Growing Garlic in Spring: 4 Keys to Success

Growing Garlic in Spring
Growing Garlic in Spring

Today I decided to post about growing garlic in spring. Why?

Because last fall, took a look at garlic‘s role as one of the human immune systems’ best cold-combatting allies.

Garlic, ginger, and lemon: three classic plant-based cold remedies.(Growing Garlic in Spring)
Garlic, ginger, and lemon: three classic plant-based cold remedies.

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, British researchers had 146 participants take either a garlic capsule or a placebo every day for 12 weeks.

The garlic group experienced 63 percent fewer colds, with symptoms lasting only 1.5 days compared to 5 days for the placebo group.

Now, for a bit of botanical irony: As much as garlic hates a cold, it loves the cold much more! Garlic cloves require a lengthy period of cold exposure to stimulate bulb development. So, they’re almost always planted in the fall.

Fall planting allows them to establish roots before the ground freezes, so they’re ready to send out new growth as soon as warmer weather arrives.

Even so, if you’re somewhere just days away from the spring equinox, these few keys to growing garlic in spring may yet get you a harvest in the not-too-distant future. Maybe even before the next cough-and-cold season rolls around!

But there’s no time to lose, so let’s get started.

Key #1: Timing is Everything

Getting good-sized bulbs when growing garlic in spring relies on “vernalized” cloves. Chill them ahead of time or plant them as soon as the soil is workable.

Even so, they probably won’t measure up to bulbs grown from fall-planted cloves because they miss the extra root-establishing time. That said, you should expect a harvestable crop between mid-and late summer.

Key #2:  Hardneck or Softneck Garlic?

When growing garlic in the spring, your success could very well depend on whether you choose hardneck or softneck variety. What’s the difference?

As University of Illinois Extension Horticultural Educator Ken Johnson explains:

 Hardneck garlic produces a hard flower stalk called a scape, which is where the name hardneck comes from. It is easy to peel and is more winter hardy, but it has a shorter storage life…  softneck garlic stores well… but it does not peel as easily. Softneck garlic also rarely produces a flower stalk, thus the softneck name.”

Why does the variety matter? Because of…

Key #3: Vernalization by Variety

Vernalizing garlic means planting it as early as you can, with the first late-winter thaw. Hopefully, your climate will cooperate by returning to a deep freeze long enough to promote bulb development.

Garlic rounds could pass for onions.Growing Garlic in Spring
Garlic rounds could pass for onions.

Alternatively – if your last spring frost is late enough – refrigerate the cloves in a plastic bag punctured with holes to prevent moisture buildup.

For hardneck garlic,  bulb development usually requires at least four weeks of refrigeration. However, softneck garlic requires only two weeks.

That could mean a make-or-break difference when you’re growing garlic in spring!

In many places, garlic planted as late as early April still has six weeks to “chill out” before the final spring frost date! That should be more than enough time to trigger bulb development.

And consider this:  An insufficiently vernalized garlic clove may not produce a bulb of multiple cloves. Instead, it will grow into a plant with a single giant clove called a “round.”

Edible, but it would be like downing a garlic-flavored onion!

Key #4: Location, Location, Location

Spring-planted garlic needs to establish its roots as quickly as possible. So plant it in nitrogen-rich soil where it will get at least eight hours of daily sun.

Prep the soil in advance by removing weeds (garlic doesn’t fare well with competition) and topping the bed off with a 2- to 3-inch layer of veganic compost and alfalfa meal applied at the manufacturer’s recommended rate.

If you add the compost a couple of months before planting, so much the better. It will have time to work its way into the soil without disturbing the structure or food web.

Final Thoughts on Growing Garlic in Spring

Once you’ve planted your cloves 2 to 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart,  cover them with a 2-to 3- inch layer of veganic mulch such as shredded leaves or clean straw.

Then give them a good drink and keep the soil consistently moist through the growing season. Skimping on the water will result in undersized bulbs.

Pull weeds as soon as they appear. To replenish the soil nitrogen, fill a 5-gallon bucket of water, add 1 cup of alfalfa meal and let the mixture sit for up to 4 days (or as long as you  can tolerate the odor!)

Blend garlic scapes, fresh basil, pine nuts, tomatoes, and lemon juice for a delicious, oil-free pesto!..Growing Garlic in Spring
Blend garlic scapes, fresh basil, pine nuts, tomatoes, and lemon juice for a delicious, oil-free pesto!

Pour the alfalfa tea over the garlic bed and repeat every three weeks through the growing season. Your reward will be vigorous leaf growth and larger bulbs.

If you planted hardneck garlic, snip off the slender green stems (scapes) after they’ve formed double loops sometime in early summer. Otherwise, they’ll divert energy away from the bulbs.

Just use them substitute them for garlic cloves in your plant-based diet until the genuine articles are ready for harvest!

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