Did you know that you can plant one garlic clove in the fall, and with minimal fuss get a whole head the following summer? It really is that simple to grow garlic.
Start by purchasing garlic from a garden center, farmers market or seed company to be sure the garlic will successfully grow in the Midwest. You will find many choices not seen in the grocery store.
Choose between the two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties are easier to peel and more winter hardy than softneck varieties, but they don’t store as long as the softnecks do.
Planting garlic is a lot like planting spring-flowering bulbs. In northern Illinois, plant during October. Choose a well-drained site that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. Garlic is a heavy nitrogen user, so be sure you have a lot of organic matter, such as compost, in the soil.
Make holes in the ground about 2 to 3 inches deep (about twice the height of a clove) and 6 to 8 inches apart. Separate the cloves just before planting. Choose large, spot-free cloves and plant unpeeled cloves so the pointy end is up.
After planting, water it and cover the area with straw for protection. In the spring, when you see the first green shoots, pull back the straw from the plants, but leave it around them as mulch. This helps keep soil moisture more even and reduces weeds.
In June, if you planted hardnecks, they will flower and send up a stalk called a scape. You need to remove this so the plant puts more energy into bulb development. Scapes are edible and considered a delicacy.
As it gets close to harvest time in late June or early July, the lower leaves will start to turn brown. Stop watering at this time. When about half of the leaves are brown, it’s harvest time.
Gently loosen the soil around the bulb and lift out the plant. Brush the soil off the bulb but don’t wash it. For long storage, cure the bulbs for four weeks by placing the plants out of direct sun where air can circulate. After curing, cut the tops to about an inch, trim the roots and store in a cool, dry location. Set aside some large bulbs for planting in the fall. It really is that simple!
• Sue Styer is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.