Garlic in the Garden

Kathryn Fontenot, Koske, Thomas J.

Elephant garlic with golden offset corms.

Sprouting disorder.

Harvest in late spring when bulbs are well formed and tops begin to yellow.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is thought to have many uses from warding off cancer to protecting from evil. Here in Louisiana we use it to flavor food and boil crawfish. Cultivars differ in size and pungency. The pungency is developed from the chemical reactions of its crushed cellular contents. If you want sweet, eating garlic, roast or boil the cloves or heads without cutting or crushing them.

The large-bulbed Elephant type (A. ampeloprasum) produces large, cloved heads on vigorous plants. It also produces small, hard-shelled corms at the base of the bulb. This very mild-flavored "garlic" is really a kind of cloving leek. Elephant garlic grows well in Louisiana.

We grow softneck garlics in the South. The Creole (Mexican white) cultivar is intermediate in size and pungency. It has a white-skinned clove but does not store well. The Italian cultivar has the strongest favor and stores best. Its cloves are small and have pink skin. Silverskin is a nice, white softneck with a medium-large head. Other softneck cultivars, such as California Early, New York White Neck, also can be grown.

You may have a tough time finding a particular cultivar. Some seed suppliers carry a cultivar or two. Locally grown seed stock should be well adapted to our climate, and imported materials may grow differently here. Specialty suppliers carry many selections; check on the Internet. As a last resort, buy whole (unbroken) heads at the produce market because the grocery-store types may be sprout treated or contain a virus and not do as well as true seed-grown stock.

Store the heads whole and break apart the cloves just before planting. You may get better sprouting if you store the seed bulbs in the refrigerator a week or two before planting. Plant cloves (toes) between October and November to harvest in late spring. Spring-planted cloves will not have the two months of growth in cool soil required for proper bulbing that starts during long days.

Some bulbs will produce small, offset corms that will grow against the lower side of the bulb. These tough little nutlike corms will produce a plant that develops a solid (noncloving) bulb resembling an onion bulb. These solid bulbs may be used for cooking, but if replanted in the fall, the solid garlic bulbs will produce plants that should clove the next year.

Planting Tips:
If drainage is an issue, build high rows or plant in raised beds. A medium rate of pre-plant fertilizer is required for good growth.

Apply 4-5 pounds of 8-24-24 fertilizer in a 100 ft row. If your garden is smaller this would be equivalent to 1/2 a pound of 8-24-24 or 13-13-13 per 10 ft row. Remember for most complete fertilizers 1 pound is 2 cups. 

Plant cloves 5 to 6 inches apart in single drill rows. It is best to set cloves vertically, with root ends down and tops just below the soil surface (point side up). Water the next day.

Sidedress nitrogen on the rows after one month. Sidedress again in late winter and mid-spring. Because soil sulfur plays a role in allium pungency, you may wish to use acidifying ammonium sulfate for the latter nitrogen dressings if your soil pH is upper 6 or higher.

If you see seed stalks forming, pinch them off.  Some gardeners experience a late season "sprouting" of the stem where several little stems emerge from the center. This results in thin heads that are split apart and of poor quality. Researchers believe that it could be caused by stress from unusual weather patterns, late nitrogen application or a plant virus.

As the garlic grows, watch for the tiny insect called thrips. It is first noticed as a graying of the spring foliage. Spray malathion, insecticidal soap or neem oil as needed for thrips control on this long-season crop.

Fusilade or Poast grass herbicides can be used for post-emerge selective grass weed control. Weed control is important to keep your yields high.

Mulching the row middles will not only provide better soil moisture and pest control but also keep soil cooler around the developing heads.

Harvest mid-May through June when one-third of the plants start to yellow. Leaving them in the ground too long will cause heads to split open in the soil.  Solid-head plants will not clove when cured but may be used in cooking and roasting as you would garlic cloves. Loosen the heads with a garden fork and pull up the plants. Lay them in the shade to set skin or cover the heads with foliage to avoid sunburn. Trim roots and braid or trim the necks to 1 inch. Store trimmed garlic in sacks like dried onion bulbs. You may save some seed stock to replant in the fall if no virus was visible.

Enjoy your harvest!

5/31/2005 8:31:36 PM
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