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Garlic a good bulb for fall planting

By Sue Davis
Master Gardener Volunteer
When you are planning what bulbs to plant in fall, don’t forget garlic. Plan to put garlic in areas where green will be welcome in winter and late spring annuals can be planted in June.
A number of reputable garlic suppliers have emerged over the past five years. The most effective way to locate a supplier online is to search for “garlic planting stock.” If you are not able to search the Web, visit the public library and ask for help.
Garlic planting stock refers to garlic bulbs that are cultivated specifically for planting. You can use garlic bulbs from the grocery store, but the quality of your crop will most likely be lower. There are more than 300 varieties of garlic available for planting. In recent years varieties which do well in warm climates have become available.
Always start with good quality planting stock. In our growing area, most of the suppliers suggest a softneck variety like Creole Red. Garlic varieties best for planting in this area originated in Chile, Louisiana, California or Guatemala. I have had success with hardnecks as well. Morado Giante, originally from Chile, has evolved into a good warm climate garlic. When selecting your plant stock, pay attention to the flavor information so that you plant garlic agreeable to your palate.
Plant garlic in late September or early October. Try to plant when the weather and soil are still warm so germination occurs and good root formation follows. Before planting, crack the bulb into individual cloves. Each bulb will have between five and 15 cloves. I select the largest cloves for planting and eat the rest.
Garlic likes a neutral pH soil. Soil should crumble in your hand, have good organic content and be free of weeds. If time permits, get a soil test to help guide you with fertilizing. If you cannot obtain a soil test, apply not more than 2 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet before planting.
Garlic cloves should be planted about 5-6 inches apart and 2-3 inches deep. Garlic likes full sun and well drained soil. Garlic roots are deep, so spade up the top 6-12 inches. Add a little bone meal to each hole before dropping the clove in. Drop the clove in and cover. In late autumn, green will appear and remain throughout the winter.
Mulch your garlic with 3-4 inches of mulch.
Keep the garlic moist. Do not over water, since this can promote disease and or rotting. Water regularly in the fall to keep the surface moist. Unless the winter is abnormally dry, I do not water. You should monitor the bed and water as necessary. When the garlic is nearing maturity, in late May or early June, do not water.
Garlic hates weeds, so keep the area free of grasses and weeds.
Feed again in early spring. Side dress in early March with 10-10-10 fertilizer or with the amounts recommended in your soil test results.
Cut the scape or stalk from hardneck varieties in early spring. If this is your first time growing garlic, experiment with cutting the scapes on some plants and leaving others to grow, flower and curl. Bulbils formed after flowering are edible.
Harvest garlic when the leaves on the lower third of the plant turn yellow. This will be in early June. Do not leave garlic in the ground too long. To harvest, lift the entire plant from the ground by hand or use a spading fork, being careful to not bruise the bulbs. Brush the soil away but do not wash. If the soil is hard to remove, let it dry during curing and knock it off.
Cure the garlic by hanging the entire plant in a shady, well ventilated place for two to four weeks. It is best to create bundles of six to eight plants, tie them with kitchen twine and hang them so air can flow freely around them. Keep them dry. When the skins are papery and the necks are dry, garlic is ready to store.You can remove the tops of the garlic and store in a cool space in small brown paper bags or braid the tops to hang as decoration and good eating. Garlic will keep for six to eight months. Do not refrigerate. Garlic does not freeze well. Experiment with vinegars and other preservation methods.
These 12 steps are your guide to growing garlic. I like to plant garlic in beds near to house where annual herbs and flowers brighten the yard in summer. This gives me year round greenery. The garlic is ready to harvest when the summer annuals are available to replace them.
Sue Davis a Master Gardener Volunteer for the Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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