The Q&A Archives: Growing Garlic

Question: Garlic was planted in late fall and in early spring. Both times it looked healthy and grew until mid summer. Then the plant would stop growing and flop over. The garlic bulbs were stunted. The soil's been tested and is within limits for growing garlic in New England. I live on the coast within one mile of the shore. Does this affect garlic growth?

Answer: There are two types of garlic, one called soft-neck and the other hard-neck. Hard-neck garlic produces a seed stem in spring that, if not cut off, will direct the plant's energy into producing seed rather than expanding the bulb. It's possible you're growing hard-neck and not removing the seed stem when it first appears. To grow top-notch garlic, choose a sunny site (especially important in your cool summer coastal garden) and prepare the soil well by incorporating lots of organic matter (aged compost, leaf mold, peat moss). Organic matter will loosen the soil, help retain moisture, and release nutrients to the plant roots and it decomposes. Space the cloves 4"- 6" apart and plant 1" - 2" deep. Mulch the area well after planting. Plant in the fall, around Columbus Day. In the spring, when the foliage appears, feed lightly with fish emulsion every two weeks. Water regularly during the spring and summer to encourage the bulbs to grow, and remove any seed stems that appear. Harvest in the late summer, after the foliage has turned brown. If you harvest too soon, you'll sacrifice size. If you harvest too late, the outer wrapper is likely to tear, which will shorten the shelf life of your garlic.

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