I hear about a lot of people planting garlic in winter or even early spring. In most cases they never report how well the crop turned out so I wondered, how good is the crop if you plant late? Can you plant in spring, in a cold climate, and still get a good crop?
Best Time to Plant Garlic
Garlic can be planted most of the year in warmer climates, but in cool climates the traditional planting time is October (zone 5).
In a previous report I looked at the results of planting earlier than this date, and those results can be found in Planting Garlic – When is the Right Time.
One reason for planting earlier is that it gives the cloves time to set down roots in the warm fall soil. The picture to the right shows how much root growth takes place in one month after an October 1 planting. In theory, more roots in fall equals bigger bulbs in summer.
Garlic planted in December or early spring will be sitting in cold soil and will not make as large a root system. Then in spring when things warm up, such plants will be behind other garlic that was planted in mid fall.
Testing Garlic Planting Dates
I have grown garlic in the same bed for a number of years and they always produce a great crop with very large cloves. I am in zone 5 and grow hardneck garlic. I know from past experience that the whole bed produces about the same size garlic.
In fall of 2017 and spring 2018, I made four different plantings around the first of October, November, December and March. The ground was too frozen in January and February to plant anything.
Planting depth and spacing (4-5″) were the same for all bulbs. The bed was mulched with 3″ of wood chips after planting. Urea fertilizer was added the following spring. The beds were watered as needed to keep the soil moist. I find that the combination of clay soil, rain and mulch are enough to keep the soil moist most of the time.
Garlic Growth in Spring and Summer
The October and November plantings looked similar with respect to plant height and thickness of leaves. The December plants were clearly smaller in size and the March ones were even smaller. The March planting also had fewer leaves per plant.
Plant Size at Harvest Time
The picture below shows the size at harvest time. From left to right, early October, November, December and March.
The bulb size matched the top green growth, which is not surprising. October had the largest bulbs, closely followed by November. The bulbs from a December planting were significantly smaller and the March were even smaller. The largest of the March cloves were about the same size as the smallest October cloves and are considered to be too small for seed garlic. They will grow as seed garlic, but they would not produce large bulbs.
Should You Plant in Winter or Spring?
The results clearly show that earlier plantings will produce larger cloves, and a larger crop.
What is a surprise to me is that a March planting produced anything at all. I expected much smaller cloves from such a planting.
If you can, it is best to plant in October for zone 5. However, early December plantings will still produce a decent crop. Consider a spring planting only as a last reserve. It won’t produce much of a crop, but it is better than no crop. The other benefit of planting in spring is that it allows you to preserve the bulbs for a future planting. If, instead of planting in spring you had tried to hold the bulbs over until the next fall, they would have dried up and been useless. At least a spring planting gives you seed bulbs to plant in fall.
Garlic as a Companion Plant
Garlic is one of the most popular companion plants. It can be grown next to most plants as a natural pest and fungus deterrent. It takes up little space, is not fussy about soil and can grow in most conditions.
But does it actually work as a companion plant? Garlic – the King of Companion Planting
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If you grow garlic, take the time to understand this pest. It can destroy your crop.
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