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Fall is the time to plant garlic


Milly Carter
Administrative Associate, Urban Region
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 816-252-7717

Published: Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

Story source:

Marlin Bates, 816-270-2141

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–Garlic is not on everyone’s list of garden plants, but it should be, said a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist.

“Not only is it a simple crop to produce, it keeps the ground productive throughout the winter and offers a range of health benefits,” said Marlin Bates.

As garlic increases in popularity, it is becoming more and more difficult to find recipes that don’t call for garlic, Bates said. “With that, why not grow your own garlic?”

Garlic in the garden is not grown from seed but from individual cloves. “It is important to plant these cloves in the fall because a cold period is required for the ‘mother bulb’ to break apart, making it possible to produce an adequate head in the next season,” he said.

Bates said it is a good idea to use only regionally grown garlic because particular varieties may have different aromas, flavors and shapes depending on where they are grown.

“Sourcing these heads of garlic is easier now than it was 15 years ago, when most commercially available garlic came from northern California,” he said.

Begin by preparing a section of the garden for planting. Bates suggests using one row along the back of the garden, so you don’t disturb the garlic when doing spring work.

Crack each head and separate the cloves, paying no attention to the papery covering surrounding them, known as the tunic. Select only the large, outer cloves, which will produce larger heads. Plant the cloves root end down (point up), 2-3 inches apart and about 1 inch deep.

Cover the row with a thick layer of straw or other light mulch to prolong warm soil temperatures. This will allow adequate root growth to occur before the ground freezes, suppress weeds during the fall and spring, and protect the shoots when they emerge in the spring. It may be worthwhile to mark the row when planting so that you know exactly where to expect them to come up.

“Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it requires a good fertility program,” Bates said. Test the soil to make sure the garden can deliver what it needs. Without adequate soil, the heads that develop will be small and may fall apart when harvested.

Harvest the heads when the leaves begin to die down in early summer. Before storing, garlic needs to be cured with the top growth still attached, he said. Spread the harvested garlic heads or bulbs on newspapers or wire racks in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight for two to three weeks or until skins are papery.

For more information on garlic production, contact your local MU Extension center or search online at