Garlic can be planted in either the autumn or the spring. It will be clearly labelled when it’s purchased. I have always found it best to plant garlic in October/November, as garlic requires a long growing season and coldness to promote germination. Garlic planted in the spring tends to result in much smaller bulbs.
One of the most important things to get right, when growing garlic, is soil preparation. Garlic grows best in free draining, light, fine, and sand like soil, emphasis on the fine! If you are like me and have heavy clay soil it’s essential to take time to prepare the soil properly. Add grit and plenty of organic matter to break up the heavy clay soil structure. Garlic will not tolerate water logging; the bulbs will simply rot or become diseased resulting in rather pathetic specimens.
Garlic grows best in soil with a pH of around 6.5 to 7.0. Soil that is too acidic or too alkaline will slow the rate of growth.
So once the soil is properly prepared it’s time to plant to garlic. Carefully break up the bulb. This should be done at the time of planting and no more that 24 hours in advance. Only use the plumpest cloves and discard the small ones.
Cloves should be planted in a sunny position 6 to 8 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep. The rows should be around 10 to 12 inches apart. Deeper planting can result in larger bulbs but this isn’t advised if you have heavy soil. Plant the cloves basal plate down so the pointy end is at the top. Fill the hole with compost. Water.
To protect the garlic over the winter period, cover with mulch and fleece to prevent birds from pecking at your crop.
In terms of care, garlic is not too needy. Keep the growing area weed free. During dry spells water the garlic thoroughly, but stop watering completely during the last few weeks of growth as too much water can encourage rot to develop. As the growing season is so long you could apply potash or seaweed fertilizer in February to give the garlic the additional nutrients that it needs to grow. Both of these fertilisers may help protect the garlic plant from contracting rust (see potential problems below)
There are two types of garlic to choose from. Hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.
Types of Garlic
Better adapted to northern winters so typically hardier than the softneck varieties.
This type of garlic produces a flower stalk about a month or two before the garlic bulb reaches maturity. This is called a scape in the culinary world.
I personally LOVE scapes and they’re not available to buy in shops, so it’s a real seasonal treat. Cut off the flower stalk to ensure the plant is directing all it’s energy into the growth of the bulb. I have found that the hardneck garlic bulbs tend to be smaller than the softneck varieties at maturity.
Has a stronger flavour
Best gathered when the foliage has changed colour. The leaves will start to turn yellow.
Varieties- Purple Heritage Moldovan; Lautrec Wight, Chesnok Wight, Aquilla White, Spanish Rocambole Wight, Bella Italiano Wight, Avignon Wight, Elephant Garlic, Edenrose
This type of garlic is typically grown in warmer climates and is therefore less hardy than the hardneck varieties. The garlic you find in the supermarket is usually the softneck varieties.
It has much better storage qualities than the hardneck variety.
It will not produce a flower stalk unless stressed.
Best harvested when the leaves start to fall over and lie on the ground. Early Purple Wight garlic may be ready as early as May.
Varieties – Iberian Wight, Early Purple Wight, Tuscany Wight, Picardy Wight, Provence Wight, Solent Wight, Carcassonne Wight, Albigensian Wight, Mediterranean Wight, Venetian Wight, Celdor, Wight Cristo, Germidour
This is clearly dependent on the weather and variety but as a rough guide garlic should be ready to harvest around June or July. (Purple Wight garlic may be ready as early as May)
Signs to look for
Softneck – the leaves will wilt, fall over and lie on the ground.
Hardneck – about a month or two before maturity a flower stalk will appear. The leaves will start to change colour, they start turning yellow, and this is the time to harvest.
Always use a fork to remove garlic from the ground making sure you don’t damage the bulb.
Lay the bulbs out to dry in an airy place.
Hardneck garlic can be stored for around 3 months.
Softneck garlic can be stored much longer, possibly into mid winter.
Potential Problems Growing Garlic
Rust is a fungal disease; the spores are carried by the wind.
Rust thrives in wet, humid conditions with low levels of light. 2012’s wet summer provided the perfect environment for rust to thrive causing a huge problem for most garlic growers. Poorly drained ground or soil with high nitrogen content can make the outbreak of rust worse. There is no cure once the plant has rust. Ensure crop rotation to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. After an outbreak don’t grow garlic or other members of the alliums family for at least 4-5 years.
The main signs of rust are a slight yellowing of the lower leaves or the tips of younger leaves and then appearance of small orange blisters on plant leaves from May onwards.
If you spot rust remove the infected leaves (these should be burned). Removing these leaves may give you the few extra weeks required for the bulb to reach maturity. Or harvest the bulbs if almost ready.
By planting garlic in the autumn the bulbs should be close to reaching maturity by the time rust appears. Therefore rust shouldn’t impact the development of the bulb. Garlic planted in the spring won’t be developed well enough and plants that contract rust are likely to be lost.
Regular spraying with sulphur compounds or increased levels of potash hoed in around the plants in February may reduce the risk of rust.
Typically occurs where there has been continuous alliums cultivation on the same plot. The disease is soil borne.
The main sign of white rot is the plants will start to fade away in April – June. The bulb will become white dust as the disease progresses. White cottony fungal growth with black spots will become visible.
Destroy all the affected plant material by burning. Do not grow alliums in the affected area for at least 15 years!
The adult onion fly will emerge from pupae that have over-wintered within the soil. They emerge May/June time. They can reproduce within a few days.
The onion fly lays its eggs onto and at the base of the onion or garlic. The eggs are small, white and elongated with dark stripes that run longitudinally. These eggs hatch into maggots that eat away the base of the onion or garlic and its roots. This can lead to secondary damage such as rotting of the garlic bulb as the maggot bores in and out of the roots. The dirty rotten maggot!
The main signs of onion fly is yellowing and drooping leaves or the plant dies for no apparent reason. If this happens lift the affected plant and check the base carefully for little grey maggots.
There is no cure at this stage. If you keep the soil around the plants well cultivated from March to May it should add some protection.