When and How to Plant Garlic

I love garlic. I go through a lot of it—most dinners I make include at least a few cloves.

So two years ago, when my husband and I bought a house with a gloriously huge back yard, garlic was at the top of my list of things to plant.

Not knowing any better, I went and bought some seed garlic from the local garden store and planted it—in June. No good, thieving, little bushy-tailed rats (aka squirrels) immediately dug it most of it up. What they didn’t dig up stayed fast asleep in the ground, eventually going to rot.

Frustrated, I did some research. And it turns out the best time to plant garlic is when you’d never dream of planting anything: mid-fall.

When to Plant

Garlic is one of those weird plants that benefits from something called stratification. It likes sitting in the cold ground and will even start growing while temperatures are still freezing.

You guys, this is AMAZING.

When you see little green shoots popping up out of the ground, it gives you hope that January will not, in fact, last forever. I’ll admit that I visited my garlic about once a week this past winter—it helped lift the mental fog that comes with winter gloom.

I will not admit to talking to it, though. That’s just crazy. <_<

Anyway, when you plant will depend on your USDA hardiness zone. I live in hardiness zone 6. That means my first frost date is around October 15 each year. Plant your garlic after the first frost, but before you get a hard freeze that makes the soil unworkable. For me, this was early November.

How to Plant

1. Pick out the biggest bulbs for seed garlic. Bigger seed garlic means bigger bulbs to harvest.

garlic bulb-min

2. Separate the cloves by hand, leaving the papery skin and the callused end on each. Set the bigger cloves apart for planting. Smaller cloves can be used for cooking.


3. Dig a trench in the soil about 3 inches deep, and place the garlic cloves down in the trench with the pointy-side facing up. Plant them about 4–6 inches apart.


4. Cover the cloves with soil, water well, then cover them with a thick blanket of mulch or hay. This will keep them from freezing solid in the winter.


If you notice squirrels digging through the mulch, lay some chicken wire flat over the rows you’ve planted. You can remove it after a few months, when the garlic starts sprouting. (Once it’s a plant, the silly rodents finally figure out it’s not a nut and generally leave it alone.)

If your winter is particularly dry, water the garlic every now and then. Not too much—it’s growing slow, so it doesn’t need a lot. If you’re having a mild winter, you might start to see the scapes poking up out of the soil as early as January!

LATER: Harvesting and braiding garlic!


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