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Growing Garlic

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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Garlic is an often talked about, misunderstood, but widely planted vegetable. It has many medicinal uses and has a rich folklore of various tales of preventing vampires and other maladies. It is used extensively in cooking and is enjoying increased popularity as a culinary seasoning. The juice is also used as an organic insect repellent.

Garlic is a member of the Allium family, which includes onions, leeks, and other savory bulb crop and many flowering bulbs. Talking about garlic at this time of year may seem inappropriate, but now is the preferred planting time. Garlic planted in the fall is more productive and produces much better than those bulbs planted in the spring.

Planting procedures are the same for other kinds of spring flowering bulbs. They are planted during late September or October, and during the winter, the root system develops although little top growth is made. By spring, the plant is well established and makes rapid growth as the weather warms. Large vigorous tops are necessary to produce the large bulbs.

There are two different types of garlic grown in home gardens. The first is Allium sativum, which is the most common cooking garlic.

Allium ampeloprasum is generally called elephant garlic and is closely related to the leeks. Elephant garlic produces a much larger bulb with milder flavor. Elephant garlic can produce giant clusters weighing as much as two pounds and reaching softball size.

Garlic typically forms cloves, but spring planted garlic often yields small round bulbs instead. Leave them in the ground or replant them in the fall, and the rounds produce cloves the following summer. Individual garlic cloves will enlarge and produce a cluster of 10 or more cloves.

Garlic is not produced from seed. The bulbs or cloves used for planting are available from local garden centers or can be ordered from catalogs. Fresh garlic bulbs from grocery stores also can be planted. Garlic produces long, flat leaf blades rather than round, tubular leaves common to most onions.

Garlic grows well in most well drained soils. It requires adequate nutrients, so mix the fertilizer into the soil prior to planting. Separate the bulbs carefully and plant only the larger cloves.

Grow them in full sunlight and remove competing weeds or the size is greatly diminished. Their shallow roots systems are easily damaged by cultivation, so mulch them freely to assist in controlling weeds. Grow them closely together, three to four inches apart in rows six to eight inches apart. Elephant garlic requires almost twice that spacing. The cloves should be planted at least two inches beneath the soil surface. Planting direction is not critical as the original clove disintegrates as the new plant emerges. Garlic planted now will be ready for harvest next summer to reward you with a great seasoning and a vegetable with many other alleged properties. Raised beds make an ideal place to grow these bulbs. Garlic oil is a natural insect repellent so pest control is generally not necessary.

Perhaps the most spectacular ornamental Allium is the Allium giganteum, but there are other alliums that are widely grown as flowers. Many of these were used by Native Americans as food long before they became popular in our garden.

Vampires and other problems may not be what you are worried about, but a little garlic planted now will add a lot of zest for seasoning and other needs next spring. Get them in the ground as you plant your tulips and they will reward you with a harvest the following summer.

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