Garlic, healthy for you and easy to grow

Everyone knows about garlic.  It is used extensively in cooking, and is also a big health boosting/medicinal food, providing many benefits for the body.  Regardless of how you use garlic, it is easy to grow and anyone can have success growing this relatively care free crop.

Fall planting

Garlic planting, photo: Chuck Otte

We usually don’t think about planting too many garden crops in the fall, but garlic is an exception to the rule.  Garlic can be thought of as a sort of spring bulb.  Spring bulbs are planted in the fall and early October is a perfect time to plant garlic.

Garlic bulbs can be purchased online or from garden stores and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. There are two broad classifications of garlic, softneck and hardneck. In Kansas it is best to plant hardneck varieties which have sturdier stalks, larger cloves, brightly colored papers on the cloves and a wide range of flavors from spicy to mild. Many hardneck varieties also produce ‘scapes’ (flower stalks and buds) in the spring which many people consider a gourmet treat.

How to plant

Garlic prefers a fairly well drained and loose soil and will do well in a typical garden or raised bed.  Fall is also a good time to work compost into the garden soil, so incorporating compost before planting may be helpful in poorer soils.  Garlic is a heavy feeder, so have a soil test done to verify adequate nutrients or in the absence of a soil test apply 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet and mix into the soil before planting.

Garlic mulching

To plant garlic, pull the skin off the large bulb and take the individual garlic cloves apart (the bulb is made up of smaller parts called cloves).   Choose the largest cloves to plant as these will grow into larger bulbs next spring. Dig down into the soil about 2 inches and put a clove point up in each hole.  Cover the clove with soil and then firm the soil.  Cloves can be planted about every 6 inches and rows should be spaced 12 inches apart.

After planting, water the cloves well. In late fall or early winter it is helpful to place several inches of straw or shredded leaves on top of the rows to help insulate and protect the cloves. Continue to water as needed when the soil is dry.

Spring growth

Remove or pull back the mulch after the frost free date in the spring to allow the soil to warm up and the garlic to resume growth. Since garlic is a poor competitor with weeds, weeding the bed or leaving mulch between rows to prevent weeds will help it thrive. Garlic requires one inch of water per week in spring. Irrigate weekly during dry weather.

Garlic Scapes

In late spring or early summer, many hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk. Removing the flower stalk will insure that the developing bulb receives the most energy but a few scapes can be left on the plants and used in stir-fry or other recipes if desired.


Ready to harvest, Photo: Chuck Otte

Garlic is ready to harvest in the summer when the tops have grown and start to fade and bend over. Test dig when the lower 1/3 of the foliage is yellow.  If the cloves have segmented, it is time to harvest.  If they haven’t segmented, wait another week or two. After digging, put them in a cool, dry, and shady area to let them harden and the skin cure. Then take them inside and store them in a cool, dry place.  Garlic can last up to 6 months if stored properly

Garlic harvest, Photo: Chuck Otte

You can save some of the bulbs you grow for planting next fall. After you’ve grown your first crop, you’ll have enough to keep planting for many years to come.

Varieties to try

Inchelium Red has an excellent storage life and Chesnok Red is good as well. Others you can try include Armenian, Music, Purple Glazer, Carpathian Mountain, Metechi, China Strip, Ajo Rojo, Asian Tempest and Silver White. Kansas has the type of climate that allows us to grow a wide variety of garlic types well.