Autumn is the perfect time to start planting garlic

By Dorothy Dobbie

In most of Canada, garlic (Allium sativum) is planted in fall for two reasons: it needs a chilling period, and it takes nine months to mature. Plant it in August or September depending on the seasonal conditions — just don’t plant it so early that it begins sprouting. Like tulips, you want garlic to put out roots but not to send up shoots before the ground freezes. Mulch the area with some straw or peat moss after freeze up. Plant in well-composted soil and keep the garlic patch weed-free. Garlic resents competition.

You need to separate the cloves from the bulb (this is called “cracking”) and plant them pointy side up about eight to 10 inches apart and one to three inches deep depending on the size of the clove. Be sure to leave the skin on the clove to protect it from infection and from insects. Larger bulbs and larger cloves will produce larger garlic plants and bulbs. A dressing of alfalfa meal or well-cured manure will benefit the bulbs. Give the leaves an occasional foliar spray of seaweed tea.

There are two popular types of eating garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic produces ornamental, tall, coiling scapes, or stems. It forms bulbils at the top of the scape that can be harvested for seed (or eating, although they are small). They can also be removed to allow the energy to go into the underground bulb. 

‘Rocambole’ is a hardneck variety that produces seven to eight cloves to a bulb a lovely coiling scape. ‘Silverskin’ is a softneck variety with no tall scape 12 to 15 cloves per bulb. ‘Porcelain’ grows 6 feet tall with large bulbs of four cloves.

In August, some of the strappy leaves will begin to yellow. Slow or stop watering at this time and get ready to harvest. Bulbs left in the ground too long will begin to separate and split out of the casing.

Lift the bulbs from the soil carefully from well-composted, well-draining soil. Do not wash. Allow the soil to dry out, after which it can be easily brushed away. Let the bulbs, with their scapes still in place, dry out for three or four days. While the leaves are still flexible, braid them together. Allow them to continue curing for two weeks, and then store them in a cool dry space – not in the refrigerator.

Don’t plant garlic in the same place two years in a row. Don’t plant in boggy soil. Don’t crowd. Don’t let the soil dry out completely. Give garlic about one inch of water per week.

Never store garlic in oil at room temperature as it is a breeding ground for botulism (Clostridium botulinum) because of its sulfuric nature. If stored in the refrigerator, use it within a week. Garlic, in large amounts, is toxic to dogs.

One ounce of garlic contains 42 calories and 25 per cent of daily manganese requirements. It reduces blood pressure, lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol) but has no impact on HDL (the good one). It is filled with anti-oxidants and has been linked to positive effects on Alzheimer’s. It will detoxify heavy metals from the body, is good for bone health and is said to improve athletic performance.

In history, garlic was considered an effective vampire deterrent: 1. Vampires are blood suckers like mosquitoes and mosquitoes are repelled by garlic. 2. Garlic is an anti-bacterial agent that poisons the blood of those who eat it. 3. Garlic is known as the stinking rose in some circles. Vampires hate the smell. 4. It can burn your skin if you are a vampire (also, if you are not and are sensitive). 5. If you kill a vampire, be sure to stuff its mouth and eyes with garlic to keep it from coming back.

Dorothy Dobbie is the publisher of Manitoba Gardener. Go to She broadcasts a weekly garden show on CJNU 97.3 FM every Sunday at 8. The show is also available from the Internet or on BellMTS TV at channel 725.