Spring Is Not Too Late for Garlic

Garlic planted last October

Garlic is best planted in the fall, I know. And I did plant some in the fall. Last October, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sent me three beautiful bulbs of Inchelium Red softneck garlic, and when they arrived, I quickly scanned the accompanying directions, broke up the cloves, and got them into the ground. Except for one bulb. I swear I read somewhere that you should never plant all your garlic in the fall, that you should always save some until spring in case something goes wrong. (In case mice eat them? Or a very cold winter kills them? Or your neighbor steals them for warding off vampires?) The only thing is, a few days ago I searched all over for the place where I’d read this, and I couldn’t find this warning anywhere. Every reference I checked said, “Garlic is best planted in the fall.” Case closed.

Well, today, in preparation for writing this post, I looked again at the directions Southern Exposure sent me last fall. And by chance my eyes fell on this: “Caution: Never plant all your bulbs in the fall, or you may lose the variety. Always hold some bulbs for spring planting.” The only thing is, this was advice for potato onions and shallots, not garlic. I told you in my post Going out on a Whim that I’m usually too eager to get things done to do thorough research. Now you have proof. I guess in my haste last October, I connected this warning to the garlic. But the paragraph under garlic clearly states, “All varieties are best planted in the fall.”

Inchelium Red

So where does that leave me, with my one bulb carefully preserved all winter in the back of the fridge (in an open paper bag to keep it from molding)? Well, it turns out that planting garlic in the spring is not entirely unheard of. The harvest will be later, and it will be a lot smaller, but a harvest there will be, says Steve Solomon, my gardening guru. So this week, when the warm weather caused the soil to dry out enough to be workable, I decided to get my lingering garlic bulb into the ground. And in case you, too, have some heads of garlic that you’d like to see multiplied six or seven times over by the end of the summer, here are some guidelines for planting them!

First, make sure the soil in your garden is dry enough to be workable. See my post The Digging Days…of Winter? if you’re not sure how to tell.

Now figure out how much space you’re going to need. I use Steve Solomon’s spacing recommendations and plant garlic cloves 6-8” apart in rows 24” apart. Break your bulb(s) into separate cloves to count them and determine the total space required.

2" deep

Before putting the cloves in the ground, add some soil amendments. Add about a ¼” layer of compost (composted manure purchased from the store is okay if you don’t have your own) and a sprinkling of complete organic fertilizer (according to the application directions for your specific fertilizer). Dig all this in as deeply as you can. Six inches is okay. Twelve inches would be great.

Now make holes about 2″ deep, and put in your garlic cloves, pointy side up, root side down. Cover with soil, and you’re done! At least until the shoots emerge. Then you’ll have to start thinking about applying more fertilizer. And do keep your garlic patch free of weeds. All vegetable plants produce much better when they aren’t being choked to death. Your garlic plants’ roots will spread through the entire two-foot-wide row you’ve given them. Keep weeds out of all that space because it’s all part of their feeding ground.

A note about choosing your variety of garlic: Planting garlic from the grocery store is not recommended. Those varieties are designed for commercial growers in very specific regions, and they won’t necessarily do well in your garden. I confess I have tried planting grocery store garlic, and though about 25% of the cloves produced shoots, they never produced bulbs worth speaking of. With that said, I’m not going to stop anyone from experimenting!

If you’re interested in the variety I planted, it’s Inchelium Red softneck (softneck produces the highest yields and is best for braiding), an heirloom from the Colville Indian Reservation in Inchelium, Washington. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange says it’s their most productive variety and it’s won an award for flavor from the Rodale Food Center. Sounded good to me! Of course, next year I’m sure I won’t be able to resist adding a second variety…


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the garlicky tips! Still snow on the ground here for us…but once Fall rolls around we may just have to put some garlic in the dirt too!

  2. Sharon says:

    Yes, I’m afraid that a lot of what I write doesn’t apply to north of the 49th parallel. 😦 But I’m sure I’ll be blogging about garlic again come fall (though perhaps not early enough for you!).

  3. lisabinegar says:

    I planted garlic in the fall, I think it was the first weekend in November, in one of my raised beds and covered it with straw. I am really hopeful I see some sprouts here this spring! We have a ground squirrel problem here and there are a few holes dug up in that bed but not really in the end that I planted the garlic. You would think critters wouldn’t be too crazy about garlic, but I suppose they will eat anything. I also planted some tulip bulbs in some random clumps around my mailbox, the first time I have planted bulbs, so I am very anxious to see if they come up too!

  4. Sharon says:

    Oh, tulips! The critters unfortunately do really like those–the leaves at least. I think our culprits are the deer. They clip them right down to the ground. So I’ve given up on growing them. Hopefully you don’t have such a large deer population!

  5. DM says:

    We were given 2 bulbs a couple of weeks ago from an excess CSA lot…I have never grown garlic and was toying around with planting some of the cloves, but discovered as you’ve just written, garlic is “supposed” to be planted in the Fall…I am still toying around w/ the idea of a spring planting/ and just leaving the raised bed where I’m going to put them as the designated garlic bed. I was reading where someone just kept their garlic in the same spot for 5 years…used what they wanted and let the rest continue to perpetuate. I’m all about trying to do this stuff w/ the least amount of effort/ yet still do it right.

    1. Sharon says:

      You might want to try elephant garlic then. I’ve heard that it’s virtually impossible to eradicate from a bed once it gets started!

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