Garlic has been reported to offer multiple health benefits including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Though the growing season is coming to an end, the time is right to get this heart-healthy bulb in the ground. There are many varieties of garlic and the plants produce bulbs in varying sizes. However, to get the best growth, garlic needs to overwinter to be ready for harvest in the summer.
Garlic varieties are split into two categories: hardneck and softneck. The hardneck varieties are what typically grow best in Kansas. Selecting the variety within this category can be a challenge since the weather can be unpredictable from year to year, and some hardneck varieties perform better under long, cold winters while others prefer mild winters. Being proactive with good soil for planting will give your garlic the best chance at survival.
Garlic requires well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Sandy loam soil does not restrict growth and allows the bulbs to grow larger. The soil can be loosened by tilling it prior to planting. It is important to have phosphorus available to grow healthy garlic, so as with any new garden crop, take a soil sample prior to planting to know what nutrients are available or deficient. Choose a planting site that has not been used to grow garlic, onions or any other crop in the Allium genus. This will help prevent diseases and pests that overwinter in the soil from infesting your new crop.
Each garlic bulb has multiple cloves held together tightly. Separate the bulb into single cloves, but use care to keep the papery covering intact. Plant the cloves 12 inches apart and about 2 inches deep. The pointed end of the clove should be up. Garlic needs to be watered when the soil is dry. If the soil stays saturated it may cause the bulbs to rot. Mulch will help the garlic endure the winter months, but remove the mulch in the spring after the last frost date to allow the soil to warm up with the rising temperatures.
In the spring, weed maintenance is an important task to allow the shallow-rooted garlic to access the nutrients in the soil without competition. Toward the end of spring and into early summer you will notice a green stalk above the soil. This stalk will eventually produce a flower, which will take energy away from the developing bulb. Since the garlic is being grown for the edible bulb, it is preferable to use as much plant energy as possible on the bulb growth. The stalk, also known as a “scape,” should be removed to allow the bulb to grow as much as possible. Scapes are also edible.
By late June and into July the leaves of the garlic plant should begin to turn yellow and decline. When about five of the leaves turn yellow it is time to harvest the bulb. Dig up the entire plant. Remove the soil and store the bulbs in a cool, dry area. The bulbs need time to dry completely so they will store well. After they are dry, the roots and leaves can be trimmed.
Fresh garlic from the garden is just a few seasons away. With a little preparation, you will be rewarded with the health benefits and flavorful meals.
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.