Planting Garlic Is The Tastiest Way To Scare Pests Away!

Planting garlic is easy -- it's a great plant for beginning gardeners and for those of you planting gardens with small children. It repels rabbits and moles, and tastes great too!

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Handy planting garlic facts:

  • Scientific name: Allium sativum
  • Plant type: Perennial, but usually grown as an annual
  • Plant size: 12-18 inches tall (leaves) with scape that can go up to 3 feet high. Leaf spread about 1 foot in diameter.
  • Edible parts: All
  • Fruit color: hardneck varieties have upper bulblets that are purple, red, and white
  • Flower color: white, pink
  • Flower type: "flower" is composed of multiple tiny flowers attached to a center stem to give a star burst effect
  • Leaf color: grass green, gray-green (depending on variety), turn yellowish tan in mid-summer then crisp up and die back
  • Leaf type: flat
  • Stem color: grass green, dries to a pale yellow-tan
  • USDA zones: 3-13, can grow in zones 1 and 2 with protection.
  • Likes: rich soil. Some varieties are day-length sensitive.
  • Tolerates: drought, a wide range of pH and soil types
  • Dislikes: wetlands -- bulbs will rot in wet soil
  • Uses: foliage, "wild" variety resembles tufting grass which stays green from fall to spring (nice around ponds), container gardening, flowering plant, children's gardening, herb gardens.

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck puts up a quarter-inch thick "scape" with a 3 inch long pointy bud.

This bud opens up as a flower -- which depending on the variety may only last a few days -- and then forms "bulblets" that look like small colored garlic cloves. Softneck garlic doesn't form scapes or bulblets.

Some people say that planting hardneck is more difficult, but I've had good luck growing both kinds.

Wikipedia claims that hardneck is better for higher latitudes and softneck is better for closer to the equator, but I don't know one way or the other. Some varieties do seem to be day-length sensitive, though, and you can get this information from the supplier.

You can find garlic for sale in some nurseries or online. While there are many who discourage planting store-bought garlic (due to the risk of spreading diseases), I haven't noticed any differences one way or the other, and store garlic is often less expensive.

Specifics about planting garlic

Planting garlic is as easy as taking a garlic clove (don't peel it) and sticking it in the ground with the pointy end up, just as if you were planting bulbs.

To get the largest heads, try planting the largest cloves.

The best time to plant garlic is usually in the fall -- plant cloves at least 4 inches apart.

Green garlic leaves are good cooked or (when young) in salads, and have a mild garlic flavor. If you can get to your garlic flowers before they wilt, they are good as garnishes, and have a mild flavor too.

If you want a larger head on your hardneck garlic, cut off the scapes. Garlic scapes can be sliced and used as a garlic substitute in cooking, or the softer ones lend a nice flavor in salads. The bulblets are great tossed into soups or stews -- you don't need to bother peeling them if you use them right away while they're fresh.

To propagate garlic, separate the cloves and plant them, or try planting the bulblets of hardneck garlic.

After planting garlic bulblets, you'll get small plants with small heads, and you can separate the little cloves out and plant them later on as well. In this way, you can have many sizes of garlic plants from one purchase.

If your goal is to deter pests, try planting garlic in groups all through your garden. Also, there are many home pest remedies which use mashed garlic cloves that you can spray on your plants to get rid of bugs. This is a good use for small or malformed cloves that you don't want to plant.

Harvesting garlic is easy, but you do have to time it right. If you pull your garlic too early, the heads will be small and have poor clove development. If you pull it too late, the cloves might start to sprout or may even rot. Both of these situations will affect how long you can store it.

When the greens just start to turn yellow, dig around one and see how it's grown. If the head looks too small, cover it up and check back a week later.

Pull plants when the heads are the size you want, dust them off, and dry the bulbs somewhere warm with good airflow but out of direct sunlight.

How to store garlic? The greens may be braided while still soft to make the decorative "garlic braids" you see in stores, or you can just cut off the tops and store them in a mesh bag the way you store onions -- they last several months either way.

Fresh garlic can be used in so many recipes that it would take a whole website just for that. If you have some great recipes, share them here!

About peeling garlic: Here's a video on the best way to peel garlic I've ever seen. (link opens a new page, warning for a naughty word near the beginning)

If you REALLY love garlic, you're not alone! Here are some yearly festivals dedicated to garlic:

Delray Beach Garlic Fest (Florida, US) -- in February (link opens a new page -- turn down the volume on your speakers first!)

Gilroy Garlic Festival (California, US) -- in July (link opens a new page)

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