Preparation for Planting Garlic in the Fall
Fall is just around the corner and it is time to start thinking about planting garlic. Planting large garlic cloves will produce larger bulbs but another consideration should be the soil. Preparing the soil properly is also key to a successful garlic crop the following summer. Watch our video on Selecting and Planting Garlic for more information on planting and growing garlic.
Practicing smart crop rotation should be followed. Make sure you are not planting garlic (also onions, shallots or leeks) in the same area every year. Also when you plant garlic, you should not plant it next to an area where you are planning to plant beans or peas. Garlic and other alliums seem to stunt the growth of these vegetables.
The best soil for growing garlic is sandy loam that is well-drained. If you your soil is clay and tends to have drainage problems, you can plant in raised rows, raised beds (at least 12 inches deep) or even large pots. It is best to get your soil amended with compost and fertilizer before planting.
Preparation Add Organic Matter to the Soil - This can be done naturally by using summer cover crops. You can grow a summer cover crop that gets worked back into the soil weeks before the garlic is planted. Some great summer soil building mixes are the Peaceful Valley Summer Soil Builder Mix, which is a mix of buckwheat and cowpeas. This requires more pre-planning since it will take about 6-7 weeks for maturation and then a few more weeks for it to break down in the soil.
Buckwheat is a great plant for quick growth (finished in only 30-45 days) and will actually pull insoluble phosphorus out of the soil which will be released into a plant-available form when it breaks down. If you don't want to grow a cover crop or don't have time, work in quality compost or composted manure to increase the organic matter.
Fertilizing When planting garlic in the fall, avoid giving it a high nitrogen fertilizer. The idea is to get the roots established before the plant gets hit by cold temperatures of winter. It is not ideal to have a significant amount of above ground growth before spring, unless you live in an area with milder winters. If this happens, the top growth can be damaged by severe winter temperatures.
Since plants need a good supply of phosphorus for root development, you can work in fertilizers like bone meal, soft rock phosphate or the Dr. Earth Bud and Bloom Booster that has higher levels of phosphorus and potassium. Come spring when the plants are starting to put out leaves, top dress with fertilizer with a higher amount of nitrogen, like the Bio-Fish All Purpose or the Phyta-Grow Leafy Green Special Fertilizer.
Mulching is especially important if the garlic is planted where harsh winters are normal. Cover with a thick layer of straw to protect the garlic throughout the winter. About 4-6" in very cold regions. In milder climates a thinner layer is just fine. In the summer the mulch will help conserve water, cut down on weed growth and will help even out fluctuations in soil temperature.
Get your soil ready for planting your fall garlic and grow a great crop of plump garlic bulbs!