For most gardeners, fall is the time to wrap up the garden for the year. By mid-September to mid-October, depending on your climate, most of your garden plants have died off for the year. While many gardeners hang their hats up in fall, garlic lovers are just getting started. Why? Because you can plant a crop of garlic in the fall to harvest the following year. Fall garlic is a thing, I’m here to tell you, and it is a great thing!
Why plant garlic in the fall?
Some gardeners consider planting garlic in the fall to be advantageous because it allows the garlic bulbs to get a head start on the growing season. In fall, they’ll begin to put down roots but likely won’t send up any growth. Those early roots are important for the plant’s development. As soon as the soil is warm enough to spur new growth, your garlic bulbs will be ready to rock and roll.
Should I plant grocery store garlic?
Now this one’s a little bit tough. In short: yes, you can plant garlic from bulbs that you purchase in the grocery store. How those garlic plants will perform is a big unknown though. Sometimes, food processors will spray their garlic with a growth inhibitor to prevent enterprising shoppers such as yourself from growing their own garlic from their stock and putting them out of business. Crazy, right?
Another consideration is that the garlic in the store might not be well acclimated to your climate. It helps to know exactly the variety of garlic you’re growing and to be certain that it will do okay in your region. It’s better to purchase garlic starts from a local nursery or garden center and not take a chance on grocery store garlic. There are lots of different varieties of garlic for you to grow. Try a few and see which you like the best!
When to plant fall garlic
The exact timing for planting fall garlic will depend on your climate zone. The old-fashioned rule of thumb is to plant them right after the autumn equinox in September, but if you live in a very cold climate, you may want to get them in the ground a little bit before this date. If you live in a warmer climate, you can probably wait all the way until the middle of October to get them started. Knowing your climate is key to knowing when exactly to plant your fall garlic.
How to plant fall garlic
Most things in life that are rewarding are not easy to come by. Except for garlic. Planting garlic is extremely easy. If you’ve purchased bulbs from a nursery, you’re going to want to very carefully break up the bulb and free all of the cloves. Don’t get too aggressive! You don’t want to smash any of the bulbs by accident. Gently rubbing them between your hands should liberate the individual cloves.
Be sure to live the protective, papery skin on the individual cloves too. You don’t want to tear or remove the skin. If any bulbs look damaged or rotten in any way, go ahead and discard them – those probably won’t grow for you.
Having properly loosened soil is imperative for getting the most out of your garlic. If your soil is really compacted, it will inhibit the growth of the bulbs – you’ll wind up with small garlic. My recommendation is to very thoroughly loosen the soil with a pitchfork or tiller before planting your garlic bulbs.
Once the soil is loosened, dig holes in a row three inches deep and six inches apart from one another. Carefully drop the cloves of garlic into each hole with the pointed side pointing up. Press them gently into the soil. Don’t jam them in too hard or deep. Cover the bulbs with an even layer of soil.
Aged manure, compost, and fresh rabbit manure are all great things to add at this time. I keep rabbits for their manure and always throw on a nice layer of rabbit manure when planting fall garlic.
One more step: mulching your garlic
Mulch goes a long way with garlic that has to overwinter. Garlic gardeners add mulc, like leaves, straw, and woodchips to their garlic patches in order to help insulate the garlic cloves under the soil from the harsh winter, keep them moist, and reduce the growth of weeds. I personally use straw and wood mulch. A layer of mulch about 4-6 inches thick will do the trick. Over winter, some of that mulch will decompose and create new topsoil.
When is fall garlic ready to harvest
The exact timing for when fall garlic is ready to be harvested varies. Typically they’re ready to harvest in late spring to mid-summer. The timing doesn’t matter as much as the appearance of the crop. You know it’s time to harvest your fall garlic when its lower third leaves have turned brown and died, but its upper foliage is still nice and green.
It can be a little hard to know for sure that it’s time to harvest your garlic, but generally, if those bottom leaves are brown, it’s time to harvest. If they’re still green, it’s too early. There will be some green foliage at the tops of the plants, but don’t let that fool you. If those lower leaves are brown, it’s time to get down in the ground and dig up that garlic!
Before you do anything to the garlic, lay them down flat next to each other but not touching. Place them in a room with plenty of ventilation for 2-4 weeks. After that curing time has passed, you can store your garlic.
How to store garlic
Storing garlic is very simple. You don’t need to keep your garlic bulbs in the refrigerator. Keep them in a cool, dry, dimly lit place with temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees. Don’t leave them in plastic bags – these bags may trap moisture and cause rot. Use mesh or paper bags. These will help prevent rot. Stored properly, your garlic will last about six months.