Growing Garlic

Planting Garlic In Spring February 20, 2019 10:04 4 Comments

Planting Garlic In SpringMany 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!    


Caring for Garic in Spring May 03, 2015 08:54

Weeding Garlic
Taking care of your garlic early in spring is important...and fun! 

So it's spring time and your garlic has either survived the winter or was recently planted in spring - Now what? Most of us are excited to get out into our gardens or fields but are sometimes unsure as to what to start with. On my farm, there are three import things that I do every spring when caring for our garlic. They have worked well for years and I have found that they get the garlic off to a great start.

Plant Scouting

Spring is the first good opportunity of the growing season to assess the health of your garlic and to see if there are any problems. Checking your garlic (or any other garden or field vegetables) regularly is very important and helps you to grow strong healthy plants while avoiding potential problems that can come up.

On my farm, I check the garlic almost every day in spring and every other day during the peak growing season. I have found over the years that plants can look perfect one day and then an issue arises seemingly overnight. This can be insects showing up, a disease problem or even something like poor growth from low nutrient levels.

Noticing a problem right away can give you important time to find a solution. Most problems start small and are easily dealt with when found early. Also, pulling out weak or diseased plants starting at the beginning of the season is a good opportunity to start making selections and weeding out any plants that aren't in good condition and may cause you problems later.

Weeding

My whole philosophy around weed control is "weed early, weed often, all season long!" I have found this to be especially important with garlic as it is notoriously poor at suppressing weeds and has trouble competing with other plants. That means that getting an early jump on weeding the garlic beds can save you a lot of headaches later. It's important to remember that when the weather warms up, weeds can explode in growth over a few days and this can make cleaning the garlic bed way harder than it needs to be.

On my farm, I start weeding as soon as I can see the rows of garlic coming up, even if the weeds have barely come out of the ground. Sometimes I even weed when it looks like no weeds are present, however if you look under the soil you can see small weeds the size of a string starting to come up. That's my favourite and easiest time to clean them out.

Fertilizing

Garlic is generally not considered a big feeder or to have major fertility requirements. A garlic bed with healthy garden soil and lots of compost is usually good enough. However it is still important that garlic plants have enough nutrients to grow strong and healthy for the whole season. 

In spring, it is especially important for garlic plants to have adequate levels of Nitrogen so that they can grow all the leaves needed to help form large bulbs later in the season. Soil amendments added in the fall like compost often have high levels of organic matter with adequate amounts of nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and most micronutrients but sometimes lack enough available nitrogen. Generally, amendments like alfalfa pellets, fish meal or other organic fertilizers contain higher levels of nitrogen.

So if it has been a cold, wet spring or if your garlic plants have been stressed early on in the growing season, it is always a smart idea to give the soil a little nitrogen rich top dressing every few weeks. This will feed your garlic important nutrients and make sure you have good sized bulbs at harvest time.


First Garlic Emerging in Spring April 15, 2015 12:36

 

As with every year, spring finally comes and most of us on the Canadian prairies can't believe we survived another winter. Once our bodies thaw out from the freeze, we start thinking about more exciting things like our gardens, the farmers market and warm summer days to come.

One of my favourite things to do in spring is to dig up a few garlic cloves to make sure that they survived the winter and check on root growth. It's always a relief to find cloves that are firm and white with nice thick roots. In exposed areas that don't have enough snow cover, our garlic sometimes has winter kill. The roots are usually shriveled up and the cloves have turned a yellow/orange translucent colour. If you see this, it basically means that your garlic froze to death.

Although it's nice to know that the garlic survived the winter, the most exciting time for me is when the soil has warmed up enough for the first garlic plants to start popping out of the ground. On our farm, that can be anytime from mid-April to early-May depending on the year.

 

This year, the weather warmed up very early in spring and our first garlic plants started emerging on April 12th. Most of the garlic is still underground, but a few varieties decided it's time to get growing.

The first variety out of the ground on our farm this season is a softneck type called Purple Artichoke. It's from British Columbia, so we weren't sure how well it would perform here on the prairies. It seems to survive our winters very well, has great root growth and it starts growing early in spring. We'll see how it does over the rest of the summer.

As for our other varieties, many have good root growth but are just starting to send up the first leaf and should be fully emerging over the next week or two. Many of our Porcelain varieties seem to be taking their time, however they are vigorous growers and will make up for it once warmer weather comes.