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Planting Grocery Garlic

Don’t let that sprouting garlic clove go to waste! Yes, that garlic clove can be grown into a lovely full bulb of garlic and winter is the perfect time to plant it.

Watch the video below to see how to plant your garlic and read below to learn more about how to take care of it, harvest it and store it.

As I mentioned in the video above, there are two types of garlic: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.  

Hardneck garlic develops a long flowering stem, called a scape and the cloves circle this stem in a neat single row.  They grow well in cold climates and are known to have larger cloves with a tasty mild flavour.  Even though they are delicious, we don’t tend to see this type as often in our local shops because they only keep for about 5 to 6 months.

Softneck garlic, on the other hand, is what we mostly see in our grocery stores due to their longer shelf life – about a year.  They have more than one row of cloves surrounding the centre of the bulb.  These are the kind of garlic bulbs that you might see beautifully plaited together as their ‘necks’ are more flexible.  The cloves are usually quite a bit smaller than the hardneck variety and they tend to have a stronger flavour.

Winter is an ideal time to plant softneck garlic cloves as they need a spell of one to two weeks at 0-4C to trigger proper bulb growth.  So let’s get them in the ground!

One thing before we start, the RHS specifically warns against planting garlic from your grocery store.  This is because there is a possibility they might carry disease.  With this in mind, I suggest planting any store bought cloves in a planter rather than in the ground. This will help prevent disease from contaminating your growing space for any neighbouring or future plants.  If you have purchased certified disease free ‘seed garlic’, these can be put right into the ground.

Site and Ground

Garlic likes a sunny, warm location in rich, well-drained soil. If you have a bit of fresh compost, work it into the soil before you plant.  Also make sure the location you have selected won’t get too wet over the winter.

Planting

Planting garlic cloves is very simple.  First, separate the cloves from each other, but do not peel them.  Generally, you will grow larger bulbs from the largest cloves. If space is at a premium in your garden as it is in mine, I recommend planting just the largest cloves.  Now, make a hole for each of your cloves so the the tip of the clove will be about 2.5cm (1in) deep.  Space these holes about 5cm (2in) apart.  Space them further, 15cm (6in) apart and in rows 30cm (12in) apart if you are planting into the ground instead of a container.  Put one clove in each hole with the pointed (or sprouted) end up and cover with about 2.5cm (1in) of soil.  That’s it!  Like with other plants or seedlings, covering these with horticultural fleece will help prevent birds and foxes from pulling up up your newly planted cloves.

Care

Garlic needs plenty of water during it’s growing season between March and June.  That said, make sure not to overwater as high moisture levels and low light can cause leaf rust.  Ideally you want the soil wet, but not soggy throughout their growing period.  Make sure to keep the garlic planter well weeded because garlic has long, thin, straight leaves that make them vulnerable to being smothered by weeds.  Once the green leaves of the garlic stop growing and start to yellow a bit, stop watering.  This will keep the bulbs from rotting at the neck.

Harvesting

Harvesting full garlic bulbs requires some patience as it can take up to 7 months for your bulbs to reach maturity.  You will know it is time to harvest your garlic when the leaves have turned completely yellow.  This will be sometime in July or August, depending on when you planted your bulbs.  Harvest your garlic when the weather is dry and gently loosen them out of the soil with a garden fork as they bruise very easily.  Shake off the loose soil and leave them out to dry on the surface of the soil for a few hours.  Next you will need to dry out (“cure”) your garlic in a protected airy space for about three weeks.  Whey they are nice and dry, you can trim the tops and roots off and store them.  

You can also harvest garlic shoots while they are still green and enjoy them much like you would chives.  Cut off shoots that are about 4 inches tall and make sure to never take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.  Doing this will likely make the bulb smaller. You can always plant those smaller garlic cloves and use them in this way rather than harvesting them as a bulb in the summer.

Storage

Store the garlic as whole bulbs as once you remove a clove from a bulb the broken head will only keep for about 3 to 10 days.  Light and moisture can cause mould to grow on the garlic. Make sure to put the bulbs in a basket or open paper bag to allow for air to circulate around them. Put them somewhere dark, but at room temperature, like a cupboard or pantry. If you have 10 or more bulbs, plaiting them and hanging them makes an attractive storage solution.