How to Plant Garlic Bulbs
1. Find an area in your yard that has exposure to full sun. Garlic loves the sun from morning to evening. Mark a small plot approximately 4 foot by 4 foot.
2. Remove the grass and sod from the plot with the shovel. Place the sod in a pile in the corner of your yard to begin a compost pile. The compost can be added every year as a side dressing to the garlic bed.
3. Turn the freshly uncovered earth over with the shovel down to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Smooth the soil over with the garden rake.
4. Separate the cloves you purchased from the seed store and plant each clove approximately 3 to 4 inches from each other and 2 inches deep. Garlic does not have to be planted in rows. In fact, the closer the bulbs are planted, the better the garlic will keep out unwanted plants and weeds. Water in the plot to thoroughly soak the cloves. The garlic will not require any further watering for the rest of its growing period.
You can plant garlic in the fall or the spring. Timing depends on your climate: in the north, plant garlic in the fall. In warmer climates, it is best to plant garlic in early spring (but seed garlic must be chilled first to break it out of its dormant state.
Garlic cloves that begin sprouting in fall have a chance to grow well, since fall provides the best time for growing. Those that sprout earlier usually go to seed before they produce usable bulbs of an adequate size. Planting should occur before the cloves sprout, but newly sprouted cloves usually grow fine if planted as soon as the sprouts begin emerging from the individual cloves. Sowing cloves four to six weeks before the first expected fall frost gives the plants time to establish roots before the ground freezes.
Plant cloves 2 inches deep if you plan to mulch (see Growing Notes just below), 3-4 inches deep if you do not plan to mulch. Be sure to plant each clove with the pointy tip facing up and the basal/root end facing down.
Space cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in each row and 18 to 24 inches between rows for large bulbs. You can plant garlic more closely, but although you will grow more cloves, each clove will be smaller. However, many growers feel that close spacing increases total overall yield (in pounds of garlic per square foot of garden).
Mulching your garlic can be very helpful. Mulch can protect against winterkill in cold climates. It helps moderate soil temperatures, keeps weeds in check, and conserves soil moisture. Mulching is not recommended in wetter climates. Mulch for garlic can be straw, hay, swamp grass, reeds, chopped leaves or plastic.
It is important to plant hard neck garlic with the top (pointed end) of the clove up, at least two inches (2”) below the surface.
When you have planted the garlic you can cover it with a layer of mulch if you wish.
Mulching conserves moisture, moderates soil temperatures, and inhibits weeds. However, it also shelters rodents and attracts deer and elk. All these factors need to be considered in deciding whether or not to mulch.
Mulching can even out the soil moisture between rains and irrigation cycles. It is not recommended in wetter climates where excess water can be a problem for garlic.
Moderating soil temperature is helpful where there are extremes of heat and cold. Garlic does not like repeated freezing and thawing. Frost heaves can tear the young roots from the cloves. A thick layer of winter mulch is a good insurance against winter kill. Garlic does not like extreme heat either and mulch will moderate the daily fluctuations in summer soil temperatures.
Chopped leaves, swamp grass, reeds, and alfalfa hay are among the preferred mulch materials. Grain straw is not recommended because it can host wheat curl mite which will attack garlic. Grass hay is fine if you don’t mind lots of grass seed in your soil.
In our area, around zone 4, growers put on about 10 cm (4”) of chopped mulch in the fall for winter protection. By spring this has settled to 5 cm (2”) which is enough for weed suppression and heat and moisture control. Where winters are harsher, thicker winter mulch is advisable and then some may need to be pulled back in the spring.
We use grass hay straight from round bales. In the spring we remove somewhere it is too thick. Some varieties find it easier than others to penetrate the mulch.