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Ready or Not: Garlic Time in the Fall

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Planting garlic in the fall is the last garden chores of the season. A small amount of preparation at planting time will give you an abundant garlic harvest without much effort.

Garlic is one of the easiest crops you can grow in your garden. It is a long season crop with a unique growing pattern compared to other garden crops. Garlic is planted in fall in order to give it a head start and enough time to produce a larger bulb.

How to Plant Garlic in the Fall

Planting garlic in the fall allows the roots to begin growing. When winter arrives and the ground freezes, the plants go dormant. Once the soil warms up in the spring, the garlic will start growing again right where it left off.

Prepare Your Growing Bed

Garlic thrives in full sun and loose soil. Choose a garden bed that has not grown anything in the onion family in the past two years and one that receives an average of at least six hours of sunlight each day. Remove weeds and spread some slow-release organic fertilizer according to the package direction. Add about 2-inches of finished compost and work it in the top 4-6 inches of soil.

Plot out your growing bed 4-6 inches in all directions. Dig your holes about 4-inches deep. If you are using the square foot gardening method, plot 6 cloves per square.

Divide Your Garlic Seed

When you purchase garlic seed, you are actually getting heads of garlic. Garlic is grown from individual cloves. Each clove will grow into a bulb of garlic.

Separate your cloves right before planting. Sort out your largest and healthiest looking cloves for planting. If you plant the largest cloves, you will grow larger heads of garlic for next year. Save the smaller and damaged cloves for cooking.

Plant Your Garlic Cloves

Plant a garlic clove into each hole, with the flat side down and the pointy end up. Cover and firm the soil.

Mulch Your Garlic Bed

Water the garlic bed well after planting and cover with a light layer of mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves. Aim for about 2-3 inches of mulch to keep the weeds down until the ground freezes.

After the ground freezes, add another layer of 2-3 inches of mulch to insulate the soil. This helps prevent the garlic roots from being heaved out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing.

Once the soil warms in spring, you will see green garlic shoots growing through the mulch. If you used an all-purpose organic fertilizer at planting time, your garlic is off to a great start. Water the garlic bed during dry spells when the soil feels dry an inch beneath the surface. Feed with organic fish emulsion fertilizer if the foliage shows signs of stress (yellow tips). Follow the directions on the bottle.

If you planted hardneck garlic, you will have an opportunity to harvest garlic scapes a few weeks before the garlic bulb is finished growing. These tender, mildly garlic flavored shoots are delicious.

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