Planting Garlic In Spring February 20, 2019 10:04 4 Comments
Many gardeners do their garden planning during the winter or very early spring. This process includes looking through all the seed catalogues and deciding what they will be planting for the coming season.
Sometimes, this includes wanting to plant garlic in spring even though it is not generally the best time of year. In colder climates like Canada and the Northern United States, this can be a challenge and often requires a few strategies to get the best outcome.
In the northern latitudes, most garlic is planted in the fall as the plants require a natural dormant period that includes cold temperatures. When you plant before winter, the garlic puts down roots until the temperatures freeze and then waits until the next season to continue growing. This fall growing period allows the garlic plants to get a head start and then explode out of the ground once temperatures warm up in spring. That's why garlic is often one of the first crops emerging from the soil.
Although garlic is ideally planted in fall, dedicated gardeners should not be discouraged from planting in spring. It is still possible to grow and harvest, beautiful, excellent tasting garlic. The following tips are the most important things to consider when getting ready to plant in spring.
(1) Finding Garlic Seed
The first challenge for many growers is finding spring garlic bulbs to plant in the first place. Most garlic varieties offered by seed companies (including our farm) are only available in late summer or fall. However, you can often purchase "spring garlic seed" at garden centers or greenhouses. This garlic is almost always a softneck garlic and does not need very much cold exposure. That means that the bulbs can usually be planted right after they've been purchased.
Regular food garlic you find in the grocery store is generally very poor for planting. The bulbs are often treated to prevent sprouting, can be up to a year old and have a high risk of carrying viruses or diseases that most growers wouldn't want to introduce into their soil. As well, almost all commercial garlic is grown in warm regions like California, Argentina or Southeast Asia. If you live in a colder climate (such as Canada and the northern half of the United States), these "warm season" varieties are not well suited for growing.
(2) Cold Exposure
If planting a hardneck garlic variety in spring, the bulbs will need some cold exposure for proper growth (although, softneck garlic can also benefit from some cold exposure). The ideal temperature is 0 to -3 degrees Celsius when trying to vernalize or "trick" the garlic cloves into thinking they went through winter. This process can be challenging without the help of mother nature, although refrigerator temperatures (usually 1 to 2 degrees Celsius) can also work.
Vernalization can be accomplished by placing the garlic in a refrigerator (as cold as possible) for at least 2 to 3 weeks. The longer the period of cold exposure is, the stronger the effect. That means that when time allows, a more extended period of up to 2 months in cold storage can be beneficial.
Without vernalization, the garlic plants will not form bulbs properly, producing single clove bulbs called rounds. These rounds are perfectly good to eat and can be replanted in fall with success. They should develop good-sized bulbs with multiple cloves the following summer.
If using refrigeration for vernalization, it is important to remember that it can dehydrate the garlic over a longer period. Some growers place the garlic in a plastic bag (sometimes with holes for ventilation) to prevent excess drying. This often works well, however, you must keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it does not develop mould, rot or start sending out roots. If the roots start growing, it's best to plant the bulbs soon after.
(3) Early Planting
Another important strategy is to plant spring garlic as early as possible. That means planting the garlic cloves as soon as the soil is workable and long before you would consider planting any other garden crops. Even if the forecasted temperatures are for extremely cold weather, the cloves should still be planted. Garlic plants are very cold hardy and can tolerate temperatures well below freezing.
Garlic is sensitive to day length changes and not having enough days with increasing day length can affect the size of the bulb or even the formation of cloves within the bulb. That is why planting garlic too late in spring will often form rounds, just like cloves that have not been vernalized properly.
(4) Good Growing Conditions
Spring planted garlic will almost always be smaller than fall-planted garlic. Because of this, early season growing conditions are extremely important. Shelter, fertility and moisture are the most important things you can control.
Choose a location that is protected from the wind, has plenty of sun exposure and warms up quickly in the morning. Using raised beds is also recommended as it helps warm the ground and prevent soggy soil during cold/wet periods in spring.
Make sure the soil is rich in nutrients and especially high in Nitrogen. This is because the garlic plants will need to grow quickly to make up for the lost growing time in fall. Adding compost is recommended as it will improve the soil's health, however, it may not be enough to meet the fertility needs of the plants. A high Nitrogen fertilizer (organic or regular) applied in spring is often beneficial.
It is also essential to ensure that the garlic has consistent moisture for the entire growing season. Even a week of dry soil conditions can cause stunting of the bulbs and will leave you with a poor harvest. Make sure that plants receive at least 1 inch of moisture per week on loamy soils and 2 inches of moisture per week on sandy soils.
If you have experience or some thoughts about planting spring garlic, Leave a Comment Below! We'd love to hear what you think!