How To Grow Garlic
Grow your own garlic with this easy to follow guide
Garlic is not hard to grow in the UK; however it is advisable to plant from stock that will grow best here. The more reliable bulbs can be obtained from garden centres or online nurseries. Bulbs sold in supermarkets are more likely to be from Spanish stock, so they would be less likely to thrive in our weather conditions. To be fair, some gardeners have claimed success growing these but as they may carry disease and viruses and some are treated with a sprout inhibitor, why take the risk?
If you are already a grower, you will probably have your own home stock. In that case use the larger cloves from your best bulbs to help ensure the most positive results. That way your crop should improve year after year. Any clove less than 1cm in diameter should not be planted.
There are two main sorts of garlic, known as softneck and hardneck or Rocambole. The former has a reputation for storing better and the varieties of each vary in flavour. Elephant garlic is a third choice; however that is really a perennial leak and has a mild flavour. If you choose to grow it remember that the cloves split when dry resulting in a short storage life.
There are varieties of garlic which you may plant in spring; however the recommended planting time for most varieties is between October & December. The reason for this is that garlic cloves begin their life cycle by developing roots in cold soil for the first one to two months.
For best results grow your garlic in a sunny area. Plant in a well weeded, free draining and cultivated soil that is not too acid (a neutral pH is best). If your soil is acid (below pH 6.5) apply lime in autumn and winter. A week or so before planting add a general purpose fertilizer such as Growmore or fish, blood and bone, the latter is recommended as it is a slow release fertilizer. Make sure you don’t use too much, as garlic benefits from some feeding but not too much. A couple of ounces per square metre is about right. Alternatively you could dig in some well-rotted organic manure (though don’t use fresh) to about a spade’s depth down. The manure also helps with the drainage as will digging in sand or grit. Garlic can rot in water logged soil and/or become diseased.
No more than 24hrs before planting break open your garlic bulbs, taking care not to bruise any. Plant the cloves, pointed side up, by dropping them into holes about 2-4” deep and 6 -8” apart. If you are planting in rows have about a foot between them. An old spade handle is ideal as a dibber for making the holes. The depth of the holes you dig will depend on the type of soil you have. If it is a light soil deeper planting can result in better yields, whilst if your soil is heavy deep planting should be avoided. Fill up the holes with soil. Then, apart from any weeding needed and watering during dry periods, leave them to grow.
You may be best to start the cloves off in module-trays, especially if your soil is heavy and wet. If you decide on this method, insert the cloves individually into cells that are partly filled with compost and cover with more. Then keep in a cool, well ventilated place, making sure the compost is moist but not wet and plant out in spring.
Garlic may also be grown in pots. 3 cloves to a six inch pot, 6 to an eight inch and 8 – 10 to a ten inch are recommended numbers. Use a standard, fresh growing medium, stand outside on a patio or ledge and keep well watered.
As garlic can be easily choked by weeds you may want to consider planting through black plastic sheets which act as a weed suppressant. Otherwise take care when weeding so you don’t damage the garlic cloves, hoeing can be especially risky.
When the shoots start to appear you may have a problem with birds pulling the garlic out. If so, netting or a fleece can be used for protection until the plants are established. To help bring the plants on, you may give them another dose of fertiliser in spring, however that is not strictly necessary. Occasionally the plants may throw up a flower spike or stave. Cut this off to prevent the plant putting its energy into the flower rather than the cloves. Staves can be delightful in salads.
Green foliage usually appears around April. When that turns yellow stop watering and when yellow/brown, around midsummer to August depending on when planted, it is a sign to harvest. Before harvesting all your garlic, check a few bulbs to make sure that they are ripe. If you harvest too early the bulbs will be small, too late and the bulbs will have split to start next year’s cycle and you will get poor quality cloves.
Wet summers are the most problematic because the combination of warm, wet weather can produce disease such as garlic rust before the bulbs are ready to harvest. During such times use the following method to check on the stage the garlic has reached. In a wet period, when the leaves are yellow, pull up a bulb and find how many thin papery sheaths you can pull off. If three, harvest. If four or more wait another couple of weeks or till the leaves are brown.
When you do harvest use a trowel, or fork, to loosen the soil and ease the bulbs out of the ground. Make sure you don’t bruise them because they won’t keep long if you do. Dry them outside if sunny, or inside if wet. Store in a dark well ventilated place after a week. On the other hand freshly harvested garlic can be used straight away and is greatly prized by chefs - fresh is best, as they say.
Finally, did you know that growing garlic under roses is supposed to defend the rose from pests? The garlic acting as a companion plant to the rose. Nature has its ways!
Good luck with your garlic growing!