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  • Jere Folgert

Planting Garlic in Spring

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

At our GROeat Garlic Farm in Montana, we plant hardneck garlic cloves in the fall, just before Halloween. The cloves are placed in the soil about three inches deep, pointy side up. The garlic cloves, nestled in the soil, are exposed to five or more months of very cold conditions. This exposure to cold is called vernalization and is a very important part of the hardneck garlic's growth cycle.

If you missed the opportunity to plant hardneck garlic in the fall, can you plant garlic in the spring? Yes, you can plant hardneck garlic in early spring. If you are reading this article in the winter or very early spring, now is the time to prepare for planting. It’s not too late! Planting garlic in spring is an option for those who did not plant last fall or autumn. Keep in mind that spring-planted garlic will likely be smaller than its overwintered counterparts. Though, some gardeners have planted as early as March and couldn’t tell the difference from fall-planted garlic.

PRO TIP: Plant the garlic cloves (seed garlic) as soon as the ground is no longer frozen. When the warmer conditions begin to thaw the soil in spring, garlic cloves (seed garlic) establish a root structure and will start putting on fresh growth.

Another option for garlic planted in the spring is to harvest it as spring garlic, otherwise known as green garlic. Instead of waiting until the end of the summer, harvest the spring-planted garlic after the long, tender shoots emerge and tiny white bulb that looks almost like scallions.

Begin by purchasing hardneck garlic bulbs or individual cloves now (if you can find them). Look for seed garlic from a garlic farm such as GROEat Farm. In the spring, it can be more difficult to find seed garlic for planting, especially if you’re seeking a specific variety.

After receiving your seed garlic, remove it from any packaging and store the garlic is a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Ideally, the air temperature should be between freezing (32 °F ) and around 50 °F. Store the garlic in this cold environment for at least four or six weeks, longer is better. Why? Spring-planted garlic needs a cold treatment called vernalization. This exposure to cold signals the plant to form bulbs during the growing season. When we plant garlic in the fall, vernalization is natural over the winter. Garlic planted in the spring may not receive enough natural exposure to cold temperatures. If vernalization doesn’t occur, the cloves often form rounds, which look like a ping pong ball. A round is a single large garlic clove instead of a bulb with multiple cloves. Yes, you can still harvest and eat garlic rounds, though the overall harvest is diminished.

There are two simple approaches to exposing garlic to cold conditions. First, ask the garlic farm if they have already exposed the garlic to cold conditions. This is a simple question. This is your best option! Another option is to place the seed stock in a refrigerator for six to eight weeks. A brown paper bag works well for storage. Don't use a plastic bag, as it can promote mold growth. Write today's date on the bag. Keep the garlic away from off-gassing fruit. Check the garlic weekly to ensure there isn’t mold forming. If you see sprouting or roots forming, plant the cloves right away. Plant as early as possible. If your region experiences a warm spell, and you can gain access to your thawed soil, get out and plant your garlic. Even if it is early spring.

PRO TIP: The secret to growing nice-sized garlic bulbs from spring-planted garlic is getting the cloves in the ground as early as possible.

If you want large garlic bulbs, be sure to plant the cloves in your garden as soon as the ground is workable. It may seem very early to be planting outdoors. Garlic is cold hardy and requires a chilling period. Take advantage of a February, March, or April thaw to plant the garlic cloves in soil. That way the garlic has four to six or more weeks of cold which should be enough to initiate bulb formation. Spring-planted garlic needs a couple of extra weeks to catch up and is harvested in mid to late summer. And that is just fine. At our GROeat Farm in Montana, we harvest fall-planted garlic around the end of July. You could certainly wait an extra week or two to harvest the spring-planted garlic. Wait for the bottom three leaves to brown and wilt to the ground.

In summary, Yes, you can plant garlic in early spring. Likely spring-planted bulbs don’t always size up the fall-planted garlic bulbs. Harvest the spring-planted garlic a few weeks later than the fall-planted garlic. Regardless of fall-planted or spring-planted garlic, you will need to fertilize the growing plants, plant into nutrient-rich soil, provide adequate hydration, but not too much, and keep the weeds away from the growing garlic. Plan to select the largest cloves from the fall-harvested bulbs and plant those in the fall 4-7 weeks after harvesting. The fall planting should grow into great garlic for a harvest next summer.

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