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  • Writer's pictureJere Folgert

12 Mistakes To Avoid When Planting and Growing Hardneck Garlic !

Updated: Sep 2, 2022


Overview: Except for some parasitic plants, all land plants including garlic, need sunlight to thrive. Garlic grows best when exposed to full sun during the spring and summer daylight hours. If the leaves cannot be fully engaged in the photosynthesis process, garlic plants and bulbs may not be able to reach their full potential. Garlic plants grown in full sunlight produced more biomass, and fuller leaves, and allocated a larger proportion of their total production to bulbs and roots than plants grown in shade. In a research study published in January 2009 in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 132 - revealed that plants grown in full sunlight (0% shade treatment) exhibited a significantly greater leaf photosynthetic rate as compared to those grown in 60% shade treatment. Plants grown under 0% and 30% shade produced significantly more biomass and had greater leaf mass than plants grown under 60% shade. On an interesting note, leaves of the 60% shade treatment had significantly greater chlorophyll content than leaves of the 0 and 30% shade treatments.

Easy Solution: This is an easy one! Locate a plot of land that receives full-sun during the spring and summer months - and plant your garlic there! If you have shade trees on your property, seek a different location such as a community garden or neighbors to grow garlic. To measure hours of sunlight in your garden, start early in the morning right after the sun rises. Take note of the garden sunlight exposure at that time. Are there shadows? Then make a note of whether it's in full sun, partial shade, filtered/dappled sun, or full shade. For a more sophisticated solution, traditional physical modeling tools such as sun angle calculators, sun path diagrams, sundials, and heliodons can be used as resources for performing daylighting analyses.



Overview: Unlike carrot seeds or kale seeds which are uniformly tiny, planting LARGE garlic cloves, that store more energy, typically have more growth potential as compared to the smaller cloves. Planting small garlic cloves will often result in a garlic plant with small bulbs and small cloves**.

Easy Solution: When selecting seed garlic for planting, try your best to select the largest cloves. If you want to grow prize-winning garlic, If you want the biggest bulbs, start with good quality seed garlic free from disease. The larger clove has more energy reserves and can outlast bad weather and poor soil drainage, and has more growth potential in the spring, when the ground thaws. Larger-sized planting cloves had more vigorous plants with greater leaf area and larger bulb diameter. Avoid grocery store garlic; most of it has been treated to inhibit sprouting. Sometimes grocery store garlic is contaminated by garlic white rot fungus (Sclerotium cepivorum). This fungus is lethal to garlic and can remain in the ground for 20-30 years. You don't want to introduce this serious problem to your garden or field.

Keep in mind, locally-owned grocery stores and Food Coops may carry local organic garlic. These may be worthwhile? Start with BIG cloves. When you select cloves for planting, "eat the smaller cloves and plant the largest cloves". The larger the clove, the larger the garlic bulbs it produces (University of Georgia Extension, 2020). If we plant the largest cloves each year we are almost always rewarded with huge garlic plants and bulbs.

**On a positive note, if you ONLY have small garlic cloves to plant, do it anyways. Why? The term acclimatization is defined as the climatic adaptation of an organism, especially a plant, that has been moved to a new environment (Conover and Poole 1984). The term acclimation has a similar meaning but it is a process of nature. If you plant small cloves, plan on waiting two, three or four growing seasons of repeated planting, for the plants to reach full size and potential. You'll need to have patience.



Overview: When soil is lacking nutrients or has a pH far from idea, garlic plants may not reach their full potential. The lack of nutrients and the wrong soil pH can really affect garlic plant’s health and the size of the garlic bulbs.

Easy Solution: The solution begins by realizing that there is no more playing guessing games to figure out why your garlic won’t grow. Perform a soil test first if you want to up your "garlic-growing" game. A soil test checks two things—soil pH and available nutrients in the soil. That might sound a little bit like mumbo-jumbo, but knowing these things can help you a lot. If soil pH is too low or too high, garlic plants are unable to take in some of the nutrients provided to them in the soil. Get a soil test, and pinpoint exactly what your soil needs to balance out its pH. Garlic grows well in soil with a pH of around 7.0. Tests also check for available nutrients. When you know what nutrients your soil is lacking, you’re able to choose the right fertilizer that fills in the gaps. Just think about all the time and money you can save by knowing exactly what kind of fertilizer your plants need, and how much to use. And, just to drive the point home, soil tests are so quick to do. It’ll take 10 minutes tops to collect your samples. You can also contact your local university or university extension for additional help and resources.

(Rapitest, Soil Test)



Overview: When soil isn’t in good shape, it can really affect plant’s health. In fact, it's estimated that a whopping 80% of problems with plants can be traced back to unhealthy soil! Garlic grows very well if the soil if light, fluffy and has good drainage. Heavy soils, especially those that contain clay, can prevent garlic from reaching their full potential. The soil is your garlic's home for nine months; Make it a happy home! Soil provides your garlic plants with the vital nutrients, water and air that they require for healthy growth and development. The soil also protects the garlic clove from nature's weather and elements. Each plot of ground has its own unique blend of minerals, and organic and inorganic matter.

Easy Solution: Add rich, well-balanced compost as you prepare your soil. After performing a soil test and you know the deficiencies in your soil, add the right combination of organic slow-release fertilizer to further enhance soil (and plant health). Know Your Garden Soil. Begin by determining your soil type. Is your soil sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, loamy, or dense with clay? They each have different properties and it is important to know these to make the best choices and get the most from your garlic patch. If you’re planning to get serious about growing garlic, it’s crucial you get to know your soil type. No matter how much work you do in your garlic patch, all that careful planting, weeding and tending could be in vain if the quality of your soil is poor.

Simple Tests to Help Determine Your Soil Type

The water test: Pour water onto your soil. If it drains quickly it is likely to be a sandy or gravelly soil, on clay soils the water will take longer to sink in.

Squeeze test: Grab a handful of soil and softly compress it in your fist.

Feel and touch test: If the soil is sticky and slick to the touch and remains intact and in the same shape when you let go it will be clay soil. If the soil feels spongy it’s peaty soil; sandy soil will feel gritty and crumble apart. Loamy and silty soils will feel smooth textured and hold their shape for a short period of time.

Settle test: Add a handful of soil to a transparent container, add water, shake well and then leave to settle for 12 hours.

Clay & silty soils will leave cloudy water with a layer of particles at the bottom.

Sandy soils will leave the water mostly clear and most of the particles will fall, forming a layer on the base of the container.

Peaty soils will see many particles floating on the surface; the water will be slightly cloudy with a thin layer at the bottom.

Soils that are chalky will leave a layer of whitish, grit-like fragments on the bottom of the container and the water will be a shade of pale grey.

If the water is quite clear with layered particles on the bottom of the container with the finest particle at the top – this soil is likely to be a loamy one.

Sandy soil feels gritty. It drains easily, dries out fast and is easy to cultivate. Sandy soil warms up fast in spring and tends to hold fewer nutrients as these are often washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil requires organic amendments such as glacial rock dust, greensand, kelp meal, or other organic fertilizer blends. It also benefits from mulching to help retain moisture.

Silty soil feels soft and soapy, it holds moisture, is usually very rich in nutrients. The soil is easily cultivated and can be compacted with little effort. This is a great soil for your garden if drainage is provided and managed. Mixing in composted organic matter is usually needed to improve drainage and structure while adding nutrients

Peaty soil is a darker soil and feels damp and spongy due to its higher levels of peat. It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. The soil heats up quickly during spring and can retain a lot of water which usually requires drainage. Drainage channels may need to be dug for soils with high peat content. Peat soil is great for growth when blended with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity. You can also use soil amendments such as glacial rock dust to raise pH in acidic soils.

Chalky soil is larger grained and generally stonier compared to other soils. It is free draining and usually overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. The soil is alkaline in nature which sometimes leads to stunted growth and yellowish leaves – this can be resolved by using appropriate fertilizers and balancing the pH. Adding humus is recommended to improve water retention and workability.

Loamy soil a relatively even mix of sand, silt and clay, feels fine-textured and slightly damp. It has ideal characteristics for gardening, lawns and shrubs. Loamy soil has great structure, adequate drainage, is moisture retaining, full of nutrients, easily cultivated and it warms up quickly in spring, but doesn’t dry out quickly in summer. Loamy soils require replenishing with organic matter regularly, and tend to be acidic.

Clay soil feels lumpy and is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Clay soil is poor at draining and has few air spaces. The soil will warm up slowly in spring and it is heavy to cultivate. If the drainage for the soil is enhanced, then plants will develop and grow well as clay soil can be rich in nutrients. Garlic does not do well in clay soil.



(Garlic that was Planted Upside Down)

Overview: Garlic cloves will only grow roots and shoots from specific places on the clove. When planted upside down, the shoot will begin to grow downward. This wastes precious energy stored in the bulb. Eventually the plant recognises something is wrong, and then struggles to make a 180-degree correction, forcing the garlic shoot to reach upward, towards the light. Why is this a problem? You will get smaller, weird misshapen garlic bulbs if garlic is not planted "pointy-side up". You don't plant the whole bulb, but split them into cloves, and plant each of the cloves separately. Each clove will develop a new bulb that will be oriented correctly.

As we know from looking at plants on a windowsill, they grow toward the sunlight to be able to generate energy through photosynthesis. With the help of highly sensitive light-sensing proteins, garlic also finds the shortest route to the sunlight -- and will bend in the direction of the light source. The cells in garlic that are farthest from the light have a chemical called auxin that reacts when phototropism occurs. Phototropism is one of the many plant tropisms or movements which respond to external stimuli. The habit of some plants to move in the direction of the sun, a form of tropism, was already known by the Ancient Greeks.

(Jere Folgert, Planting Garlic, Pointy-Side up)

Easy Solution: Plant the garlic 3-4" deep with the pointy side up!



Overview: If garlic cloves are planted too close to each other, the garlic plants will fiercely compete for water, minerals and nutrients. There is only so much to go around. Planting garlic too close is virtually equivalent to allowing weeds to take over your garlic patch! As a result, your garlic will not reach full potential and will be smaller than expected.

Also, planting double cloves (two cloves planted close together) does not result in double the cloves in the harvested bulbs. Double cloves often do not grow as large as cloves planted with adequate separation. These pairs of bulbs growing together may also be deformed.

Easy Solution: Plant garlic 6+ inches apart. Garlic is ideally planted with six inches between cloves, both in and between rows. We give a little more space, sowing with eight-inch centers, because we want to limit competition between plants both above and below the ground. Spacing is important with gourmet garlic, because your goal is to produce the largest, healthiest bulbs you can.



Overview: Garlic cloves are typically planted in fall, and begin growing when the soil warms in spring. During the long winter, hardneck garlic cloves are often exposed to continuous freeze-thaw cycles which can result in frost heaving. The closer the cloves are to the surface, the quicker they will "float to the top". Garlic will tolerate impressively cold temperatures when buried in the soil but quickly surrender to the frigid conditions if they are exposed at the soil's surface. Here's another problem; Planting garlic cloves at a shallow depth, or very near the soil surface may expose the cloves to sun rays, resulting in "garlic sunburn'.

Easy Solution: To plant garlic properly, place the clove into the soil, pointy side up, with a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Space the cloves 6 or more inches apart. Planting the garlic a 3-4 weeks before the first big freeze allows garlic to establish roots which help anchor the little clove.

Note: Some garlic farmers have shared their experiences and claim "garlics tend to go deeper, no matter how shallow you plant them... have always planted mine, such that the tip of the seed clove is barely covered. But when I harvest them, they are about 2" below the surface."

(Garlic Cloves Planted at a Depth of 3" to 4" Deep)



Overview: Hardneck garlic are heavy feeders and need as many nutrients, minerals, and water as they can pump into the plant through their angel-hair-pasta like roots. Garlic does not like to be surrounded by other plants that complete for these precious resources. Weeds can steal precious resources, important minerals and water - resulting in a decreased yield by as much as 60%. Garlic has a shallow root system compared to many other plants. Weed seeds come in abundance and from many sources including horse manure. While having the ability to lay dormant in the soil for years before germinating, they will sprout take over your garlic patch when provided conditions to grow. When actively growing, some weeds produce thousands of seeds per plant and disperse them throughout the season. Some weeds like dandelions are spread with a little help from the wind.

Easy Solution: Weed control is essential for proper development of garlic plants. Constant weeding is important. First, begin by removing the spring cool-weather weeds, then remove as many weeds that appear (including the weeds with seeds that appear near harvest time). Cultivation, hand picking and hoeing are a few viable alternatives for weed control. Cultivation should be very shallow to prevent damage of the garlic's roots. Mulch is another viable weed control option. Apply mulch after garlic has emerged. Prior to emergence, weed control should be by hand. Use 2-4" of mulch over the entire area. Keep mulch away from the plant stem, as wet and moldy mulch, such as straw or old leaves, may create an environment that promotes disease. Weed control using flaming (Yes, Fire!) is another viable option. Some garlic growers have found that flaming effectively kills weeds. Garlic plants are able to withstand up to three flamings. Beside other mechanical means, flaming could be used by garlic growers to replace mulch and weeding by hand. Depending on the size of a garlic plot, select the most appropriate flaming technique for your situation (e.g. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas), tractor driving speed, or a hand-held flame thrower).

(Using Flames to Kill Weeds)



Overview: Harvesting garlic at the perfect time is a bit of an art and will depend on many factors. Putting off harvesting garlic until after the leaves are completely brown will result in nasty bulbs that have lost their very important protective skin coverings. As a result the exposed cloves may be ugly and dirty, and long-term storage is diminished significantly. The cloves will still be edible, at least for a short time. You don't want to wait too long to harvest garlic. Timing the harvest is very important. Garlic bulbs and their cloves mature while the leaves are green. Garlic bulbs remain below ground during development, so it’s hard to know when they’re ready to harvest. We want to maximize the size of the bulb without allowing the delicate garlic wrappers to split or deteriorate.

Easy Solution: Once the leaves get to be one-third brown (bottom two or three leaves), you should harvest the garlic regardless of size. Each leaf above ground indicates a layer of protective paper wrapped around the bulb. A garlic plant with 10 green leaves, for example, will have approximately 10 layers of bulb wrappers. The cloves may separate and the garlic won’t store well if the bulb wrappers protecting the garlic head are absent. While there’s no standard number of leaves that garlic should have, a reliable harvest indicator is when one-third of the leaves have died off at the bottom, and two-thirds are still green at top. The leaves start to die off and turn brown, from the bottom up.

(Hardneck Garlic Post Harvest)

A More Sophisticated Approach : Since the bulbs are underground, how can you really tell when your garlic is ripe and ready? At GroEAT Farm in Montana, we begin digging a single garlic bulb every few days, beginning the second week of July. We inspect the bulbs closely to determine the ideal time to harvest. Because we plant multiple rows of garlic, each with a different cultivar or variety, We follow this "dig-up-one-ever-few-days" approach for each cultivar variety. The simple answer is: It’s all in the leaves. The sophisticated answer is to inspect both the leaves and the bulbs to determine the optimum time for harvest.

Many vegetables including pumpkins and carrots, are planted in spring and harvested in fall. Garlic is typically planted in fall and harvested the following year - sometime between late spring to mid-summer. It’s a long-maturing crop, taking eight to nine months from seed garlic (large garlic cloves) to final harvest.



Overview: If Hardneck garlic is planted in a warm climate (e.g Texas, Florida, Hawaii...) the garlic may rot and decompose in the ground before the clove has a chance to establish roots and shoots. This can be devastating for an avid gardener who moved from a cold region (e.g. Wisconsin, New York, Montana...) to a warm climate. Here is the dilemma; Most garlic varieties need to be exposed to a period of cold weather to form the bulbs and cloves we eat (or use as seed garlic). For gardeners in warmer climates, this can be a frustrating fact, but not one that needs to keep them from growing garlic in the garden. A little knowledge about garlic and garlic varieties is all it takes to know how to grow garlic successfully in warmer climates.

Hardneck garlic cloves require a period of 6 to 8+ weeks of cold weather after planting (below 40 degrees F) to undergo vernalization (inducement to bulb and flower) by low winter temperatures. With adequate moisture and lower temperature, roots emerge and leaves sprout, and the plant goes through a period of vegetative growth. During the fall and winter, cloves develop their root systems and initiate some top growth.

Possible Solution: If you live in a warm climate, contact your University Extension to determine if there are softneck or bolting hardneck garlic varieties that have been successfully grown in your area. Another option is to search the internet for local garlic growers in your area; Learn from your local growers or garden clubs. Look for the gourmet or heirloom cultivars that grow well in warmer weather. These cultivars include: Creoles Asiatics, the Turban sub-group of artichoke garlics and Artichoke garlics (sativums or softnecks which are the most commonly grown commercial garlic because they are easier to grow). Artichoke garlic varieties such as Simoneti and Red Toch are very mild and pleasant. The Turban sub-group of artichoke garlics have a rainbow flair and are colorful though they have fewer cloves per bulb than the others. The turbans can be harvested earlier though they cannot be stored for a long time. A few additional Garlic Varieties you may want to try growing in a warm climate include ‘Kettle River Giant’, ‘California Early’, ‘Applegate', ‘Early Red Italian’, ‘Lorz Italian’, ‘Simoneti', 'California Late’ or ‘Siciliano’.

Positive Solution: Some growers have had success refrigerating cloves for 4-6 weeks before planting. After talking with Southern growers, I was told they "cool garlic heads" for at least 6-8 weeks prior to plant in a moderately warm climate and for 10-12 weeks to plant in a tropical climate.



Overview: We want to keep our garlic plants alive, especially after watching them transition from being cute little babies to mature and robust adults,, right? No. Too much water before harvest can cause a number of negative effects. First, the soil may stick tightly to the outside of the garlic bulb. Second, the moisture may increase the chances the garlic wrappers will break down and disintegrate. Third, the moisture may promote bulb rot and mold growth especially when combined with high heat. Fourth, moisture may even reduce long-term storage. Fifth, wet soil may make the bulbs difficult to lift out. All of these negative effects are worse in heavy clay soils and not as much of an issue in sandy or loamy soils where good drainage occurs. If wet garlic bulbs are left in the ground too long, bulb wrappers can crack and split, exposing the individual cloves. Once the delicate wrappers disintegrate and split, long-term storage is dramatically reduced. Once the cloves are exposed and unprotected, they may begin to deteriorate.

Easy Solution: Allow the soil to dry out at least a week before harvest. Depending on your soil type, the dry soil will either make harvest easier or more difficult. If the soil is fluffy, loamy or sandy, dry soil conditions may facilitate harvest. Heavier clay soils, when dry become brittle and hard, which may possibly hinder harvest activities. Often, if soils are wet and compressed not only does the soil stick to the outside of the bulb and roots, the soil can be more difficult to remove after the garlic cures. Dry soil conditions are often a signal to the garlic plant that the season has almost come to an end. The movie is over and the credits are rolling. The plant growth and bulb-filling capacity are nearly complete. As we approach the end of the growing season, as growers, we want to maximize the size of the bulb without allowing the delicate, protective garlic wrappers to split or deteriorate.

Difficult Solution: If your region experiences a very wet summer, and rain continues to fall on your ready-to-harvest garlic crop, you'll still need to get the garlic bulbs out of the ground. After harvest, move the garlic to a dry location (not in direct sunlight) as soon as possible and incorporate fans to circulate air around the plant. Drying post-harvest with circulating air, while curing is a very good idea. If possible, you should delay your harvest until the soil has partially dried. This is not always possible.



Overview: Garlic can withstand frigid winter temperatures of -35°F. Burr! If planted too early (June, July, August or early September), tender, green-top growth occurs before winter. Planted too early, the green shoot can grow several inches. When the freezing temperatures occur, often the green shoots wither and die, wasting precious energy stored in the garlic clove, potentially killing it. If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs at harvest. When planted at the correct time, garlic establishes roots, which anchor the garlic clove in the soil. In simple terms, although some root growth is needed before sprouting can begin, planting too early in the fall could induce leaf sprouting. A little sprouting is probably okay, but if sprouts emerge from the soil, an abrupt, severe cold snap could injure or kill them. The importance of fall root growth is really important. Root growth precedes sprouting and leaf growth. Cloves that failed to grow roots in the fall will emerge and begin leaf growth later in the spring and will have a late start (if they survive the winter).

Easy Solution: A good rule of thumb is to plant garlic after the autumnal equinox in late September. Another easy-to-remember planting reminder is to plant just before Thanksgiving and after Halloween. At our GroEAT Farm in Montana in Montana, we typically begin planting individual garlic cloves on October 15 and finish planting when the goblins and sskeletons Halloweenarrive at our door for candy on Haloween.

Note: If cloves are planted early, very likely the plants can grow to 6" to 10" tall, then they can be harvested as garlic greens, just like green onion. If you live in a cold and mild climate where temperatures only dip below freezing (Zone 5, 6 or 7), some of the shoots may freeze, but most of the tops stay just fine even in the cold. There really is no reason to cover garlic, even when temperatures get cold. Some garlic growers claim garlic sprouts are not harmed by cold weather (when temperatures are around the freezing mark) and are damaged by cold weather (temperatures of -5°F or colder).



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