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HOW TO GROW
Garlic is known to have been cultivated for well over 10,000 years and in that time they have worked themselves into a huge variety of recipes. Not only that, their health promoting properties are not only written legends but many have also been proven to have scientific truth.
Garlic is relatively easy to grow and if planted in well-drained soil suffers from very few pests and diseases. Many gardeners grow garlic interspersed between other crops not only because it takes up so little space but also because it is reputed to ward off a variety of unwanted pests.
QUICK CALENDAR FOR GROWING GARLIC
The earliest and largest garlic is grown in the UK by planting it late autumn. However some areas are simply too cold for this to be an effective method, in those cases it is far better to start off your garlic in trays or containers. If your area of the UK is too cold for autumn planting it will tell you below.
Plant cloves outside in autumn / winter - the third week of November (UK average)
Plant cloves in pots / for spring planting - the last week of November (UK average)
Plant cloves outside in spring - the second week of March (UK average)
Transplant garlic outside - the first week of April
Start to harvest garlic approximately - the first week of August
WHERE TO GROW GARLIC
There are two key factors to bear in mind when planting garlic. The first is the bulbs will rot if the soil is not free-draining, they will not succeed whenever you plant them if they are water-logged. If your soil is heavy and retains lots of moisture it's a good idea to dig in lots of compost and preferably also some sharp horticultural sand which will open up the soil.
The other alternative is grow them in containers (see picture on the below) filled with multi-purpose compost.
Because garlic takes up so little room, a bit of deep-digging will not be too difficult. Growing them in containers is also a very good alternative, they love the open soil and although they will need watering it will not be excessive.
Grow them in full sun to get the best from them although some shade should not put you off. They are ideal when grown round the edge of other plants. Garlic comes from the onion family and they should not be planted in the same position for a couple of years. Neither should they be planted where onions, leeks or tomatoes were planted during the previous two years.
Without a doubt autumn is the best time of year to plant garlic outside. The reason for this is that garlic cloves benefit from a period of cold weather, it helps the cloves split and form correctly early in the year. The problem though is getting them to grow to a reasonable size (around 20cm to 25cm / 8in to 10in tall) before the really cold weather sets in.
In the ideal time for autumn planting in open ground is the third week of November (UK average).
AUTUMN SOWING IN POTS, TRAYS AND CONTAINERS
If you plan to grow your garlic in containers or to start them off in trays and transplant them later (ideal for colder areas of the UK) plant the cloves in the last week of November. If there is a prolonged period of very cold weather during the winter then it's best to temporarily move the garlic either to a shed, unheated greenhouse or up against a wind free wall of a heated house. This will protect them from the worst of the cold.
SPRING SOWING DIRECT IN THE GROUND
If you forget to plant your garlic cloves in autumn / winter then it is still possible to plant them in early spring. Before doing this it is best to attempt to try to mimic a period of cold by placing them in the fridge for a week before planting. The cloves should be planted in the second week of March.
TRANSPLANTING CONTAINER GROWN GARLIC
Garlic grown in containers over the winter can be transplanted outside in the first week of April. Tease the individual plant roots out gently trying to keep as much soil intact as possible. Plant them immediately to the same depth as in the container and water them in well. Do this on a day when the soil is not frozen.
PLANTING GARLIC CLOVES
Planting garlic cloves is easy as long as you know the difference between a garlic bulb and a clove and which is the top of the clove and which is the bottom. Hopefully the picture on the right (click it to enlarge it and see more clearly) is self explanatory.
When you buy garlic it will be sold as a bulb which will contain anything up to 12 cloves. First split the skin gently with a thumbnail and peel of some of the white papery covering to expose the individual cloves.
Next separate the cloves from the bulb, do this carefully to avoid bruising them. With garlic cloves it's a case of the bigger the better so select six to eight of the largest cloves from the the bulb for planting and use the smaller ones for cooking.
Make a small hole in the soil to about the depth of the garlic clove and place the clove in it it with the bottom end downwards. Fill in with surrounding soil and gently firm around the bulb. The top of the bulb should be just below the surface of the soil or with a tiny part protruding. Don't let too much be visible (if any) above the soil surface because birds love to pull them out of the ground. Individual cloves should be planted 12cm / 5in apart and rows of garlic should be 45cm / 18in apart. Remember to place plant markers in the soil to show where you planted the cloves.
CARING FOR GARLIC
For garlic this is a very short section because they need almost no care throughout the growing season. They withstand dry weather very well but will benefit from the occasional good watering in particularly dry periods, this will keep the bulbs growing evenly. But from mid-July onwards don't water at all to prevent any rot setting in to the nearly completely grown bulbs. Regular weeding will keep them healthy.
At the top of this page we gave approximate dates for when garlic can be harvested but in truth the best way to decide when garlic is ready for harvest is by looking at the leaves. When they have turned mainly yellow, that is the time to harvest.
Gently remove the top soil from around the garlic bulbs, grip the stem and gently tease the bulb and roots from the soil, a trowel carefully used may help. Treat the bulb gently because very fresh garlic can bruise easily which will cause to them to rot later on.
The treatment you give your garlic in the few days after harvest is important. Choose a sunny day to harvest them and when they have been taken up brush away any excess soil gently. Some soil will remain on them and that's fine. Lay them out on a dry surface in the sun, grass or soil is fine as long as it's dry or hang them on a line of string in the sun. As long as the weather is dry and warm leave them to dry out out for a couple of days. If rain looks likely move them inside to a warm and well ventilated area.
Well dried garlic will store in a cool ventilated area for up to four months, some varieties longer.
RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF GARLIC
Se our page devoted to recommended varieties of garlic for growing in the UK.
CAN I PLANT GARLIC BOUGHT FROM A SUPERMARKET?
Yes you can but this has two main disadvantages. The garlic probably won't have been grown in the UK and the variety may well not be suitable for our climate. Secondly, the bulb will almost certainly have been treated with chemicals of some sort which may well affect its ability to grow well. Best to buy garlic bulbs from a reputable supplier which will ensure a good variety which is free from disease.
PESTS AND DISEASES OF GARLIC
You are unlikely to suffer from pests and diseases with garlic. The most common problems though are listed below.
Often referred to as leek or onion rust, they are all the same. This is an airborne and soil virus which becomes evident when orange spots appear on the underside of leaves. The leaves will then prematurely turn yellow. In may cases the effect will be minimal although the size of the cloves may be reduced. Click here for our in depth article on how to prevent and minimise the effects of this disease.
Again this has different names (onion or leek white rot are common ones) but the disease is still the same. The first thing you will notice is that the leaves turn yellow earlier than they should. When the garlic is dug up you will see white growths on the bulbs. There is no treatment for this disease.
Burn the bulbs and leaves. Unfortunately white rot persists in the soil for many years and any plants likely to be affected (garlic, onions, tomatoes, leeks) should not be planted on the same ground for eight years or more.
END OF ARTICLE