Home-grown garlic is a wonderful addition to your meals.
Garlic is the last plant to go in the garden. It also spends the longest time growing in the garden, planted in fall and harvested the following summer. However, the bountiful reward is worth the long wait.
Garlic is easy to grow as long as you plant varieties that are suitable to your location. There are three main types of garlic - softneck (best for areas with mild winters), hardneck (ideal for cold winters), and elephant (grows in cold areas if mulched heavily).
Plant in Fall
Garlic cloves can be planted 6-8 weeks before the first fall frost, and must be planted before the ground freezes. It can also be planted in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, but the bulbs will not be as large or flavorful. Don't plant garlic you purchased from the produce aisle of your local grocery store. It may be a variety not suitable for growing in your area. Instead, purchase bulbs or cloves from a mail order seed company or your local garden center. A few days before planting, break the bulb apart into individual cloves, but be sure to keep the papery wrapper intact.
Prep Your Soil
Plant your garlic in a sunny location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Garlic tends to rot in poorly drained soils, so plant in raised beds filled with Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil All Purpose 0.09-0.05-0.07 or in well-drained soil. Set individual cloves pointy side up, 5-8 cm (2-3") deep. Plant cloves 8-10 cm (3-4") apart in rows 30-60 cm (1-2 ft) apart.
Plant & Mulch
Plant individual cloves pointed side up, 2-3 inches deep. Space cloves 4-6 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart. If you live in an area with really cold winters, mulch the garlic beds heavily with a 3-4 inch layer of straw or leaves to help protect the young plants as they start to emerge from the soil. After the threat of frost has passed in the spring, remove the mulch layer from on top of the rows but leave it in between the rows to help control weeds.
When the shoots begin to emerge in the spring, feed them with Miracle-Gro® Nature's Care® Organic & Natural Vegetable, Fruit & Flower Food. Make sure the soil stays consistently moist throughout the spring and summer, especially when the bulbs are forming (mid-May through June). As flower stems, called scapes, emerge in late spring, cut them off so they don't affect bulb size. The scapes are edible and add a spicy kick to stir fries.
Time to Harvest
Around late July or August, the tops will start to turn yellow. This is your indication that harvest time is approaching. When about half the leaves are yellow and starting to fall over, stop watering. Before the tops completely dry out, carefully lift the bulbs from the garden bed using a spade or garden fork. Brush off the excess soil and let them cure in an dry, airy, shady spot for 2 weeks. You can also hang them upside down on a string in bunches of 4-6. As the bulbs dry, their flavor will increase.
When the coverings become dry and papery, your garlic is ready for storage. Garlic bulbs can be stored individually with the tops removed, or, if you're growing a softneck type, the dried tops can be braided together and hung. Save some of your largest, best-formed bulbs to plant again in the fall. Garlic always adds great flavor to cooking, but somehow tastes better when it comes from your own garden.