The Q&A Archives: Harvesting & Re-Planting Garlic

Question: This was my first year to attempt growing my own garlic. I planted your rocambole, german white stiffneck, and elephant garlic last fall. I wasn't aware of your website until yesterday when I discovered that I had allowed my garlic to stay in the ground for far too long. The plants were anywhere from four to six feet tall (had grown beautifully!) and had developed large pods at the top of each stem. Thinking this was a good sign, I just let it grow. I have dug up my bulbs and need to know what to do next? I would love to be able to save some part of the plant to try again next year. What part could I save? What do I do with the miniature garlic pods at the end of each plant? How long should they dry? When is the best time to re-plant (if possible) my garlic in this area?

Answer: Unfortunately, since your garlic flowered and stayed in the ground so long, it may not store well for you since successful storage depends on the growing conditions as well as the variety and the storage conditions. The bulbs are probably smaller and of poor quality because of the energy used in flowering, too. (The garlic you keep and use is the underground bulb only, not the flower, so discard the tops.)

For curing, allow any soil left on on bulbs to dry, then hang the garlic in a garage or other well ventilated spot (or place them loosely on a slotted tray like a nursery flat) and allow them to dry for a month. Then collect the bulbs and store them in a cool place. It is important to have excellent air circulation around the individual bulbs, too, so some gardeners will use a mesh bag for storage.

You may replant in either fall or spring. To replant, gently break the whole garlic bulbs apart and separate into individual cloves, leaving the papery skin intact. Plant the cloves pointy-end up about 1 to 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. For best results, plant only large, solid cloves. After fall planting, water them in well and then mulch with about 6 inch layer of chopped leaves, hay or straw. Since the quality of your garlic may be questionable, you might wish to start anew with a least a few fresh bulbs to ensure a good harvest.

Next year, keep in mind that fall planted garlic can be ready in spring, spring planted garlic by July. You need to keep an eye on the plants and watch for browning of the foliage. Some gardeners harvest as soon as the tops begin to brown and fall over. Professional garlic grower Ron Engelund harvests his garlic after the leaves begin to brown, but before they all turn brown. His rule is to harvest when 6 of the leaves are still green. In his opinion this is optimal in terms of garlic maturity and its ability to stand up in storage.

Good luck with your garlic!

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