How to Plant Garlic Cloves in Your Garden

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Keep the biggest clove in each garlic bulb for next year's crop.
Keep the biggest clove in each garlic bulb for next year's crop. (Image: dgenx111/iStock/Getty Images)

Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used as a culinary herb for centuries. Its pungent flavor enhances pizza, spaghetti sauces and many other dishes. This bulbous plant can grow in a small part of your garden. Garlic is perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8 and can grow from cloves split off from a whole bulb. Each planted clove matures into a new bulb consisting of five to 10 cloves.

Time the Planting

Plant garlic in fall for the biggest bulbs at harvest time, which usually is between late June and late July of the following year. Garlic does best when it goes through a cold period. In most U.S. states that experience cold winters, garlic should be planted at least four weeks before the first average annual frost date. In far northern states such as North Dakota and New Hampshire, where winters are severe, plant garlic six to eight weeks before the average annual first frost date. In southern states with mild winters, such as Tennessee and North Carolina, plant in February or March as soon as the ground can be worked.

Prepare Soil

Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny location where no garlic or its close relatives have been grown within the past four years. The soil's pH level should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Clear stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Then amend the soil by spreading 3 pounds of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of soil surface, along with a several-inch-thick layer of well-rotted compost spread evenly over the garlic patch. Work these amendments into the soil with a garden fork or tiller, breaking up the compost layer and blending the compost, fertilizer and soil thoroughly. Make planting rows about 12 to 18 inches apart.

Plant Cloves

Obtain garlic bulbs for planting from a plant nursery or seed company catalog, choosing varieties suited for your area. Don’t plant garlic from your grocery store. It may be a variety that won't thrive in your area and may be treated to retard sprouting. Break the bulbs by hand into individual cloves two days before planting. Leave the papery husk on each clove. In all USDA hardiness zones, plant cloves 3 inches deep and 4 inches apart in each row. Ensure the pointed end of each clove points upward, and cover the cloves with soil. Apply 1 inch of water to the soil immediately after planting. Supplemental fall watering normally is not needed.

Mulch Well

If you overwinter garlic in a state that has cold winters, then cover the buried cloves with 4 inches of straw or leaf mulch after watering. The mulch will prevent problems with fluctuating winter temperatures and help control weeds. Remove the mulch in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Doing so will help the soil warm. If your location experiences a very warm spring, then you can leave the mulch in place to conserve soil moisture and keep weeds down, but prevent the mulch from touching the garlic plants.

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