My first encounter with garlic was in a friend’s garden. She had an entire raised bed dedicated to this fragrant and easy to grow bulb!
The raised bed was a great idea because garlic likes a well-drained soil. Garlic is one of the rare vegetables that you plant in the fall to harvest in summer the next year.
There are two kinds of garlic: softneck and hardneck. Softneck is the common store-bought garlic, with cloves layered like artichokes leaves. Softneck garlic prefers mild winters and has a milder taste.
Hardneck varieties have a single ring of cloves around a hard stem or scape that bears the flower. Scapes twist and turn as they grow; they should be removed but they are edible.
For more tips on growing and using garlic, including recipes, see Penn State Master Gardener Program Allegheny County – Growing and Using Garlic.
In Lancaster County, I recommend that you plant your garlic mid-October, a month before the first hard frost.
Choose a sunny location. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves, keeping the papery layer intact. Work the first 6 inches of soil, adding compost or organic fertilizer if needed (Soil tests are available at county Extension offices).
Dig furrows one foot apart creating small, raised mounds and plant the cloves, pointy end up, one to two inches deep, 6 inches apart in the middle of the mound. Watering, if needed, will be done in the furrows.
Garlic does not like competition from weeds. Mulching with straw, dried leaves, grass clippings (non-treated), or compost will keep the weeds at bay and keep the cloves from heaving in the cold of winter.
Some green shoots may appear in the fall. These shoots are winter hardy and additional growth will resume in spring. By mid-summer, the crop will be ready to be harvested. Dig out the bulbs with care when the leaves are beginning to turn brown, but when more than half is still green. Dry the whole plants in a well-ventilated space.
Allium Leafminer Plant Protection
A new concern in the Allium family is the allium leafminer, a small fly that can ruin your crop. The first detection of Allium leafminer in North America was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 2015. Allium leafminer will make a line of small holes on top of the leaves, feed on the sap, and lay eggs through the holes.
A line of small white dots on garlic or onion leaves is the telltale sign of infestation. The larvae will feed on the soft tissues, moving down the leaves toward the bulb where a pupae will form, brown, the size of a small grain of rice. The damage done will result in rotting cloves and small garlic with distorted leaves.
There are two important steps to protect your plants.
1. First be sure that no other plant from the Allium family has been growing in the plot where you want to grow your garlic: no onions, shallots, leeks, chives, or even wild garlic for at least two years. The pupae can overwinter in the soil.
2. Cover your plants with a row cover before they are infected. Allium leafminer is active in the Northeast in March through early May and will fly again in late August to mid-October. When planting garlic, you can set up the row cover in the fall, remove it during wintertime, and replace it in March. The fly is very small, 1/10 inch long, so be sure to bury the edges of the fabric.
For more information on allium leafminer, see Time to Prepare for Protecting Allium Crops from Allium Leafminer.
Enjoy your harvest! But be sure to keep the bigger cloves to replant every year. Your garlic will adapt to your soil and climate and be more productive. More information on growing garlic is available in the Penn State Extension article Growing Garlic—Fall Planting.