Gardening Tips Week 37: Garlic Time

What to do this week

It is garlic-planting time again. In this part of the world, it is a good idea to plant your garlic before the end of October. It needs a bit of time for the roots to get established before the freeze-thaw cycles. One never knows how the winter will be, but the general rule of thumb is to plant around Thanksgiving. I usually say any time in October.

Plant your garlic in a place that has very rich soil, but not where you have planted any of the allium family recently.

Garlic. (Photo by Usien, GFDL, from Wikimedia Commons

Garlic. (Photo by Usien, GFDL, from Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned last week, you should not plant allium family members in the same spot every year, so if you are planting garlic for the first time, it would be essential to start away from where you had onions or other allium family members. Following potatoes is very good, or beans as beans add nitrogen to the soil.

Garlic, like all of the allium family, are very heavy feeders. You want rich soil, but don’t add fresh compost now. There won’t be enough time for compost to mix well with the soil before planting, so the result could be rotting. You can top dress the bed with compost in the spring.

If you are a continuing gardener, you have, I hope, discovered that you can plant just a little too much garlic, and with that have your own to plant. If that hasn’t happened you can get some from a friend, or try the Farmers’ Co-op on Keltic drive. The mail order seed catalogs generally have garlic, but they can be sold out by now.

You want to make sure that you get nice clean bulbs, and that they are not scratched or cut. That can let in bacterial infections and cause the cloves to rot in the ground. Gently pull apart the cloves from the main stem. Not all garlic has a main stem, but the varieties that are especially winter hearty do, and it is winter hearty varieties that do well here. It is called stiff neck garlic, as opposed to soft neck garlic. Some of the soft neck garlic will do well, so plant it if that is what you have, but if you have the choice it would be better to buy hard neck varieties.

Once you have separated the cloves you want to plant the pointy end up. It may sound obvious but I am betting that everyone has planted at least a clove or two upside down. It will grow, but the shoot will start going down and have to turn around and grow back up. Your garlic will not be happy about this, and it is a non-productive use of energy for the plant that should be avoided. Put the butt end down and the clove will spend all of its energy growing the way it should.

Make sure that the ground where you are planting garlic is as weed-free as possible. Pull out weeds and roots, and any rhizomes from quack grass or Canada thistle or any such thing you discover. It will be very difficult to weed in the spring. Those plants will really suck back the garlic’s growth, so get them out now.

You don’t need to put on a mulch just yet, but it is a very good idea to do that before the winter sets in. Plant the garlic now and let it get established, but once those freeze-thaw cycles start, a nice blanket of mulch is a good idea. This will keep the frost from heaving the garlic up as winter comes and goes in the early season. You can use straw or leaves. City-folk can often find straw from willing neighbors just after Halloween. Be sure not to accidentally use hay, as you might end up with lots of seed leading to lots of weeds.

The October timing and tips I am giving for garlic are also appropriate for any bulbs you plant in fall including shallots, tulips and daffodils. They all need time to establish, and then mulch to protect from the freeze-thaw.

Featured image: Garlic by fir0002 |, GFDL 1.2 from Wikimedia Commons.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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