How to Grow Garlic in Pots
If you plan to make salsa from garlic, it is important to time your garlic to be ready to harvest at the same time as your other ingredients.
Garlic from the grocery store is to home grown garlic what tomatoes from the grocery store are to home grown tomatoes: lacking flavor. Store garlic is bred for its storage ability and ease of harvesting qualities, but not for its flavor. Once you taste gourmet garlic fresh from your garden, you will want to always have it available. By selecting varieties to use fresh and varieties that store well, you can have your own garlic nearly all year round.
How to Choose Garlic to Grow in Pots
There is a wide variety of flavor in different garlic varieties, so specialty growers write about the flavors and uses of each garlic variety in their descriptions. Even though your intended use may not be listed, any garlic variety can be used for any purpose. The varieties that growers point out simply perform extraordinarily well for the uses they specify, such as for roasting or for eating raw.
Garlic that you bought at the grocery store is most likely treated with chemicals in order to not sprout and extend its storage life, and is possibly irradiated. Softneck garlic is the variety that grocery stores typically carry, but much of it is grown in China, and will not likely produce well even if it does sprout.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties vs. Softneck Garlic Varieties
Garlic is generally classified into three types: hardneck, weakly bolting hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties do not store as well as softneck varieties, and do well in colder climates. Turban and Asiatic varieties will not always produce scapes, and have been reclassified as weakly bolting hardneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic varieties are generally preferred by gourmet chefs because the individual cloves are larger and easier to peel. Hardneck garlic varieties produce a scape, or seed stock, which appears in about June and looks like a slim, curly leaf which has a a knob on the end. For the largest garlic bulbs, cut or snap scapes off of the plant when they are young, and on a warm, sunny day. Removing garlic scapes will allow the garlic plant to put its energy into making bulbs. The scapes are edible, and have a mild garlic flavor that is good in pesto or pickled.
Softneck garlic varieties do not produce a scape unless they are under stress. Softneck garlic varieties store better than hardneck, and can be braided to make gifts, or to display and store.
How to Much Garlic to Buy
Although it varies by variety, a pound of garlic seed will typically have 6 to 8 bulbs. The number of cloves in each bulb will vary, and is usually stated in the grower’s description. Each clove of garlic will grow into a plant with multiple cloves of garlic. Garlic seed suppliers typically sell garlic and 1/4 pound increments, which makes it economical to try several varieties.
Gourmet garlic has grown so much in popularity in the last few years that garlic growers have had a hard time keeping up with demand. It is possible to buy food garlic from some suppliers during off-season, from December through July, if they still have it available.
Farmers markets often supply interesting varieties of garlic, and if it is grown locally, chances are it will do well in your garden or container.
Specialty growers typically harvest in July and August and allow the bulbs to dry for 3 to 4 weeks. Shipping typically begins toward the end of August for the current year’s crop. Suppliers begin taking orders much sooner, and most have a policy of shipping the biggest bulbs for the first orders and progress through medium-sized bulbs for later orders. Most do not sell their smaller bulbs for planting. To get the best selection and the biggest bulbs, order as soon as possible.
Expect to pay $7 to $16 per pound for good quality gourmet garlic from a specialty grower. This will be a one-time investment if you save the larger cloves for planting next season. Local garden stores will have a limited selection of varieties in the fall and sometimes again in the spring. For the best selection, order online or through a gardening catalog.
When you receive your garlic, immediately open up the package and inspect for any soft bulbs. If there are any, set them aside from the good bulbs and contact the supplier immediately. Leave the package open in a dry location so that garlic can remain cool, receive air, and be out of the sunlight until it is time to plant.
Garlic for Warm Climates or for Spring Planting
If you missed planting in the fall, or live in a mild winter climate, it is possible to grow Asiatic, Turban, mid season Creole, Artichoke, and Silver Skin varieties, but they may not get very large. Some growers also have starter plants available for a limited selection of varieties early in the spring. Plant these as early in the spring as possible. In the Deep South and other mild winter areas can plant garlic in December.
How to Grow Garlic in Pots
Some varieties of garlic plants get larger than others. If you choose a large variety, plant fewer cloves in each container. In temperate regions, garlic is usually planted from October to late November, and most varieties are very winter hardy. Growers try to plant it before this it soil freezes to give it a chance to put down roots. If the garlic plants grow a few leaves before the first frost which are frozen back, this is usually not a problem.
If you are planning to overwinter garlic in containers, protect the containers from the freeze-thaw cycle by placing containers against a wall and mulching with clean straw. Be sure to remove most of the straw when temperatures warm up.
If you missed planting garlic in the fall, plant it as early as possible, before April. The bulbs will not get as large a they would have if you had planted them in the spring, but you will still get a good harvest. Use a container that is at least 6 inches across for a single clove. Follow the supplier’s instructions for spacing, normally 4 to 6 inches apart.
A five-gallon bucket is adequate to grow four to six cloves, depending on the eventual size of the garlic plant. Garlic does best in containers that are at least one foot to 18 inches deep. Soil rich in organic matter that drains freely is best, and garlic performs best in nearly neutral soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8
The number of cloves per garlic will depend on the variety, and will vary for each individual bulb of garlic. Garlic should not be broken apart until it is time to plant, and should not have the papery outer shells removed. Plant the larger cloves and either eat the smaller ones or plant them. Harvest them as baby garlic when they are 10 to 14 inches tall in about 6 weeks, if planted in the summer.
The tip of the garlic clove should point up, with the basal (the end where the root was on the garlic bulb) part down. Softneck varieties are not as temperamental about having the correct end planted up. Cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil and water well.
Not many pests bother garlic, and it is a good companion to place near your tomato plants.
Garlic will stop growing when soil temperatures are above 80°F. To prevent this, add a layer of light-colored mulch such as white rocks to deflect the sunlight from the soil.
Feed garlic plants every two weeks with an organic fertilizer which is high in nitrogen, such as cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, and/or sea kelp. Stop fertilizing when plants have formed 4 to 6 leaves.
Water garlic grown in containers when the top one inch of soil is dry. This may mean daily watering during hot periods. Even moisture is important in producing good bulbs, and uneven moisture may result in bulbs which crack apart. Stop watering garlic about two weeks before harvest time.
When to Harvest Garlic
You can harvest garlic when at least half of the leaves have died back, usually in July or August. You may need to dig up a test bulb in order to judge when to harvest. Garlic is ready to harvest when the outer skin is tight and the bulbs are developed fully. If you cannot wait, you can harvest earlier, but the cloves will not be as big or have as much flavor as mature cloves, and the skins may not have had a chance to form around each clove.
Dig up each entire plant, gently brush off excess soil, and hang the entire plant in a warm, dry location which is out of the sun for 10 days to 4 weeks. The more humid the weather is, the longer it will take garlic to dry.
How to Store Garlic
Garlic must be dried in order to store well. Garlic is done drying when you can cut the stem and it does not ooze garlic juice. At this point, trim the stock to 1 1/2 to 2 inches (unless you are planning to braid softneck varieties) and the roots to 1/2 inch. Do not wash garlic, but brush off excess soil without removing the outer peels. Some staining of the outer skin is normal, especially if your soil is rich in organic content or if the garlic plants were watered too close to harvest. Stained skin will not affect the flavor or storage of the bulb, it will simply peel off when you are ready to use your produce.
Store garlic in a cool, 50 to 60°F, dry place. Check monthly for white mold, which can spread to all of your stored garlic.
How to Save Garlic Seed
Save the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall for next year’s crop. You do not need to isolate or take any precautions to preserve the genetics of garlic, since garlic is asexually propagated. In other words, garlic varieties will not crossbreed, and each variety will come true to type year after year even though you grow many varieties in the same area.