It seems as though we have been trained to think that garlic should be planted in the fall. I’ve even seen some experts imply that fall is the only time to plant garlic. Thankfully, this is not the case and planting garlic in spring works just fine. I’m not saying that fall planting of garlic doesn’t work. It is the right idea for some places. But it may come as a comfort to gardeners who want to grow garlic, but missed the fall window for planting.
Would you be surprised to hear that planting garlic in spring used to be the standard in much of the US? It’s true. If you read any old gardening and farming books, you’ll find this to be true. It is only in recent years that the general guidance has become so fall centered. There are lots of advantages to planting garlic in spring. Even if you planted in fall, it might be worth experimenting with some spring planting to see if you like the results.
No winter kill: Even though garlic is a very cold-tolerant plant, it has it limits. Extremes of moisture, soil freezing, drying winter winds can wreak havoc on garlic — even kill it.
Soil conditions: Planting garlic in spring lets saturated soils dry out a bit and warm up. Garlic prefers this over soggy, cold soil. Plus, many gardeners aren’t ready in fall to give garlic the optimal conditions it needs. Planting garlic in spring allows more time for soil preparation.
Longer storage: When garlic is planted in spring, it matures later and, therefore, stores later into fall, winter, and even spring. Having garden produce, especially garlic, is something many people dream of. Mixing a planting of garlic in spring with some fall planting will ensure an almost continuous supply.
Due to the general shift in garlic growing in much of the US, variety availability in spring has become an issue. This is the main disadvantage of waiting until spring to plant. Don’t let this deter you from trying some spring planting. It may sound crazy, but you can buy grocery store garlic for planting. Just try to pick some that have started to sprout a little bit of green so they’ll start growing right away. Use the largest outer cloves to get the largest final bulbs.
I have had the best luck with softneck garlic for spring planting. Softneck garlic, as opposed to hardneck garlic, is easy to discern. The center of a softneck garlic bulb is flexible. The center of a hardneck garlic is hard and feels like there is a little stick in it. While I’ve had good luck with planting softneck garlic in spring, lots of people do well with hardneck as well. Just make sure that you remove the ‘scape’ or immature flower stalk as soon as it’s visible so it doesn’t divert energy from bulb production. This is a great time to experiment with different varieties and see what gives you the best results in your area.
The right timing for planting garlic in spring starts with soil temperature and moisture. The minimum temperature for garlic growth is 45F. If your soil is thawed, then it will soon be warm enough to plant. Garlic likes consistent moisture, but not soggy soil. If your soil is really wet, it may be better to let it dry a bit.
Late March or early April is often a great time to plant garlic. However, your best time may be a little earlier, but hopefully not much later. Garlic tends to grow it’s leaves during shorter and cooler days of spring and early summer. It tends to fatten it bulbs during the longer and hotter days of late summer and early fall. This may put your spring-planted garlic harvest in August or September. While this may seem late the garlic may store, if properly cured, until April of the following year when it’s time to start the cycle over again.
Garlic likes fertile soil that’s high in organic matter. It is also a heavy feeder. Be prepared to incorporate a balanced fertilizer and reapply during the growing season. Planting garlic in spring gives you extra time to create just the right well-drained spot filled with great soil. Plant cloves 1/2-1in deep about 3-5in apart, leaving about 18in between rows. I have also had good luck with block planting garlic in a grid with about 6in between cloves in every direction.
Let’s get out into the garden and bring back a tradition that was perfected by our predecessors over hundreds of years. Maybe if we all find success, we can convince suppliers to offer more varieties for spring planting garlic varieties. Before you know it, we’ll all have a year-round supply of delicious, healthy, and most importantly, home-grown garlic.