Published on 08/04/99

Great Garlic Grows Slowly -- Start Now

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Garlic is one of those things you either love or hate. Very few people have ambivalent feelings about it. In my cooking, garlic goes with almost everything, and I'm looking for a good garlic dessert recipe.

The onion (Allium) family includes onions, garlic and leeks. Regular garlic (Allium sativum) is the garlic most often found in home gardens, in several cultivars.

Elephant garlic is a different species (Allium ampeloprasum) and has a milder flavor than regular garlic. It's so mild it can even be eaten raw.

Besides garlic's culinary and medicinal uses, it will add color to your landscape with its dark green foliage.

Plant Garlic in Fall

Garlic has long been planted as a companion plant to ward off pests from some vegetable and herb plants. However, very little research has been done to substantiate the effects of this practice.

The best time to plant garlic in Georgia is the fall -- October through November. In south Georgia, the planting season extends from October to January.

If your family really likes garlic, you'll need 4 to 5 feet of row per family member. If you're planning for roasted garlic, you may need more.

It's a good idea to practice rotation when planting garlic. Don't plant it where onions or a member of the onion family has been grown before.

Start Preparing the Soil

Plant garlic in full sun in a well-drained bed with organic matter worked into it. (Work organic matter into your garden soil now for fall planting.)

Garlic likes well-drained soil, and adding organic matter will help even the hardest clay become more friable (easily crumbled). And, since garlic requires six to eight months to mature, plant it in an area where it won't be disturbed.

Start with a complete fertilizer broadcast over the bed at planting. A slow-release fertilizer will provide continuous feed during the fall. Fertilize it again in February, mainly with nitrogen. Base all fertilizer on soil test results.

When selecting garlic to plant, you can order bulbs or buy them from the grocery. Just make sure the bulbs are firm, without any sign of disease or insect damage.

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How to Plant

Plant garlic by dividing the cloves. Garlic bulbs have several cloves when mature. Cloves from the outside, which are larger, will produce the largest bulbs.

Bulbs can be taken up each year, divided and cloves replanted. Plant each clove as a set (a small bulb or section, like an onion set), 4 to 6 inches apart. Plant elephant garlic at least 12 inches apart.

Push cloves about 1 inch deep into well-prepared soil. Make sure you have the correct end of the clove pointing up (the top is the more pointed end).

Fall plantings usually mature late May or early June. If you plant late, the harvest will be later. To produce larger cloves, remove flower stalks when they come out.

Harvest garlic when leaves begin to turn yellow and fall over. Take up the plants and lay them in a warm, shady, dry area for several days.

Most varieties will keep for six to eight months in a well-ventilated, dry area. However, elephant garlic doesn't keep or store as well as other varieties.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.