Growing Garlic in Quebec

In Quebec, garlic is considered a cool-season crop, which is planted in the fall and harvested the next summer. The following is information on the types of garlic grown in Quebec, garlic production from planting to storage, and pest control and weed management.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is from the same family (Alliaceae) as onions, shallots and leeks. The majority of Quebec-grown garlic is sold to as whole fresh bulbs along with some green garlic or scapes. To a lesser extent, some quebec garlic is also processed into products such as spreads or canned goods.

Types

There are two types of garlic grown in Quebec - softneck and hardneck. Hardneck varieties (Ophioscorodon) bolt in late spring or early summer. This produces a tall flowering stalk call a scape (Figure 1). At the tip of the scapes a capsule is formed containing bulbils. These are small aerial cloves that can be used as planting stock, but usually require 2 or more years of growth to develop into marketable bulbs. There is considerable variability in the size and number of bulbils produced by hardneck garlic. The larger bulbils produce lager bulbs more quickly.

Softneck varieties (A. sativum var. sativum) do not produce scapes. Generally, hardnecks are considered more hardy and suitable for cold climates. Also, hardnecks tend to have larger cloves, but have shorter storage life than softnecks.

Hardneck garlic can produce anywhere from 4-12 cloves per bulb. Varieties grown in Quebec include Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Artichoke. Softneck garlic produces an average of 8-12 cloves per bulb. In northern climates bulbs can produce as few as 5 or 6 cloves per bulb and up to 30 per bulb in warmer, southern climates. Softneck varieties grown in Quebec include Silverskin and Artichoke.

 

Hardneck Garlic With Scapes

Figure 1. Hardneck garlic variety with scapes.

Cultivated garlic plants are unable to produce true seed, therefore, no crossing or exchange of genetic material occurs between different varieties of garlic. All garlic is propagated vegetatively from cloves or bulbils, with each clove or bulbil being a clone of the parent plant.

Planting

Garlic is a perennial crop that needs a cold period in order to grow properly and form bulbs. In Quebec, garlic is grown as a winter annual - planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. Although fall planting is highly recommended, it is also possible to plant in the spring (see Growing Garlic in Spring for more info). If spring planting, planting stock should be placed in cold storage prior to planting to allow proper bulb development.

It is important to try and plant garlic at the proper time in the fall. Planting too early can cause the plants to grow to quickly and emerge from the ground before winter arrives, which can leave the young plants susceptible to winter kill. Planting too late does not allow the garlic enough time to establish roots and settle into dormancy for the winter. 

Also, planting depth is very important. If the cloves are placed too deep, wet soils can cause them to rot and cloves will be forced to use excess energy from the soil. A depth of 1 to 2 inches in heavy soils (clay) and 2 to 3 inches in light soils (sand) is a good benchmark. It is also a good practice to try and plant cloves with the pointed side up. Although cloves planted upside down will develop, they often have a curved shoot and misshapen bulbs.

In spring, well-established plants that were planted at the right time and depth will rapidly develop shoot growth as soil and air temperatures increase. With adequate moisture and nutrition, a large plant will develop before bulbing takes place.

Only good quality bulbs should be used for seed stock and should be stored as whole bulbs until shortly before planting, as cloves separated from the parent bulb deteriorate more rapidly than whole bulbs. Dry bulbs are more easily broken apart into cloves than damp bulbs. Garlic can be cracked by hand or with specialized equipment. Mechanical cracking is much faster, however, there is greater potential for physical damage to cloves. 

The amount of planting material required will vary from 700-1,000 kg/ha, depending upon the weight of individual cloves planted and the spacing used. Cloves should be planted 4 to 6 inches apart in the row and 8 to 12 inches between rows. Spacing between rows depends on the method of planting and the equipment available for cultivation. 

Some Quebec growers use bulbils as planting stock. Depending on the variety, capsules can contain from four to a few hundred bulbils (Figures 2 and 3).

 

Porcelain Garlic Bulbil Capsules

Figure 2. Porcelain bulbil capsules.

Asiatic Garlic Bulbil Capsule

Figure 3. Asiatic garlic bulbil capsules.

The main advantage of planting bulbils is that it allows growers to increase their planting stock very quickly and to minimize transmission of some soil-borne diseases. The disadvantage is that it can take many years of successive plantings to before attaining good-sized bulbs from the initial bulbil planting stock.

Similar to garlic, bulbil capsules should be broken open and individual bulbils removed just prior to planting. Densities for bulbil planting are not well established, primarily due to size variation among varieties.

Planting bulbils closer together allows for easier management but care must be taken to provide adequate space for bulb growth. Adequate moisture through rain or irrigation is critical for bulbils to develop properly due to their small and  shallow root systems.

Planting Location and Soil Preparation

Garlic can be grown all regions of Quebec where other cold hardy vegetables can be grown (zone 2 or higher) and is tolerant of a wide range of soils

Soils with high organic matter content are preferred, due to their high moisture and nutrient holding capacity. They are also less prone to crusting and compaction which allows for easy formations of bulbs. Very heavy soil types hinder bulb expansion, especially if allowed to dry out, sometimes resulting in rough and irregular shaped bulbs.Intensive soil management practices are required on light sandy soils due to their low moisture-holding capacity.

Garlic grows well on fertile soils and it important that adequate fertility is added to the soil if large bulbs are desired. Any organic additions (such as manure or compost) should be thoroughly incorporated well in advance of planting to allow the nutrients to be available to the plants. Any phosphorus or potassium fertilizers should also be incorporated prior to planting. A small portion of the Nitrogen required can be added in fall, however, the remainder should be applied in spring and split into 2 or 3 applications. The last application of Nitrogen should be completed within 4 to 6 weeks of harvest.

The amount of fertility required will vary with soil type, the previous crop grown, the amount of organic matter present and the climatic conditions during the growing season. That being said, a good fertility target for most growers is the following:

Nitrogen: 120 lbs/acre
Phosphorus: 150 lbs/acre
Potassium: 160 lbs/acre
Sulfur: 30 lbs/acre  

It is a good practice to plant garlic in an area where there good winter snow cover. In Quebec, most growers mulch their plantings for the winter. Mulching helps moderate soil temperatures and protects roots and shoots from fluctuating temperatures. It is important to ensure you don't mulch with materials that could have weed seeds and other pests. The most commonly used mulch is straw, applied 10-15 cm deep directly over the planted garlic rows (Figure 4).

 Garlic Mulched With Straw

Figure 4. Garlic rows covered in straw mulch.

In the spring, the mulch can be completely once the threat of frost is over or left on throughout the season to help maintain moisture and provide weed control. Leaving the mulch on for the entire growing season can make weeding difficult and can contribute to disease problems, especially on heavy soils.

Irrigation

Garlic is very sensitive to moisture stress throughout the growing season. Dry soil conditions, especially during bulbing phase, can result in significant yield reductions.

For most soils, approximately 1 inch of water per week is required during the growing season. In sandy soils, 2 inches or more of moisture may be required especially during hot and dry weather conditions.

The best time for irrigating is morning to mid-afternoon. This allows sufficient time for the plant foliage to dry before the evening. Irrigation can be stopped about two weeks before the bulbs are ready to be harvested. This will make harvesting easier and help minimize any quality issues such as stained bulb skins.

Scape Removal

Hardneck varieties produce a scape that should be removed for maximum bulb size. Research has shown that when the scape is left on the plant, bulb yields are reduced by as much as 30% because energy is diverted to bulbil rather than filling out the bulb. Remove scapes by breaking or cutting just after curling but before they straighten out (Figure 5).

Scape Removal

Figure 5. Scape ready for removal.

Harvest

Bulbs continue to increase in size during late spring and summer until the leaves of the plant begin to dry and turn brown. Leaf browning progresses from the tips towards the base leaves. Harvest should begin when approximately 30%-50% of the leaves have turned brown and died back. Garlic bulbs harvested too early may be immature, undersized and tend to shrivel when cured. Late harvested bulbs may be stained, have partially decayed leaf wrappers and exposed cloves.

Small plantings of garlic are often hand harvested with the aid of a fork to loosen the soil and facilitate lifting. Larger plantings are normally mechanically harvested using a tractor-drawn blade that loosens the soil under the bulbs. A mechanized system can be used to lift the bulbs, remove the tops and separate the dirt and trash.

One the garlic is harvested, it must be cured. Curing is the process of drying the bulb to help increase storage life by minimizing microbial and fungal infection and water loss. Harvested garlic can be left in the field to cure for a few days or be removed from the field immediately and cured in storage.

To cure garlic in the field, place plants in covered, slotted vegetable bins and allow natural air drying. To cure in storage, tie 10-15 plants into a bundle and hang to dry in a well-ventilated area or use forced air to dry the bulbs. Once cured, trim or remove garlic tops and roots and place the bulbs in slotted bins, on wired racks, or on open trays in a well-ventilated building.

Similar to bulbs, bulbils must be cured prior to storage. Harvest scapes with the bulbil capsule intact just prior to garlic bulb harvest. Once harvested, bunch, tie and hang scapes to dry for a few weeks. Once dried, remove the bulbil capsules and store them in a dry location until the time of planting.

Storage

Storage conditions depend on the end use. Garlic for consumption (table stock) can be stored differently than garlic for planting stock. Garlic for table stock is best stored at 0°C-4°C with a relative humidity of 60%-70%. Avoid storing in higher humidity, as it creates an excellent environment for penicillium mould and root growth. Table stock stored at room temperature may dehydrate faster. Store garlic intended for planting stock at anywhere from 10°C to room temperature with 60%-70% relative humidity.

At room temperature, hardneck varieties can be stored up to 4 months; softneck varieties up to 8 months. In temperature and humidity controlled conditions, storage life can be increased to 6-7 months for Rocamboles, 8-10 months for Porcelains and over 12 months for softneck types.

Weed Management

Garlic is a very weak competitor against weeds and requires planning. All perennial weeds should be eliminated prior to planting. Control of annual weeds must be early and continuous throughout the growing season. Weeding can be an be undertaken by cultivation, hand hoeing, mulching or with herbicide applications. Avoid deep cultivation close to the plants, as root damage and subsequent yield losses may occur. 

Insects and Diseases

There are a number of pests of garlic in Quebec, including Fusarium basal plate rot, Penicillium mould, leek moth, bulb and stem nematode, and viruses.

Fusarium Basal Plate Rot

Fusarium basal plate rot attacks the basal plate region of the bulb and roots (Figure 6). This soil-borne pathogen invades the roots, resulting in empty, tan-coloured, non-functional roots, while the basal plate region may develop a pinkish-brown growth of mycelium. Above-ground symptoms include yellowing of the leaf tips and dieback of the shoot during the spring. Warm soil temperatures and high soil moisture promote disease development. Since the organism survives as dormant spores in the soil or on plant residue, rotate with non-allium crops.

Fusarium Basal Plate Rot

Figure 6. Fusarium basal plate rot of garlic bulb.

Penicillium Mould

Penicillium mould is the main cause of decay of garlic in storage. The disease appears as masses of blue-green growth usually first seen at the base of the bulb. The primary source of inoculum is diseased bulbs used for planting material. When diseased bulbs are cracked, healthy cloves may be contaminated with airborne spores. Wounded cloves are particularly susceptible to this disease.

Infected cloves are often invaded by secondary decay organisms such as bacteria and other fungi, masking the original pathogen. Clove rot and reduced plant stands are often the result of planting infected cloves. Warm temperatures (22°C-25°C) are optimal for spore germination and disease development. Planting garlic too early in late summer when soil temperatures are high may increase the severity of clove rot. Irrigation may be beneficial, as high soil moisture appears to suppress clove decay.

Leek Moth

The leek moth is an invasive alien species of European origin that damages garlic, leeks and onions. Adult moths lay their eggs on garlic leaves and, once hatched, larvae tunnel into the leaves causing damage and leaving plants susceptible to the bacterial or fungal diseases (Figure 7). There are three generations per season: the first in June, the second in July and the third in late August. Information from Europe indicates that the insect overwinters as an adult moth in various sheltered areas and begin to emerge when temperatures reach 9.5°C.

Leek Moth Damage

Figure 7. Leek moth damage on garlic leaves.

Bulb and Stem Nematode

Bulb and stem nematode is a microscopic parasitic nematode that enters garlic through the roots or wounds on bulbs. Early in the season, young seedlings infected with nematodes are often stunted, with yellowing and bloating of young leaves. Later infections can cause twisting of new growth, bulb softening and desiccation, and loss of roots (Figures 8 and 9). Bulb and stem nematode becomes active in the spring with damage symptoms generally appearing mid-July through harvest. The key to management of this pest is prevention. This means planting nematode-free seed into nematode-free soil. Test your soil before planting, use clean seed and follow a 3-year rotation with non-host crops. Once in the soil, bulb and stem nematode can be spread through irrigation water, on contaminated seed, equipment, humans and animals.

Garlic Nematode Damage

Figure 8. Underdeveloped garlic bulb; absence of roots on one side of basal plate is an indicator of stem and bulb nematode infection.

Nematode Damage of Garlic Bulb

Figure 9. Rotting of basal plate due to stem and bulb nematode infection.

White Rot

White rot is a soil-borne fungal disease that can survive as sclerotia in infected fields for decades. It is a serious concern, particularly in cool, wet growing seasons. Symptoms of white rot of garlic include yellowing, wilting and toppling over of older leaves, watery bulbs and the presence of a fluffy, white mycelium and pinhead-sized black sclerotia, as well as rotted roots. Because sclerotia and mycelium overwinter in soil and plant debris, thorough cleaning of field equipment and proper disposal of cull garlic are important in preventing the spread of white rot to uncontaminated fields.

Viruses

Virtually all sources of garlic contain viruses, though most are latent (dormant). Latent garlic viruses may not become visible or reduce yields until the garlic plant is stressed or growth is interrupted. The most common symptoms of virus infection are colour changes of the leaves. These include mosaics, flecking, streaking and mottling. Leaf shape distortion may also occur.