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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 08:49 am

Time to plant garlic

It’s been cultivated for thousands of years — now it’s your turn

Untitled Document This fall while adding daffodils to your landscape, don’t forget to plant some garlic. Garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years and is still popular today as a flavoring in food dishes and for its medicinal properties. Though a member of the onion family, garlic differs from onions in flavor, leaves and bulbs. Whereas an onion has a single bulb, garlic is a compound bulb made up of 4 to 15 cloves, each enclosed in a papery skin. Varieties of garlic vary in taste, texture, and aftertaste. Some garlic varieties are hotter than others, some are nuttier, and others are crunchier. Garlic types include softneck, hardneck (stiffneck), and elephant garlic. Softneck types store better but aren’t as flavorful. Softneck garlic is commonly sold in grocery stores. Hardneck types produce a flower stalk, have the best flavor but do not store as well. Many gardeners prefer to plant hardneck varieties. Elephant garlic is not a true garlic but actually a leek. Elephant garlic has a milder flavor than true garlic. Plant garlic cloves in well-drained fertile soil in a full sun location. Planting beds should be amended with compost or well rotted organic matter and fertilized with well-balanced fertilizer prior to planting. Apply 2 to 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. After spring growth stops, fertilize with high nitrogen fertilizer one or two more times. In central Illinois plant garlic cloves 6 to 8 weeks before the ground is expected to freeze, usually in late September to early October. This gives the cloves a chance to root and grow a shoot before the ground freezes. Early spring planting is possible but will result in smaller bulbs.
Seed stock from a garden center, catalog, or previous harvest is recommended for planting. Just prior to planting, break fresh, disease-free bulbs apart into individual unpeeled cloves. Do not divide the bulb until immediately before planting. Cloves should be planted 4 to 5 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep. For highest yields, use the largest cloves for planting. Be sure to plant cloves pointed end up. To prevent heaving apply a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic matter after the ground freezes. Mulch may be removed in the spring. Garlic begins actively growing during the short, cool days of early spring. Good leaf development is necessary for bigger bulbs. During the growing season keep soil evenly moist as dry soil produces smaller, irregular shaped bulbs. Garlic needs 1 inch of water per week until just before harvest time. In early summer be sure to remove flower stalks as they appear. That ensures the plant can devote energy to developing bulbs. Garlic is ready to be harvested in late June to early July. Dig bulbs when bottom leaves are brown and half the leaves remain green. After digging the bulbs, dry bulbs in a warm, well-ventilated location. After 3 to 4 weeks of drying, tops and roots may be cut. Place bulbs in a mesh bag. Store garlic in a cool (32-40 degrees F), dark, and dry place. Properly cured and stored garlic should keep 6 to 7 months.
Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon. 


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