, as it cannot stand much competition. As the spring weather dries out, water garlic to a depth of two feet every eight to 10 days. As mid-June approaches, taper off on the watering.

•        Don’t wait for the leaves to start dying to check for maturity. Sometimes garlic bulbs will be ready to harvest when the leaves are still green. The best way to know is to pull one up and cut it open cross-wise. Start checking for mature cloves about late June. Harvest garlic when the head is divided into plump cloves and the skin covering the outside of the bulbs is thick, dry and papery.

“If left in the ground too long, the bulbs sometimes split apart and become difficult to harvest as intact heads,” Bubl said. “The skin may also split, exposing the cloves and causing them not to store well.”

•        Dig, then dry the mature bulbs in a shady, warm, dry and well-ventilated area for a few days. Then remove the tops and roots. Brush dirt off the bulbs. To braid garlic together, harvest it a bit earlier while leaves are green and supple.

•        Avoid bruising the garlic, as it will not store well. Store bulbs in a dark, dry and well-ventilated place. Protect from high humidity and freezing. Do not store garlic in the refrigerator because cool temperatures combined with moisture stimulate sprouting. Properly stored garlic should last until the next crop is harvested the following summer.
About Garden News from OSU Extension Service: The Extension Service’s “Gardening Encyclopedia” web page,, links to a broad spectrum of information on Oregon gardening, such as news, calendars, how-to publications, audio programs, the Master Gardener program and “Northwest Gardeners e-News.”

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