We Missed the Window to Plant Garlic in Fall. Now What?
"We forgot to plant our garlic in the Fall. Too busy I guess. Is it too late? " - John in Billings, MT
"Darn it! We did not get our garlic in this fall. What options do we have? Thanks! Casandra in Fargo, ND
Garlic is best planted in the fall, but there are ways to reap a harvest with spring planting.
Garlic is Typically Planted in the Fall.
In the northern tier of the United States (USDA Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5+), hardneck garlic is typically planted in the fall, just before Halloween. After the garlic cloves are planted 2-3 inches deep, pointy-side up, the garlic begins to develop a delicate and important root structure. Garlic roots develop during the fall and early winter—before the ground freezes. If hardneck garlic cloves are planted in the fall, there should be no green shoots or sprouting until early spring.
Planting Garlic Early in the Spring.
If you've missed the magic window of time, to plant garlic in the fall, you can still plant seed garlic (garlic cloves) in late winter or early spring, or as soon as your soil is workable and not frozen. Ideally, plant the cloves before early April.
Hardneck Garlic Needs to be Exposed to Cold Conditions
Hardneck garlic requires a cold period, called vernalization so that the planted cloves can eventually divide and form into bulbs. When you plant hardneck garlic outside in the fall, (USDA Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5+) seed garlic is exposed to cold, winter conditions. However, seed garlic planted in late winter or early spring may or may not receive this necessary and important exposure to cold temperatures. It really depends on where you live and the weather conditions. Luckily, there is a way to trick the cloves into thinking they took a long winter nap under the snow! Placing the garlic in a refrigerator (as cold as possible) for at least 40+ days prior to planting can achieve vernalization. 60 days of cold exposure is even better. If you are reading this in January or February, plan to purchase your garlic now. If you are buying seed garlic from a garlic farmer, ask them if they have seed garlic reading for planting. Some farmers store their seed garlic at very low temperatures, and the good news is that these seeds will be ready for planting as soon as you receive them.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, cloves that are planted in the spring may not grow to their full potential. The key is to plant the garlic as soon as possible, ideally before early April. Planting later than April will likely result in small bulbs and the plant likely will not mature fully. Even worse, is that the bulb will not have roots to absorb water and may develop root rot. Spring planted garlic will typically be smaller the an fall-planted garlic. Planting as soon as possible in late winter or early spring can minimize the di
The Good News
At our farm in GroEat in Montana, we have performed many farm experiments, where we have planted seed garlic in early spring, as soon as the snow melted and the ground was workable. Many of the plants that grew from the spring-planted cloves did almost as well as the plants that grew from seed planted in the fall. Our secret is this: We only plant seed garlic that has been exposed to three or more months of cold conditions. We plant seed garlic no later than early April.
How to Plant Garlic in the Spring
Begin by acquiring seed garlic as soon as possible. You will likely receive garlic bulbs that will need to be separated into individual cloves.
Select a location for planting that receives full sunlight during the day. Avoid planting in a location that is shaded in the morning and afternoon.
The soil should be non-compacted, light, fluffy, and rich in organic material and nutrients. Before planting, integrate well-decomposed compost or manure into the soil. Garlic are heavy feeders and often need extra nitrogen so they can establish a strong, robust plant (above ground) with large leaves. The large leaves act as solar panels and collect important energy from the sun.
Plant the largest seed cloves is a good idea, as the larger cloves store more energy and have a greater potential for producing large garlic bulbs. When your garden soil is workable, plant each clove five-six inches apart, about two-three inches deep, with the pointy side of the clove, pointing toward the sky. Even if the forecasted temperatures are calling for very cold spring conditions, that is perfectly okay. Garlic can tolerate very cold temperatures, well below freezing.
Don't let the seed garlic remain wet or saturated in water for too long. Garlic requires consistent moisture, but too much can result in bulb rot, mold and diseases.