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Growing Garlic – a three season crop!

By Elizabeth Takakjian

Garlic Scapes

Soft Neck Garlic aka Artichoke Garlic– small tight cloves, good choice for storage.
Hard Neck Garlic aka Ophio Garlic –
excellent for fresh eating; doesn’t store as well.

Planting and Mulching
Garlic grows best in rich, loose soil that has been enhanced with compost. Fall is the optimal time for planting garlic just after the first killing frost sometime between mid- October through November.  My grandmother liked to plant root crops around Columbus Day while another farmer I know uses Halloween as his benchmark. Plant with the scab, or basal, end down. Place the cloves two to three inches deep and six to eight inches apart, this will prevent frost heaving, and reduces problems with rot and mildew.  Cover with a three-inch layer of organic mulch such as seed-free shredded leaves, grass clippings or straw.

Garlic likes a weed free environment so after the soil has warmed up, mulch again as needed. Try inter-planting with lettuce, carrots, onions, and beets. If you didn’t plant your garlic in the fall, you’ll need do an extra step before you put it in the ground: the bulbs must first be refrigerated at 40 degrees for 40 days so it goes through a vernalization period before you separate the cloves. Then you can plant the cloves one and a half to two inches deep

Garlic benefits from split fertilizer applications; half in the fall – the compost you added into the bed preparation, and half in the spring- either, bonemeal or compost as a side dressing along the emerging plants. Some folks prefer to foliar (leaf) feed their garlic plants in the spring before they’ve gotten to the fourth leaf stage. Use a fish and seaweed nutrient spray when the plants are 3-4 inches tall. Best results if applied a day or two after rain/irrigation. The plant will usually respond with a deep blue-green leaf color.

Use irrigation to supplement rainfall. Taper off on watering in June as soon as the scapes (flower stalks) have formed their curls on hard/ophio garlic.

Watering Tip – How do you tell if your soil is moist enough?
Use this time honored method: Brush aside the top few inches of soil and grab a handful of earth.  Squeeze it in your hand…if the ball is muddy or soggy then the soil is too wet. If the soil crumbles and you can’t form a ball then it’s too dry. Anything in between in okay.

Pests and Diseases – Although generally a disease free plant here are a few problems to be aware of when growing garlic.
Garlic Bloat Nematode  – ditylenchus dipsaci –a small worm-like organism usually too small to be seen with the naked eye.  It will persist in the soil for many years. Crop rotations, cleaning dirt from tools and boots, are important in controlling the spread of this nematode. Symptoms:  Early – twisted, stunted leaves.  Late- bottom of plant becomes bloated and spongy; severe stunting. The infected plants should be dug, not pulled from the ground so that the entire basal plate is removed. Dispose of by burning or throwing out in a plastic bag.

White Rot Sclerotium cepivorum –occurs at cooler temps (50-60). Symptoms: yellow leaves and die-back of leaf tips; eventually roots are destroyed.

Basal Rot – Fusarium oxysporum – soil born fungus that invades weak plants. Similar to White Rot but occurs at much higher temperature (above 75)  and generally becomes evident late in the growing season.

Onion Thips – thrips tabaci – sucking insect causes leaves to appear silvery. Active in warm weather and dry seasons. Can be treated with biological and chemical controls.

Wireworms – Limonius aka Click beetle -may attack bulbs especially in fields which recently grew sod. Try this trick for getting rid of wireworms: cut a potato in half and skewer it on a stick. Bury the potato underground with the stick protruding from the soil. After a few days, pull it out. If infested wrap in plastic bag and throw it away.

Harvest and Storage

Garlic Scapes
flower stalks from 1-6 feet in height will rise above the leafy portion of the ophio garlic plant; in late spring around June, it will curl and only then can they be harvested. This will result in two benefits: bigger blubs for your growing garlic and a tasty treat from the garden for you. Scapes can be sautéed to add flavor to your dishes or made into a wonderful pesto.  Remember to leave one or two scapes as an easy indicator for when the garlics are ready to harvest: sometime in July they straighten up indicating that the garlic is ready to be harvested.

When to harvest:
Soft neck/Artichoke bulbs – harvest when the tops fall over and the bottom leaves have turned yellow, but the plant still has at least four – five green leaves remaining.

Hard neck/Orphio garlics – harvest when an average of six green leaves remain

Harvest and move to a shaded area with GOOD air circulation for drying.  A temperature range of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended. The curing, drying, process may take up to two weeks. Trim leaves and roots to about a half inch after curing. Gently remove only loose wrapper layers, just one if you can. Then store in a cool, dry place until you are ready to enjoy them in your cooking.

Elizabeth Takakjian is a Program Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program, as well as a Master Gardener. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 325 or at


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