The falling temperatures and falling leaves are signaling that soon the green in our gardens will turn brown as life moves into its annual winter dormancy. There’s a handful of plants that can survive—and even thrive—in the harshness of winter. One of those plants is garlic. Typically planted in the fall, garlic puts its roots down in the cooler temperatures of the winter, and its green sprouts become visible in the early part of spring while the weather is still cool. Most people harvest garlic in early to mid-summer—depending on their region. Garlic isn’t too difficult to grow, repels pests from other plants in the garden, and has wonderful benefits for your health and for the flavor of your food. Here’s what you need to know to reap the rewards of garlic in the spring.
There are two main varieties of garlic: hardneck and softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic grows well in colder environments but doesn’t store well. It does, however, have the side benefit of producing these wonderful little scapes that can be harvested in the early part of the spring—about a month before your garlic is ready to harvest. Softneck garlic does better in the warmer temperatures of the south, stores better, but doesn’t produce scapes.
Garlic is typically planted in mid-October. If you live in warmer temperatures where the ground doesn’t freeze in the winter, you can get away with planting it a little later. I’ve planted it as late as the week after Christmas in Arkansas and still had a decent harvest. Get some in the ground even if you feel like you’re running late.
When you’re ready to plant it, be mindful of where you plant it. It’s going to stay in the ground for a long time: late fall, winter, spring, and maybe even a little of your summer season too. So think about what else you might want to plant in your garden next year before you use up your spring and summer garden real estate. Garlic is a good companion plant in the garden as it repels a lot of pests. There’s only a handful of places you shouldn’t plant garlic: don’t plant it by beans, asparagus, or in the same spot you planted it the year before.
Plant garlic about 6 inches apart and 3- to 5-inches deep. You want to give it plenty of space to grow big bulbs. Throw a little compost in there in the fall and then mulch it deeply to protect it from extreme temperatures in the winter and weeds in the spring. You can pretty much forget about it in the winter. Once you start to see little green sprigs pop up over the surface of your soil, start fertilizing it at least every other week. Garlic is a heavy feeder and needs a lot of nitrogen.