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Growing Your Own Garlic

September 18, 2020

By Nadine Nesbitt, Public Programs Coordinator, Royal Botanical Gardens.

With autumn’s breeze in the evening air, the end to an abundant growing season is seemingly around the corner, but not for one of our favourite plants (and winter medicines) — garlic!

Fall is the perfect time to plant these seeds (or cloves we should say) of hope for next year. Come March 2021, their tender, green shoots are one of the first to peak through the soil ready for spring take off and mid-July harvest.

Types of Garlic

Your local farmers market is the best way to buy garlic for fall planting — and support a local farmer too! There are nearly 300 varieties of garlic to choose from that fall into two main types: hardneck and softneck.

Softneck garlic has a flexible stalk suitable for braiding, with a multi-layered parchment that covers the entire bulb. This fast-maturing variety stores well and is adapted to many different climates. It can be less fussy in moderate climates, but although easy to braid, its cloves are notoriously hard to peel!

Hardneck garlic varieties do not have a flexible stalk. They are wonderfully colourful and offer a variety of flavours. Hardnecks do require a little more attention as they produce a flower stalk or scape, prized for its delicate flavour when harvested in the spring while still tender. Pickled scapes or garlic scape pesto is a favourite! Not only do they taste great, but removing the scape encourages more vigorous bulb production. Most hardnecks do best where winters are cold, spring is damp and cool, and summer is dry and warm — sound familiar?

Garlic growing in flower bed in spring

Planting Tips

Aim to plant your cloves between late August to late October. Be sure to plant each clove tip down, roughly one handprint apart in rows 1 foot apart, and 3–4 inches deep. A layer of leaves or hay and straw will help insulate your garlic over the winter, reduce spring weeds from emerging, and add important nutrients back to the soil.

After a long winter, what could be better than seeing those green shoots appear? A sure sign of spring ahead.

Tara Nolan’s Top 5 Fall Veggie Garden Tips

  1. Add a layer of straw over your newly planted garlic. It helps deter squirrels (even though they don’t like it, they are still curious about what’s been dug in) and provides a cozy winter mulch.
  2. Use floating row cover to extend the season and protect your crops from sudden temperature dips. Keep an eye on the forecast for frost warnings!
  3. Instead of sending bagged leaves to the curb, shred some and sprinkle them in your veggie gardens as compost.
  4. Be sure to pull out all spent plants, as well as any rotten fruit that’s fallen in the garden.
  5. When you plant flower bulbs in your front yard garden, save a few for your veggie garden. These flowers can be harvested for bouquets in the spring, without sacrificing the blooms on display.

Join us in-person or online on October 15 for Tara’s talk, ‘Gardening Your Front Yard: Project Ideas for Big and Small Spaces.’ Register here!

Garlic Scapes Picked
Garlic Scape

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