Great Garlic

While you are scouring the markets for pumpkins, squash & apples – you might keep a look out for something a little more aromatic - garlic. If you reside in Illinois – October is the best time to plant garlic, usually by the second week of the month. The goal is to have it in the ground six weeks before a freeze. The cooler weather and shorter days of fall are ideal for root development and the beginning of shoot development.

With a well prepared site, a half-pound of garlic can yield 4-5 pounds of garlic by next summer.  Roasted garlic spread anyone?

Growing Requirements

  • Fertile soil, high in organic matter (3 lbs of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet).
  • Spacing 3-5" apart with 15-18" between rows or 5" apart in all directions.
  • Plant individuals cloves 1-2" deep in an upright position – points up. Do not divide the bulb into cloves until right before planting. Generally the larger the clove, the larger the bulb that clove will produce.
  • Cover soil with 3-5" of straw or mulch to prevent winter damage and control weeds.

Growth & Harvesting

Roots will begin their establishment and shoots will begin to develop before the ground freezes. In the spring, shoot growth will resume when warm temperatures return.

Bulbs begin forming in May or June. Adequate moisture is important during this time.

Harvest the bulbs when the tops start to turn yellow – there should still be some green leaves present (about half) at the time of harvest.

Carefully dig the bulb with the leaves intact. Let the plants cure for about 3-4 weeks before storage.

Types of Garlic

  • Softneck varieties are what is typically sold in the grocery store and will store for 6-8 months.
  • Hardneck varieties produce flower stalks (scapes) that can be cut and used similarly to green onions in cooking. The bulbs will only store for about 3-4 months however the flavor is usually more robust.
  • Elephant garlic produces and impressive sized bulb however is not a true garlic.

Grow a variety adapted for colder climates - the garlic sold in the grocery store typically is not good for Illinois garden.  Check at your local garden center, the farmer's market, or utilize one of the numerous online sources to find a variety that suits your climate and tastes.

So as you removing the vegetables that have given their last produce for the season, take a little time to put some garlic in the ground.  I don't think you'll regret it.  Life without garlic may just be like a day without sunshine...but I could be wrong.