Garlic is a garden favorite because it is so commonly used in our culinary world. Like many crops, fresh garlic grown in the home garden surpasses anything bought at the grocery store. It is a long season crop, planted in the fall and harvested in the summer. A cold period is required for garlic to produce bulbs.
Types of Garlic
There are two types of garlic: softneck and hardneck. Hardneck garlic has better flavor, produces a hard stalk known as a scape (flower) and is recommended for planting in Illinois. Softneck garlic is what you find in grocery stores, as it stores longer.
Hardneck varieties recommended for planting in Illinois:
- Spanish Roja
- Georgian Crystal
- Persian Star
- German Extra Hardy
Fall is the best time to plant garlic, 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. In central Illinois, the ideal timing is October through early November. This allows the clove to grow roots before it goes dormant for the winter.
Each garlic bulb contains several cloves. Each clove is planted individually, separating cloves from the bulb right before planting without peeing the cloves’ papery skins.
How to Plant Garlic Cloves
- 1-2 inches deep
- 4-5 inches apart
- In rows 15-18 inches apart.
- Orient the growing point’s narrow tip upward.
Plant in full sun into well-drained soil amended with compost. If soil is not amended with compost, apply 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 foot rows. Ten foot rows would require 0.3 lbs (4.8 oz) per row. Mulch with straw to prevent frost heaving. Keep evenly moist.
If a stand of garlic is desired instead of rows, gardeners can plant bulbs 5 inches apart in all directions. If a harvest of green garlic is desired in the early spring, plant cloves closer together.
In spring, growth resumes. Scapes (flowers) are formed and should be harvested to facilitate large bulb growth later in the summer. Many gardeners use scapes to make pesto, or to add to salads and other dishes calling for a mild garlic flavor. If you spaced your garlic cloves closer together, harvest “green garlic” in the spring to make room for 5-inch plant spacing. Green garlic is similar to an onion, with a mild garlic flavor.
Dig up garlic bulbs with a potato fork and shake off excess soil. Do not over-clean to avoid damage. Garlic bulbs can be eaten fresh or be cured for storage.
Curing & Storing Garlic
Curing garlic should be done in a well-ventilated structure out of the direct sun. Leave the stems and leaves attached to the dry bulb. The stems and roots can be trimmed and excess dirt can be removed after curing. The curing process takes between 4-6 weeks. Cured or fresh, store your garlic bulbs in a cool dry place.
Garlic can be kept for several months in mesh or paper bags in a ventilated area with cool temperatures, such as some barns or basements. All garlic varieties taste similar at harvest time, but after curing and a few weeks of storage, individual variety flavors will come out.