Growing Garlic

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Visions of vampires aside, garlic is good for your blood. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that red blood cells process compounds from digested garlic and turn them into the cell messenger hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. So, consuming the “stinking rose” may help in reducing the risk of heart disease. Growing this superfood is super easy. Grow it at home and enjoy the delicious, juicy, aromatic, flavorful cloves for your own sustainable harvest.

Softneck or hardneck?Garlic

Softneck garlic grows in a variety of climates and does not require cold temperatures to grow, making it perfect for our mild winters. This type has smaller cloves than hardneck varieties. It stores longer and is ideal for decorative braiding.

While Hardneck garlic has stronger, more complex flavors than softneck, it needs a cold 40-50°F temperature window that we don’t really experience here in long enough periods. If your heart is set on Harndeck, place this garlic in a paper bag and refrigerate for 10-12 weeks prior to planting to meet the cold requirements.

Garlic is planted in the fall for harvest 7 to 9 months later (midsummer). Plant it in full sun if you have it, but it will also grow in part shade. While we can plant until January due to our mild climate, this member of the allium family should be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the ground freezes to give the bulbs time to establish roots. Wait to divide individual cloves until planting, and leave the papery skin intact as much as possible. The largest cloves will produce the largest bulbs. Plant garlic 2″–3″ deep with the pointed side up, 6″–8″ apart in soil that is rich, well-drained, and amended with well-aged compost. A soil pH range of 6.0-7.0 is best, which is the average for growing most vegetables.

After planting, apply a 2″-4″ blanket of mulch (e.g., straw, untreated grass clippings, shredded leaves) to retain soil moisture and provide insulation. This will also help prevent frost heave. Loosen the mulch in the spring so the shoots can push through. Reapply mulch after the shoots pop up. Remember that gardeners, as always, are on “weed patrol”. Remove weeds regularly to decrease competition for water and nutrients. If the garlic plant produces a tall stem with a swollen flower bud at the end (a scape) remove it in favor of bulb growth.

Consider applying a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or blood meal according to fertilizer product label directions when the shoots appear. Apply again about 2 to 3 weeks later. When next summer rolls around and the 3 – 4 bottom leaves turn brown, harvest your garlic for curing, storing and enjoying.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.