Adapted with permission from University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Hancock County, photos by Pammy Dyer Stewart
Did you know that garlic is one of the healthiest foods out there? It also helps repel vampires — AND it tastes great on bread. Why wouldn’t you want to grow garlic? Follow this super simple activity guide to plant garlic in a container or in your own garden!
Grow Garlic Greens
Materials you will need from home:
- A sunny windowsill
- Garlic bulbs
- Potting Soil
- Garlic Greens: immature, tender garlic with soft leaves. They are harvested before the bulb is formed!
- Garlic Scape: the tender stem and flower bulb from a hardneck garlic plant. Also known as a garlic stalk!
- Garlic Bulb: The entire fleshy garlic plant grown underground. Also known as the garlic head!
- Garlic Clove: The individual segments of the garlic head.
- Hardneck Garlic: As opposed to softneck garlic, hardneck grows a stiff stalk called the “scape.” Softneck does not grow reliably in Maine, so we will be only discussing hardneck varieties!
How to Grow Garlic Greens
- Fill your container with a mix of potting soil and compost. Your container should be 6 – 8” deep, any size width.
- Divide your garlic head into individual garlic cloves. Make sure to keep the papery skin intact.
- To plant your garlic clove, use your finger to make a 2 – 3” deep hole. Insert the cloves, root side down (pointy part up). There should be at least one inch of soil on top of the clove.
- Plant your garlic cloves. Each clove can be 2” apart! (Because you’re growing greens, they can be placed closer to each other than you would plant them if growing garlic bulbs.)
- Pat the soil down gently to cover the garlic clove.
- Water your garlic! How much water depends on how much sunlight the cloves are getting. You don’t want the soil to dry out.
- Place the container near the south or west-facing window, where it receives at least 4 hours of direct sunlight. If you don’t have that much light, consider supplementing with grow lights.
- You should start seeing green shoots within 1 – 2 weeks after planting. Pick them when they are dense and about 8 to 15 inches high. Trim the greens with scissors, leaving one inch of shoots above the soil so that they will regrow.
- Sauté your garlic greens, add them to salad, make garlic bread. Let us know what you do by sending photos and tagging the Incredible Edible Milbridge Facebook Group.
Grow Garlic Heads in the Garden
While growing garlic greens is a two – three week process, growing garlic bulbs is a multi-season one! Follow the instructions below if you’d like to plant your garlic in the garden and harvest garlic bulbs next summer.
Materials you will need from home:
- Garlic Head
- Straw or Mulch
- Space in your garden
- Curing: The process of drying garlic bulbs to prepare for storage.
- Harvesting: The act or process of gathering a crop.
- Mulch: A protective covering, such as leaves, straw, or grass, placed around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture, the freezing of roots, and the growth of weeds.
- Compost: A mixture of organic matter, as from leaves and manure, that has decayed or has been digested by organisms, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.
How to Grow Hardneck Garlic Bulbs: Information from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin #2063, Growing Hardneck Garlic in Your Maine Garden
- Know when to plant! In Maine, hardneck garlic is planted from cloves in the fall. Time your planting to allow the clove to establish a root system but not to plant so early as to have the top emerge above the soil where it is prone to winter injury. Plant hardneck garlic cloves in Maine about mid-September to early November.
- Choose your garlic cloves! Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves shortly before planting. Leave the papery skin intact. If you want to produce large bulbs, plant large cloves. Planting smaller cloves will produce smaller bulbs. Save the smaller cloves for cooking.
- Prepare your Garden Bed. Garlic does not compete well with weeds for light and nutrition. Make sure your garden bed is weed-free. If possible, hand-till a 1” layer of compost into the bed. Compost is high in nutrients and will encourage healthy garlic growth!
- Plant your Garlic Bulbs. The cloves should be planted with their pointed ends up, approximately 2 – 4” deep. Space cloves 4 to 6 inches apart within rows, and space rows 6 to 12 inches apart. Closer spacing will produce smaller garlic bulbs, while wider spacing will produce larger bulbs. After planting, smooth over the soil surface and pat firmly down with your hands.
- Mulch is recommended for planting garlic in Maine! Some mulch choices are dried grass, shredded leaves, or straw. Straw will provide excellent weed control and should be relatively free of weeds, unlike most hay. Apply mulch to a thickness of three inches on top of the garlic bed.
- And now you WAIT! Pay attention to the garlic beds — the greens will start poking out of the mulch in early spring!
- In June, you should see a garlic scape emerging from the center whorl of leaves in June. University of Maine research has shown that leaving the scape on the plant will reduce the eventual size of the harvested bulb. Harvest the garlic scape early in its development. These scapes can be used in cooking to provide mild garlic flavor. Others use the garlic scapes to make pesto or to decorate flower arrangements. What will YOU do?
- Harvest the garlic when the bulbs are fully mature. But wait — they’re underground! How can you tell? When the lower three leaves have turned brown, you have about TWO WEEKS to harvest your garlic. Beyond that time, the outer wrapper of the bub will disintegrate, eventually leaving bare cloves that won’t store well.
- To harvest, loosen mature garlic by under-digging with a spade or spading fork, taking care not to damage the bulbs. Pull the whole plant and shake off loose soil. Let the garlic dry for a day in the garden, then lightly brush off any remaining loose soil and bring the garlic into a well-ventilated space, like a garage or barn. Washing is not recommended, as the goal now is to dry the garlic as quickly as possible to avoid disease development during the curing and storing of the crop.
- Cure the garlic to prepare them for storage. Garlic tops may be removed at any time during or after harvesting. Cut the garlic tops, leaving about one and one-half inches of stem at the top of the bulb. Garlic is best cured in a single layer, in a warm, dry place with good air movement. Drying racks with mesh screens and a fan will provide the best conditions. Don’t cure garlic in a very hot place, like an attic, closed greenhouse, or in direct sunlight. Garlic should be well-dried in three to four weeks when it can be moved to a storage location.
- Store your garlic! Garlic is best stored cool and dry. Store it in your home in a dark place, ideally at temperatures of about 60°F. Cooler, moister conditions promote sprouting and will diminish storage time. Never refrigerate garlic or store garlic in a plastic bag.
- Use your garlic for cooking, and save the larger cloves for growing another garlic bulb!
- Do you enjoy the taste of garlic? Why or why not?
- Why does the garlic in containers only grow greens and not bulbs? Send us your answers!
- What is something that surprised you during the process of growing garlic? Did you learn anything new?
- Garlic is a hot commodity! If you planted some garlic in the ground and harvested/cured the bulb, consider selling them to your neighbors or on the side of the road.
- Try different types of mulch. Did one work better than the other? Why do you think that is?
- Start a nature journal! Take photos of the different stages of garlic growth. Draw or paint pictures of the garlic. Write down your observations.
- Create a recipe using the garlic you grew, and submit it to the Incredible Edible Milbridge facebook group with the tag: #seedsandsprouts