I have often written about garlic, and here I am going to focus on planting garlic. But before that, I want to encourage you to make the most of the opportunity to also plant a bonus crop: garlic scallions.
- Garlic scallions are very little work,
- They come with no extra cost,
- They provide a very tasty and visually attractive crop.
- They will be ready to harvest in the Hungry Gap, the early spring period before any new crops are ready to harvest, when our palates are tiring of stored roots and hardy leafy greens.
- You may have run out of garlic bulbs and be craving that strong flavor to brighten your meals.
- Ours are ready to harvest from March 10 until we run out or they are visibly bulbing up (April 30?).
- If you are selling crops, garlic scallions can bring a big return for a small bunch, because most people will be happy with 3-6 garlic scallions.
- Both garlic scallions and Garlic Scapes can extend your garlic sales season.
The easiest time to plant garlic scallions is right after your main planting for garlic bulbs, in the fall. In preparation for planting your garlic cloves for bulbs, break apart the bulbs and sort the cloves. You won’t grow large bulbs of garlic from tiny cloves, so you’ll want to separate out the good ones for bulbs. Put the tiny cull cloves in small buckets and save them to grow garlic scallions. Much more productive than throwing them on the compost pile!
You can also plant for garlic scallions at other times of year. I don’t know what the limits are. You can certainly plant in a hoophouse later in the fall than you could plant outdoors. You can certainly plant softneck varieties outdoors for scallions in January (weather permitting) or February.
Some growers are finding they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, and so they are working to extend the garlic scallion season.
As an alternative to planting small cloves, you can plant whole cull bulbs, and turn a misfortune into a windfall. I don’t mean bulbs with fungal infections, but bulbs that ended up too small to sell, or use at home. Plant the small bulbs at a wider spacing than tiny cloves, maybe 5″-6″ (12-15 cm) apart. You’ll grow ready-made bunches of garlic scallions!
Planting Garlic Scallions
- We plant small cloves for garlic scallions in early November immediately after planting our maincrop garlic.
- We choose a small space that is easily accessible in late winter and early spring, where we often walk by.
- We make 3″ (7.5 cm) deep furrows with a hoe, only about 2″ (5 cm) apart. A lot fits in a small space.
- We tumble the small cloves into the furrows, any way up, shoulder to shoulder.
- We close the furrows, tamp down the soil, and cover with a mulch of spoiled hay. Tree leaves or straw would also work.
- Some growers have experimented with replanting small whole cull bulbs. This could be a good way to salvage value from a poorly-sized garlic harvest.
- Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted January-March. By planting later than this, it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later.
- Some growers find they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic.
Harvesting Garlic Scallions
We harvest garlic scallions from early March until May. 3/10 to 5/15 or later in central Virginia
- Once the plants are 7″–8″ (18–20 cm) tall
- We simply loosen the plants with a digging fork (rather than just pulling) and lift the whole plants out of the ground.
- We trim the roots, rinse, bundle, and set them in a small bucket with a little water.
- Scallions can be sold in bunches of three to six depending on their size.
- 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 harvest whole plants.
- We grow a lot of bulb garlic and have a lot of tiny cloves available, hence a lot of garlic scallion plants.
- Our springs are short and don’t really provide opportunity to make multiple harvests.
- The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove.
- If you do have more than you can use fresh, they can be chopped and dried, or frozen for making pesto later in the year.
Other Posts About Garlic
See Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity posted in May 2021. It includes many links for those deciding which kinds of garlic to grow
Much about garlic is to be found in my Alliums for the Month Series from 2018-2019. The April 2019 post gives links to each of them.
- Plant Garlic and garlic scallions (Alliums for November)
- Free Trapped Garlic Shoots (Alliums for December)
- Plant Garlic Scallions from Softneck Varieties (Alliums for February)
- Garlic Scallions (Alliums for March)
- Garlic Scapes (Alliums for May)
- Harvesting Garlic, Signs of maturity (Alliums for June)
- Snip and Sort Garlic (Alliums for July)
- Move Stored Garlic (Alliums for September)
- Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields).
- 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.
- Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition. Bulbs should be separated into cloves 0–7 days before planting.
- Planting deeper helps keep the garlic at a steadier temperature (milder during the winter, cooler once spring heats up)
- When properly planted and mulched, garlic can withstand winter lows of -30°F (-35°C).
- Garlic roots grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).
- 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 bulbs will not divide into separate cloves.
- Plant garlic in cold areas with the goal of getting a good amount of root growth before winter has a firm grip, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the weather.
- In warm areas, zones 7 and warmer, the goal is to get enough top growth in fall to get off to a roaring start in the spring, but not so much that the leaves cannot endure the winter.
- If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can regrow and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will be lower than it might have been if you had been luckier with the weather.
- Grey Duck Garlic has a helpful chart by USDA winter-hardiness zone. I’ve combined their information with that I gathered previously.
- In zones 0-3, if no permafrost, plant garlic in September.
- In zones 3b-5, plant late-September to early-October. Plant 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. Another way of counting is 6 weeks before the ground freezes.
- In zones 5-7, plant in the second half of October. If your area does not normally get seasonally frozen ground, you could plant later.
- In zones 7-9, plant in early-mid November; up till late November in zone 9.
- In zones 9 and 10, look for soil to be less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep – garlic can be planted in December or even as late as February if you have vernalized the planting stock. (Vernalization for hardneck garlic = 6 weeks of cold temperature below 40-45°F/4-7°C; softneck is less demanding) Without sufficient vernalization, the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).
- In zones 11-13, I think plant in January or February after vernalization – check with local growers or your Extension Service, as there’s very little info out there. Also see the section below on growing garlic in the tropics. See Grey Duck Farm’s Southern Garlic Grower’s Guide by Susan Fluegel
- If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter.
- If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.
Garlic Growth Stages
Garlic and onions are biennial crops grown as annuals. They have 3 distinct phases of growth: vegetative, bulbing and blooming (bolting) The switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors. It is important to understand that it does not work to plant onions or garlic at a random date in the year.
- Vegetative growth (roots and leaves). For large bulbs it is important to produce large healthy plants before the vegetative stage gives way to the bulbing stage. If planted in spring, garlic plants will be small when bulbing starts, and only small bulbs are possible.
- Bulbing is initiated when the daylight reaches the critical number of hours. Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above 13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. The rate of bulbing is more rapid with high light intensity and increased temperature.
- Flowering (Garlic scapes): Scapes are the hard central flower stems of hardneck garlic. Removing the scapes can increase the bulb size 25%, and also provides an additional food crop. In general, plant flowering is triggered by some combination of enough vernalization (chilling hours – maybe 10 weeks below 40°F/4.5°C), plant maturity, daylength and temperature. In cold weather the plants suppress the flowering signal. When the daylength and the temperature are both right, they trigger flowering.
Fattening up: Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth.
Drying down: Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and starts the drying down process.