Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Garlic planting crew.
Photo Valerie Renwick

Planting Garlic

We are planting garlic, a topic I’ve written much about! Here are links to a few of my Allium of the Month posts from 2018-2019 and my slideshow.

Sign up for the free Growing for Market newsletter  and read my article How and when to plant garlic this month. That article mentions Get ready for garlic planting which you can read if you are a Full Access Member. I wrote these articles back in 2012, so I do have some newer info in my slideshow and my blog posts from last year.

See last year’s Alliums for November for

How Much Garlic to Plant

Popping Garlic Cloves for Planting;

Pre-plant Seed Garlic Treatments to reduce pests and diseases.

Planting garlic cloves, using a 5″ (13 cm) measuring stick.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Preparation for Garlic Planting

Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition. Garlic for planting should be separated into cloves 0–7 days before planting. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves (the part the roots grow from), as that makes them unusable for planting. With hardneck garlic, the remainder of the stem acts as a convenient lever for separating the cloves. We sort as we go, putting good size cloves for planting in big buckets, damaged cloves in kitchen buckets, tiny cloves in tiny buckets and outer skins and reject cloves in compost buckets. Don’t worry if some skin comes off the cloves — they will still grow successfully. The tiny cloves get planted for garlic scallions (see below).

When to Plant Garlic

Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best when planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields). If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the lack of vernalization will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).

Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.  We plant in early-mid November. (We used to plant at the end of October or early November, but we’ve moved later.) In New Hampshire, mid-October is the time. The guideline for areas with cold winters is 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. In Michigan, planting time is 6 weeks prior to the ground freezing, giving enough time for root growth only, to avoid freezing the leaves.Instructions from Texas A&M say less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep. In California, garlic can be planted in January or February.

Closing the furrows over the garlic cloves.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Mulch your Garlic Beds

After planting, pull soil over the cloves, tamp or roll to get the cloves in good soil contact to help the roots grow. Within a couple of days, mulch the beds. At planting time, the soil is still warm, and the newly separated cloves are now primed to start growing. If you want to roll out mulch as we do (big round bales of spoiled hay), then you need to act before fragile garlic shoots emerge from the soil. If you are using loose mulch you can blow or throw it over the beds, and a few emerged shoots are no big deal.

Garlic Scallions

Garlic scallions are small garlic plants, mostly leaves, the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions). Great for omelets, stir-fries, pesto, soups, and many other dishes. If you want to have Garlic Scallions to eat or sell in early spring, when new fresh vegetables are in short supply, and homesteaders may be running out of stored bulb onions, see my post Alliums for March.

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

November-planted garlic scallions in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done!

Rather than dig up whole garlic scallion plants, some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply lift the whole plant once it reaches about 7″–8″ (18–20 cm). The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of three to six depending on size. A little goes a long way! If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto for sale later in the year.

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

Cold-hardiness of Young Garlic Plants

  • At 12°F (−11°C): garlic tops that have grown fairly large will die
  • At 5°F (−15°C): garlic tops if still small will die.
  • When properly planted, cloves can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C).
  • Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground isn’t frozen
  • Garlic tops will make growth whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).

If the tops do get frozen back, do not despair! They will regrow. The growing point of alliums (garlic, onions and relatives) is close to the bulb, probably under mulch, certainly in or close to the soil, where temperatures are warmer. If your garlic gets frozen back twice, the yield will be less than if it had not got frozen, but we don’t control the weather. If your climate is getting colder in the garlic-planting season, plant deeper and/or earlier. But don’t plant earlier if climate change is giving you hotter fall weather!

Garlic shoots poking through the mulch in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Free Trapped Garlic Shoots

See last year’s Alliums for December for my post  Free trapped garlic shoots.

Watch your mulched garlic beds and when the shoots start to emerge, choose the moment to free any trapped shoots, by working along the rows, investigating each spot where you expect a garlic plant to be, but nothing has emerged. Your goal is simply to let the shoot see the daylight. Then it will right itself. Don’t reveal any bare soil, as that will grow weeds (and let colder winter air at the garlic.) Don’t over-work this – as soon as any part of a shoot is visible, leave that plant alone, and move on to the thousands of others. It isn’t necessary to make all the leaves visible, or to clear around the whole plant.

Choosing the right time is tricky. I used to say when half or more of the shoots are visible, but one year we were having a crop disaster, and we waited too long – we were never going to have half visible. Usually, most of them emerge at the same time. it would be helpful to note down how many weeks after planting this is likely to be. We somehow haven’t done that – I think it’s about 3 weeks. Leave a comment if you have an answer!

 

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