Fall is the time to plant garlic in your garden. Here in Zone 7 I plant garlic sometime during the last two weeks of October. I like to have my cover crops and garlic in by November 1. According to Pam Dawling in Sustainable Market Farming, a guideline for planting garlic is when the soil temperature is 50° F (10° C) at four inches deep at 9am. She plants it in early November and, if anything, where she lives is a slight bit cooler than where I am.
So, there is no real rush to get it in the ground but, in areas with cold winters, according to Dawling, you would want to have it in the ground no later than 2-3 weeks after the first fall frost and before the ground freezes for the winter. Here in Virginia the ground fluctuates between freezing and thawing throughout the winter. Garlic sprouts in my garden in the fall and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C). In colder areas the tops might not emerge until late winter, but the roots will be established from the fall planting. Mulch with leaves when you plant and you will have little tending to do until harvest. The garlic will grow right up through the mulch. If you don’t mulch, you will need to keep the bed weeded.
What you will be planting are the individual cloves. When you buy garlic you are buying it as bulbs. Softneck garlic, the kind you see in the grocery store, has about 10-12 cloves per bulb. The cloves in the middle of the bulb are smaller than the outside ones. Hardneck garlic has fewer (6-7), but larger cloves. Compared to the hardneck varieties, softneck garlic keeps in storage longer and is easier to braid. Each clove that you plant will grow into a bulb.
If you are excited about your garlic in the spring and pull some up in early April to see how it is doing, it is important to know that the plants don’t divide into cloves to form the bulb until about 30 days before harvest. In early April you will only find one large clove. Garlic harvest here is in early June.
According to the Master Charts in How to Grow More Vegetables, garlic cloves should be planted 4” apart in an hexagonal pattern in the bed. I think that is a little close and prefer 6” spacing using that pattern. Years ago I planted a whole bed at 4” centers and made careful notes. I found that the garlic on the outside edge of the bed was larger than the harvest from the middle; with that on the south side larger than the bulbs on the north side. The garlic harvested from the inside of the bed was smaller planted at 4” centers. That might be so to some extent with the 6” centers, also, but not as much as when planted at 4”. Plant about 2” deep—a little deeper in the north.
When I harvest garlic I find myself thinking that maybe I will plant garlic only in the perimeter of a bed in the fall, leaving the middle for a spring crop, such as cabbage or potatoes that would be harvested with the garlic in June and see if all my harvest is the largest bulbs. But then I get busy and forget and plant garlic as usual, filling the bed in the fall. Dawling plants in rows with 5” spacing within the rows and 8-10” between the rows.
Now that you know how to plant it, you need to know why. Garlic should be a regular part of your diet because it is so healthy for you. I’ll use information from Dr. James Duke’s The Green Pharmacy as the reference for my health claims here. According to Dr. Duke, garlic:
- thins the blood, making it good for reducing the risk of blood clots and controlling high blood pressure. (If you are already taking blood thinners, consult your doctor before significantly increasing your garlic intake.)
- reduces high cholesterol
- lowers blood pressure
- has antibiotic properties
- has antiviral properties—helps fight cold viruses
- helps control blood sugar levels– beneficial to diabetics
I could go on, but you get the idea. You need to be eating garlic. Years ago when I was selling produce at the Ashland Farmers Market I met Mrs. Virginia Shelton when she was in her 90’s. She was still driving her car and she told me she was on no medication except for the J.C. pill—just ask her pastor she said. Besides her participation in church, she credited her longevity and health to eating garlic every day. Well, no one lives forever and Mrs. Shelton is no exception. She passed last year, one week shy of her 109th birthday. She gave up driving at 99, but still lived independently until eight months before her passing.
I feel fortunate to have met Mrs. Shelton and for her to tell me about her garlic consumption. Once you harvest garlic you can save a portion to plant for the next fall. If you haven’t planted it before, you will need to get it somewhere. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a good source although, depending on where you live, you might find a source a little closer to home. I suppose if time is running out and you haven’t ordered any, you could always plant what you can get at the grocery store and see what happens. Life is an adventure, you know. Happy planting!