Garlic

John W. Jett Ph.D.
WVU Extension Service
Horticulture Specialist

Garlic, a member of the onion family, may be grown successfully in most home gardens. There are early (White or Mexican) cultivars and late (Pink or Italian) cultivars. The early cultivar does not store well and has poorer quality, but it outyields the later type. The secret to a harvest of large garlic bulbs is fall planting‹generally four to six weeks before the soil freezes. This way the roots can become established before the winter sets in and will be ready to support vigorous leafy growth come early spring.

Garlic is started by planting cloves that are divisions of the large bulb. Each bulb contains a dozen or more cloves; each clove is planted separately. The larger cloves yield larger mature bulbs at harvest. Do not divide the bulb until ready to plant‹early separation decreases yields. Select "seed bulbs" that are large, smooth, fresh, and free from disease.

Plant the cloves 3 to 5 inches apart in an upright position (to assure a straight neck), and cover them to a depth of about 1 inch. Allow 12-24 inches between rows. Garlic also lends itself well to a square foot or raised bed system, with cloves 3 to 4 inches apart in rows a foot wide. This takes considerably less space to provide the same yield.

Garlic grows best on well-drained garden loam soils that are fertile and high in organic matter. Gardeners who grow good onion crops can grow garlic. Garlic does well at high fertilizer levels. When preparing soil for planting, apply 4 to 5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Bulbs will be small if the soil is excessively dry and irregular in shape if the soil becomes compacted.

When the leaves begin to grow in earnest, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage robust growth.

When most of the leaves have turned brown (in mid-July to early August, depending on your climate), gently pull or dig up the bulbs, being careful not to bruise them. Do not leave them in the ground too long, or they may begin to separate and will not store well. Place in trays with screens or slatted bottoms and remove tops when dry. Mature bulbs are best stored under cool, dry conditions. Set aside the larger bulbs to replant later in the fall.

During the winter, check your harvest often and promptly use any bulbs that show signs of sprouting.