If you’re looking to start growing garlic in your garden, then you’ll need to prepare the soil properly. There are a few key steps that you’ll need to follow in order to give your plants the best chance at success.
Here’s how to prepare the soil for growing garlic:
- Check the soil condition
- De-weed the area
- Add organic matter
- Fertilize the soil
- Mulch the soil
- Add manure
- Dig trenches for rows of garlic
In this article, we will go over each of the steps involved in preparing the soil for garlic planting. We’ll also discuss some of the different types of garlic that you can grow and how to harvest them correctly.
1. Check the Soil Condition
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to check the soil conditions. You’ll want to make sure that your garlic plants are growing in an area with at least six hours of sunlight per day and well-drained soil.
Garlic is a very tolerant plant to grow, and it can be grown together with most other types of vegetables. Planting garlic near your other crops can also have benefits such as repelling pests and boosting the health and quality of its neighboring veggies.
Grow in a Well-Lit Area
You’ll need to make sure that your garden area is in a spot where it will get at least six hours of sunlight each day. Garlic needs plenty of light, so the more you can give them, the better they’ll do!
There is some flexibility when it comes to sunlight. Garlic will still grow adequately if it only receives 4 hours of sun a day. If you’re working with limited space, this is the minimum you should aim for wherever possible.
Garlic that doesn’t get enough sun is likely to develop the following diseases:
- Pink root: Kills the roots.
- Rust: Produces discoloration on the leaves and reduces the quality of the bulb.
- White rot: Causes decay of the root and leaves.
Check the Soil Type
Garlic prefers soil that is light and well-drained. Loamy soil is best, but it will also grow in heavier soils as long as they are not waterlogged. If your soil is too dense, you can amend it by adding compost or organic matter. This will help to loosen the soil and improve drainage.
If garlic grows in the wrong soil, it may not get enough sunlight or drainage, which can lead to disease. You should also check the soil’s pH level as garlic cannot thrive in acidic soil. An easy way to rectify this is by adding lime to the ground, which will reduce the acidity.
Garlic should not be planted in the same place each year, as this can lead to disease problems. You should rotate your crops regularly to prevent any type of plant from taking over the soil. This will help to keep your garden healthy and productive.
To keep pests and diseases at bay, you should only use the same bed every 4 years or so. Even if you’re limited on space, still try to avoid planting garlic in the same location two years in a row.
Garlic Grows in the Fall
Garlic is best planted in the Fall when temperatures are cool but not freezing. Planting garlic too early will cause it to sprout before winter, and this could lead to disease or rotting of the crop. You should aim for a planting time that is between late September and mid-October.
If you like to explore your options on how to encourage garlic to grow, check out my other article: How To Encourage Garlic To Grow (Tips and Tricks)
2. De-Weed the Area
Before you add any amendments to the soil, you’ll need to take care of any weeds that may be present. Weeds will compete with your garlic plants for nutrients and moisture, so getting rid of them is essential before planting.
You can use a hoe or hand weeder to remove the weeds. Be sure to get as many of the roots out as you can so that they don’t come back.
3. Add Organic Matter
Adding compost or manure to the soil will help improve drainage and add nutrients for your garlic plants. Compost can be made from decaying plant material, like grass clipping, and other organic stuff, including egg shelves, leaves, food scraps, and coffee grounds.
Compost also contains essential micronutrients for plant growth, like magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper. Adding compost to the soil will help keep your garden healthy and productive.
4. Fertilize the Soil
Garlic plants need plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in order to grow big and healthy bulbs. You can either use a natural organic fertilizer or a synthetic fertilizer. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package and only fertilize when the soil is wet.
Fertilizing the soil is important for garlic plants, as it provides them with the nutrients they need to grow big and healthy bulbs. Synthetic fertilizers are available, but they should only be used when required and in accordance with the dosage instructions on the package.
If you’d rather avoid synthetic fertilizers or save up on their cost, you can simply use homemade compost.
5. Mulch the Soil
Mulch is any material that covers the surface of the soil and helps prevent evaporation. It can be made from a variety of organic stuff, including leaves, grass clippings, hay, straw, or wood chips.
Mulching your garlic plants is a great way to keep them healthy and hydrated. It helps prevent weeds from growing and keeps the soil cool and moist. Mulch also adds organic matter to the earth, which is beneficial for your plants.
You can either spread the mulch on top of the soil or mix it in with the soil. Be sure to keep the mulch an inch or two away from the plant stems to avoid rotting.
6. Add Manure
Manure is a great way to add nutrients and organic matter to your garden soil. It’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are all essential for garlic plants.
You can either use well-rotted manure or composted manure. Two buckets of well-rotted manure should be applied to a square meter of soil when it’s wet. Composted manure, such as from chickens, can be added to the ground at any time.
When adding manure to your garden, always follow the dosage instructions on the package. Manure should never be applied to the soil when it’s dry, as this can cause burns to the plants.
7. Dig Trenches for Rows of Garlic
Once you’ve prepared the soil, it’s time to plant your garlic. Garlic plants do best when they’re planted in the Fall. If possible, be sure to plant them before the first frost.
Garlic is very resilient, so there is some leeway if you can’t plant before the first frost. If you’re a little early or a bit late, there should be no significant issues as long as the garlic is properly looked after.
The best way to plant your garlic is by digging trenches. Dig a trench that’s about 6cm (2.36 inches) deep and place the cloves in it with the pointed end up. The garlic should be planted around 2.5-5cm (1-2 inches) deep in the trench.
If garlic is not planted deep enough, you run the risk of the soil freezing and thawing, which will bring the bulb to the surface and kill it.
Space Between Garlic Bulbs
Make sure there’s at least 15 cm (5.9 inches) between cloves. When garlic is planted too close together, it can cause disease and mold. The best way to tell if your garlic plants are getting enough room is by looking at the stalks—they should be green and sturdy.
Use Big, Healthy Cloves
When planting garlic, use the biggest, healthiest cloves you have. The bigger the clove, the bigger the bulb will be. You can save some of your harvested garlic to plant next year.
If you don’t have any big cloves available, that’s okay. You can still plant cloves of any size. However, you may be left harvesting smaller bulbs by the end of the growing season.
Protecting the Garlic
Once you’ve prepared the soil and planted your garlic during the first frost of Fall, you will need to make sure your growing conditions remain ideal. Garlic is a hardy grower but will still need regular care and protection.
Animals such as deer and birds may try to feed on your plants. If any weeds grow, they may block out the valuable sun and steal nutrients from your garlic. Keep protecting your bulbs during the growing season to ensure you have a healthy and tasty yield.
Let’s take a detailed look at some of the things that could harm your garlic plants and how to avoid issues.
Protect the Garlic From Frost Damage
If you live in a cold climate, or there’s a hard frost coming up soon, then you’ll need to protect your garlic. You may want to add extra mulch around the base of each plant, especially if they’re planted in rows. Mulch insulates the soil and helps prevent plants from freezing during cold weather.
Cover With Horticultural Fleece
In order to protect the garlic from wild animals, you can use a number of methods. One way is to use a physical barrier like wire mesh or chicken wire. However, garlic’s smell is a natural repellent for most animals, so you may not need to use something like predator urine to keep them away.
Another way to protect your garlic is by using horticultural fleece. This will not only keep the animals away but will also protect the plants from frost damage. When using fleece, be sure to cover the entire area and secure it well so that animals can’t get underneath.
Water During the Dry Season
Garlic plants need water to grow properly. The best time to water your garlic is in the morning when the sun isn’t too intense, and the temperature is cool. Make sure you don’t overwater, as this can cause rot.
If you live in a hot climate, or it’s been a particularly dry month, then you may need to water your garlic more often. The best way to tell if your plants are getting enough moisture is by checking the soil’s moisture level with a spade.
Stop Watering for the Last Few Weeks
Once you’ve planted your garlic in Fall and have been watering it regularly throughout winter, it will begin to enter its dormancy stage. At this point, you will want to stop watering so the bulbs can mature properly.
You’ll know it’s time to stop watering your garlic when the lower leaves change color. They should turn from green to yellow or brown. It happens just a few weeks before your bulbs are fully matured and ready for harvest.
Harvest at the Right Time
The best time to harvest your garlic is when two-thirds of the leaves have died back. This usually happens in early summer, depending on your climate and growing conditions. If you planted your garlic in the spring, they would likely be ready for harvest during the Fall, depending on your climate and growing conditions.
You want to make sure you don’t wait too long. If too much time passes, there’s a good chance that the bulbs will split, which will make them taste bad when eaten raw or cooked. If this happens, just throw them out.
Split bulbs are a hotbed for dehydration and mold. You’ll know if you’ve left it too long to harvest because the entire plant’s leaves will have browned. If this happens, you’ll have to abandon this yield.
Different Types of Garlic
There are two main types: soft-neck and hard-neck. Soft-neck garlic is more common because it’s easier to grow. However, if you feel like taking more of a challenge, hardback garlic will reward you with larger cloves and a more earthy and complex flavor profile.
Soft-neck garlic is generally easier to grow and has a milder flavor than its hard-necked counterparts. They are also more tolerant of cold temperatures. These types of bulbs will grow well in zones three through nine and do better with less sun exposure than other varieties.
Soft-neck garlic has several subtypes, including “silverskin” and “artichoke.” Artichokes tend to be milder in flavor than silverskins.
Hard-necked garlic is more challenging to grow, but the end product is a larger, more complex-flavored bulb. They are better suited for cooler climates and don’t do well in hotter environments.
There are three main subtypes of hard-neck garlic:
Porcelain. These are milder in flavor than other types.
Rocamboles. This type has a more pungent taste and contains more cloves per bulb.
Purple stripe. There are the strongest of all, with an intense flavor that some people find overpowering when eaten raw.
Common Mistakes in Growing Garlic
If you follow the steps listed above, you should have a healthy yield of garlic with no issues. However, to make sure you’re as well prepared as possible, let’s go over some of the most common mistakes gardeners make when growing garlic.
Too Much Nitrogen
Garlic feeds a lot, so it needs adequate nutrients to grow big and healthy. One of the most vital nutrients garlic plants need is nitrogen, which you can add through synthetic fertilizers or homemade compost. However, if you add too much, you could cause some issues.
When there’s too much nitrogen in the soil, the garlic plant will grow in the wrong way. It’ll have incredible vegetative growth, which can lead to big, luscious leaves but will leave you with smaller bulbs that don’t last as long.
Be careful not to add too much nitrogen to your soil, but still make sure the garlic has access to plenty of nutrients. You can achieve this balance by using a slow-release fertilizer.
Too Small Bulbs
When you’re planting garlic, you want to make sure you plant big bulbs and cloves. The bigger the bulb or clove, the bigger the harvest will be.
Bulbs and cloves that are too small won’t yield a lot of garlic. Make sure to pick out the biggest bulbs or cloves at the store before planting.
Not Testing the Soil
Garlic plants need potassium in order to thrive, but they can’t get any when soils are too dense.
Not having room for air is also bad for garlic plants and can cause them to seize up and die. This usually happens in areas with heavy clay soil. In these types of soil, the roots of the plants have difficulty growing, which leads to a reduced nutrient intake.
The pH level of the soil may also be a key factor in the growth of your garlic plants. You can get a pH tester from your local gardening store and test the soil before planting.
Upside Down Cloves
Garlic needs to be planted the right way up so that it can sprout shoots properly. If the shoots grow downward, the bulb ends up using its precious energy. Eventually, the bulb will try to rotate itself to make sure the shoot can grow upwards.
If the bulb can do this successfully, you may be able to harvest the bulb. However, it will be small, misshapen, and not be as tasty as a properly planted bulb.
One way to mitigate this risk is to split the bulb into cloves. Each clove will develop into a bulb that will grow its shoot upwards towards the sun.
Watering Up Until Harvest
It may not seem natural to stop watering your growing plants, but that’s precisely what you need to do with garlic. Garlic needs a dry spell in order to mature correctly and produce a good harvest.
Make sure to water them during the early part of the season when they’re first planted, but once the lower third of the leaves have browned, stop watering them until it’s time for harvest.
Garlic Growth Tips
Think About Next Year’s Layout
You shouldn’t plant garlic in the same place twice, so plan ahead and figure out where your garlic will go next year. Use the crop rotation method to avoid any problems with pests and diseases. Ideally, garlic should only use the same bed every 4 years. They are nutrient-intensive plants, and planting them in the same place over and over will leave little resources available.
Break Up Bulbs Into Cloves Before Planting
Garlic does best when it’s grown from cloves rather than whole bulbs. This will allow each clove to grow into a healthy bulb that can provide you with a big harvest.
Lay out your garlic so you can see which cloves are the biggest. Then separate them into smaller clumps and plant each of these separately with at least 15 cm (5.9 inches) between them.
Don’t Let Garlic Sit in Wet Soil
Garlic is a very thirsty plant, but that doesn’t mean it should be left to sit in waterlogged soil. Excessive moisture is the number one reason for rotting garlic roots.
Garlic is not the only plant that needs well-drained soil, so you may not have to give it a different treatment from other plants. The main difference is that garlic can temporarily survive with very little water for a month or two before harvest, which gives the bulbs enough time to dry out between watering sessions.
Let Garlic Cure Before Storage
Garlic plants will need at least two weeks before they’re ready for storage. When you pull the garlic out of the soil, make sure it’s completely dry and don’t wash off any dirt from its surface.
Then hang them up in a cool, dark place. Curing is necessary because it allows bulbs to form their paper-like skins and become less prone to rot.
Don’t Harvest Too Early or Late
Garlic should be harvested before the end of its growing season, but not too close either. If you pull it out when the tops have started dying back, they won’t store well and will likely go bad within a few weeks.
If you’re unsure of exactly when to harvest, simply dig up a few bulbs at different points during the season. This can help determine which time frame gives you better results overall.
If you follow these tips, you’ll make sure your plants will get the best start possible and produce big, healthy bulbs.
Garlic is resilient, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to look after them properly. Consider companion planting to reap the benefits that garlic has on the health and quality of its neighbors.
There you have it—everything you need to know about preparing the soil for garlic and ensuring a successful harvest. Be patient and enjoy the fruits of your labor!