Plan on Garlic This Fall 

By Steve Reiners, Professor and Chair, Horticulture Section, Cornell University, Cornell AgriTech. This is part of a series of columns that he wrote about vegetable gardening during the pandemic that ran Spring-Summer 2020. Read more articles from 2020 | Read later articles in this series.

August 21, 2020

I haven’t talked much about garlic in this column.  One of the reasons is we are only now approaching the time to plant.  That’s right, garlic will be the last thing you plant in your vegetable garden, usually after the first hard frost in early to mid-October.

If you can grow onions, you can grow fresh garlic.  Rather than the one large bulb you get with onions, garlic “bulbs” are made of smaller cloves covered with a thin, dry skin.   If you follow a few simple steps, it’s an easy vegetable to grow as it has few pests.

Types of garlic

There are basically two types of garlic, softneck and hardneck.  Hardneck varieties are more winter hardy and the most popular for our region.  They produce a “false” flower stalk called a scape in the spring.  I say “false” in that it is not really a flower but tiny “bulblets”.

You can remove the scape which will give you larger bulbs.  And the scapes are great to use in cooking. Good hardneck varieties include “Russian Red” and “German Extra Hardy”.

Softneck types don’t typically produce a scape and are best for long-term storage and braiding.  A good soft neck type for our area is “New York White”.

Another type - Elephant garlic – produces large bulbs, as the name implies. But it’s more closely related to leeks and usually not as winter hardy – or as pungent.

Although we still have six weeks before planting, I’m writing this now as you want to find local varieties that will grow well in this area.  The type you find in supermarkets was likely grown in China and may have been treated with a sprout inhibitor.  Even if you can get it to grow, it will not do well here.

Check with a grower at your local farmer’s market to see what they are selling.  If it grows well for them, buy a few bulbs and plant those.  Johnny’s Seeds in Maine is also a good source for varieties that grow well in the Northeast.

Planting your garlic

Garlic does best in a soil that has been amended with lots of organic matter such as rotted manure or compost, and in beds that have not had garlic or onions for at least 3 years. It does not like wet feet so planting in raised beds helps.

The soil pH should be about 6.5 or slightly acid, the same as most vegetable crops.  Add some fertilizer like ammonium sulfate and potassium sulfate, about 1 pound of each for every 100 square feet.  For onions and garlic, the sulfur in those fertilizers helps improve flavor.

About one or two weeks after the first killing frost in the fall, it’s time to plant.  Separate the individual cloves a day before planting.  Place each clove about 2 to 3 inches deep, with the tips facing up, at a spacing of 4 to 6 inches in the row, and 12 to 24 inches between rows.  You can plant closer which will produce more garlic, but the cloves will be smaller.

A few weeks after planting, add a layer of straw mulch a few inches deep so soil temperatures remain steady.  Freezing and thawing can push garlic to the surface.  The clove will root in the fall but likely no top growth will be seen until spring unless we have along mild fall. Even if you see your garlic starting to emerge in fall, it will be just fine.  Next spring, keep it watered and when about half the plants have yellowed and browned in mid to late July, lift the plants and dry the bulbs in a warm, airy location.

And one of the great things about garlic is you can pick out your largest bulbs and cloves to plant next fall or share with your gardening friends.

In the garden this week

Peppers seem to be thriving this summer but be careful when harvesting.  The plants aren’t very sturdy and it’s easy to break branches as you pull the fruit off.  Better to snip them off with a pruning shear or scissors.

Keep up with the watering and the weeding.  Rain has been spotty recently. And remember, one pigweed plant can produce thousands of seeds that will germinate for years to come.  Prevent that from happening by pulling weeds now.