Growing Garlic in Manitoba 1 Comment

Young garlic plants growing in open field

Garlic & Manitoba's Cold Winter

Growing garlic in Manitoba can often be a challenge for people because of the extreme growing conditions. Often we just don't know what to expect when it comes to weather and that can make for an interesting garlic growing experience. Although we usually don't know when spring will arrive, how much rain we'll get or when the first frost of the year will hit us, there is one thing we can almost always expect, an extremely cold winter! Although a cold Manitoba winter can be tough on our bodies, it generally is a good thing for growing garlic.

Most garlic varieties such as Porcelain , Purple Stripe and Rocambole do best in cold climates like Manitoba. This is because for most garlic to grow and perform well, it needs to go through a dormant period where it is exposed to cold temperatures.

Fall Planting

In Manitoba, this means that we need to plant our garlic in the fall sometime. Although planting garlic in the spring is possible if you expose the garlic to cold temperatures artificially (such as a very cold refrigerator or controlled freezer that stays above -4 degrees Celsius), our season is usually a bit too short and the garlic either forms smaller bulbs or single cloved bulbs called rounds. 

On our farm, we usually start planting garlic during the 3rd week of September and hopefully are finished by the first week of October. Some growers in Manitoba choose to start planting around October 15th, but we've found that this is a bit more suited for climates such as Ontario or British Columbia. Our experience is that planting in September leaves enough time for the garlic to develop a strong root system, but not have the first leaves emerge from the ground before spring.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

I have spoken with many people that grow garlic, however, two very experienced garlic growers come to mind when I think about mulching. One of them was an older Ukrainian lady from north of Winnipeg, who said that she had never covered her garlic with mulch and that her garlic grows great year after year without any problems. That sounded good to me! The other grower was from southern Manitoba and said that she always covers her garlic with a thick mulch, no less than 8" to 12" thick. Her belief was that our winters are too cold and that the mulch protects that garlic in her garden. That sounded like a lot of work!

So I really liked the advice from the Ukrainian lady and decided that on our farm, we would always grow garlic without mulch. It just seemed a lot easier to manage without having to spread all the straw over the garlic beds and less work is always a good thing on a farm. That was until the winter of 2013 and the extreme cold that came with it. The cold temperatures along with a more exposed location decimated a huge portion of our garlic crop for that year. When spring came we discovered that over half of our garlic had winter killed. Not good!  

Today we use mulch on all of our garlic as an insurance measure. We feel that we just cannot depend on getting enough snow every year. Since we've been mulching, there have been no issues with winter kill, even when planting in the same exposed location. Good news for the farm! 

So why such a difference from one grower to another or one year to another? The reason is that it depends on the amount of stable snow cover that a grower receives in any particular year. If you live in a location that is very sheltered and receives a lot of snow every year (especially early in the season) then it is fairly safe to plant garlic without mulch. If you have an exposed location that tends to have snow blown around, then using mulch for your garlic is probably a very good idea.  

See our main Growing Garlic in Manitoba page or Growing Garlic in Canada page for more detailed information on topics like garlic seed, soils, planting depth, harvesting, etc.

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About the Author: John Côté owns and operates John Boy Farms with his family who have been farming the same land for over 140 years. As an agronomist and experienced farmer, he helps other growers learn how to grow garlic successfully. He has written many articles and is the author of The Master Guide to Growing Big Garlic.