Early to mid-fall is the perfect time for planting garlic. Fall planted garlic always does better than garlic planted in the spring!
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Planting Garlic in the Fall
Planting garlic in mid-fall allows the garlic cloves time to get established before the cold weather sets in. Fall planting also means that your garlic is able to start growing in the spring very early! Most years I see the first shoots of my fall-planted garlic poking out of the soil as early as mid-February. Having your garlic in the ground in the fall means the plants will have a 6+ week head start.
There are many differing opinions on when you should get your garlic planted. Many growers suggest getting your garlic in as soon as possible. Others say you should wait until just before the ground freezes. I tend to take the middle ground.
The Timing for Planting Garlic
I plant my garlic about two or three weeks after my average first frost date. I plant well before we have had any hard freezes that would cause the ground to freeze. So for me, (I’m in zone 6b) that means I plant garlic right around October 15th. Notice I said 2 weeks after my AVERAGE first frost date. I don’t actually wait for my first frost, instead, I plant based on the first expected frost date which for us is about October 1st.
Technically you can begin planting garlic any time after the weather really starts to cool off when temperatures in the day start settling in the 60s (15-20° C). You can plant garlic up until the ground freezes. As long as your ground hasn’t frozen you are still okay to plant your garlic.
I really like that midpoint of two weeks after your first frost date. (Remember this is the average first frost date for your area, not the actual first frost date). That time of the year is after the weather has cooled, but before the ground has frozen. So figure out that date for your area and plan on planting around that date.
How to Plant Garlic
Planting garlic is simple, just select the largest cloves in a bulb of garlic. Gently remove the cloves from the bulb. Larger cloves mean larger healthier plants.
You plant garlic bulbs pointy side up and about 2 to 3 inches deep. The “pointy side” is the side from the top of the bulb, opposite from where the roots were growing.
I made this little stick with a 2-inch line on it that I use to gauge the correct planting depth while planting garlic. It’s handy to have!
Spacing should be around 8 inches in all directions. Garlic does well planted in patches instead of rows. Just keep them spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart, so the plants have plenty of room to grow.
If you live in an area with extreme winter cold it would also be a good idea to cover your garlic patch with some type of mulch. Straw, leaves, or even grass clippings will help insulate the ground and prevent frost heave from disturbing your bulbs.
Also, don’t forget to amend your soil before you plant. A few inches of compost mixed into the soil will help your crop out in the spring!
Where to Get Garlic Cloves to Plant
You have 4 options for getting your garlic “seed” (the cloves you plant):
You can buy garlic “seed” from seed growers online, from a catalog or from your local nursery. There are many sources out there for ordering garlic. Try to order early so you are sure your favorite grower has the varieties you want!
Save Your Own Seed
This is the method I use. You can save your own seed garlic by selecting the largest cloves from this year’s harvest and planting them. After as little as 3 years of selecting only the largest and healthiest cloves, you will have your own locally adapted variety!! Garlic is very good at adapting to your very specific growing conditions, so by saving your own cloves for planting in the fall, you can build your own variants of many popular varieties.
You can also find a variety you really like from one of your local farmers, then buy some extra garlic to plant in your garden. Again, remember to select only the largest and healthiest-looking cloves.
The Grocery Store
You can also choose your favorite garlic from the grocery store and plant it. However, I don’t recommend this method for a few reasons. First, you have no idea what you are getting. Second, commercially produced garlic is often treated with chemicals that are meant to prevent sprouting. Third, the part of the bulb where the roots are attached is often cut very close. This can damage the cloves keeping them from ever sprouting. However, I do know folks who have great success planting garlic from a store, so it’s up to you!
Garlic is one of the easiest and most carefree vegetables to grow in your garden. Just plant it in the fall and water it when needed in the spring. That’s all you need to grow a great crop of homegrown garlic.
For more info on growing garlic in your garden, you can check out these other great Stoney Acres articles: