The Best Ways to Propagate Garlic with Professional Growing Guide
Garlic is a staple ingredient in many homes and is known for its pungent taste and smell that adds a strong flavor to any dish. While pasta may be one of the most common uses for garlic, it can also be used with meat, soups, sauces, dressings, or just eaten by itself as a vegetable. Garlic also has many nutritional benefits and even some medicinal uses, making it a versatile plant to grow in your home garden.
Here are some tips on how to propagate and grow garlic in your own backyard garden.
How to Propagate Garlic
In terms of gardening, propagating is the process of creating new plants. While most plants can only be propagated with the use of seeds, some plants have other options as well.
When it comes to propagating garlic, there are two primary methods for getting started—you can plant either a garlic clove or a bulbil which is a small teardrop-shaped growth you can find on your garlic plant.
Both methods have their own set of benefits and disadvantages, but they will yield the same results when it comes time to harvest. You may want to bookmark this list of perennial vegetables and herbs to add to your garden alongside garlic this year. Great choices that grow year after year!
The most popular method of propagating garlic is to plant a clove of garlic. Clove is one of the many segments that form together to create a whole garlic bulb. When choosing a garlic clove to plant, it is best to purchase a clove from a local nursery or a reliable online source—unless you have cloves from garlic you have already grown, which is even better. Just make sure not to use garlic purchased from the grocery store as these varieties are often not suitable to grow in our climate and have been treated to be shelf-stable.
If you purchase or have a whole garlic bulb, separate the cloves a few days before you plan on planting, making sure to leave the husk on. You will want to choose the largest cloves as these will produce the healthiest bulbs.
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Garlic does not take up much space in the garden. The cloves can be planted two to four inches apart and approximately two inches under the soil. When planting cloves, make sure to keep the pointed end facing up towards the surface of the soil with the wide end facing down—this is the end where the roots will form. If you plan on growing a large amount of garlic, you will want to plant in rows keeping each row 10 to 14 inches apart.
Another way to propagate garlic is by harvesting—or purchasing—a bulbil from a garlic plant. The bulbil forms on the scape—which looks similar to a flower stem—and is a small, teardrop-shaped bulb that will grow into a clone of the plant it came from. This method is not as commonly used to propagate garlic because it requires extra steps and takes longer if you are hoping to harvest the bulbil from your own garlic plant.
To get bulbils to grow on your garlic plant, you will need to leave the scape intact. Many gardeners remove the scape when it forms because this allows more of the plant’s energy to go towards growing the garlic bulb, resulting in more garlic. The bulbils will be ready to pick at the same time your garlic will be ready to harvest.
The first time you plant your bulbil, you will end up with a small garlic-looking bulb, but you won’t be able to divide it into segments like you would a traditional garlic clove. This small bulb can be eaten, or it can be replanted to grow into a full-sized traditional garlic clove during the second season.
Bulbils and the small bulbs they create after the first growing season can both be planted the same way you would plant a garlic clove. There are some advantages to propagating garlic via bulbils as opposed to cloves. One of the primary reasons to plant bulbils is that they don’t carry soil-borne diseases or pests—cloves do have the potential to contaminate a garden with these plant ailments.
Another reason to plant bulbils is that the garlic grown will be identical to the mother plant, so if you have a really good garlic variety or a family plant, you can continue to grow the same great garlic year after year. The cloves that come from a bulbil-grown garlic bulb will also continue to produce the same garlic.
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Does Garlic Seed?
While a majority of plants produce seeds that can be used for propagating, the garlic plant does not—at least, not in the traditional sense. When we think of seeds, we generally think of small black pods roughly the size of a grain of rice that comes from flower heads. The reason why we don’t get seeds from garlic is that the garlic plant doesn’t produce a true flower.
The scape—mentioned earlier—is, by definition, a false flower stalk, resulting in a lack of seeds.
While the bulbils are not true seeds, they are what the garlic plant grows in place of seeds. As discussed previously, the bulbil grows into a clone of the plant, similar to how an heirloom or an asexually reproducing plant would develop. Bulbils are smaller than cloves and come closer to resembling seeds—more so than cloves do, at least.
Growing garlic is a task that any level gardener can tackle—even the inexperienced ones. While the most common propagation method is done with the use of cloves, bulbils can also be used and the same growing guidelines can be followed for either option.
You may also want to take a look at this list of healing herbs for your garden. They grow wonderfully alongside your garlic!
Garlic does best in well-draining soil that is fairly fertile and nutrient-rich. Raised beds and containers work well because nutrient-rich soil can be easily added and these growing locations generally drain water well. Regardless of where you decide to plant, adding in compost or manure can help give your garlic plants the extra nutrients they need.
When planting garlic, it is important to avoid planting in areas where another garlic, onions, or any member of the allium family has been grown the prior growing season. It is best to avoid these areas because these plants are notorious for sucking nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium out of the soil, leaving minimal amounts for the next batch of crops. Consider planting a rotation crop—such as beans—to help replenish nutrients.
The best places to plant garlic are in full-sun locations. It is important for your garlic to receive between six to eight hours of sunlight each day for maximum yield. If you plant your garlic in a partially shaded area, your bulbs may not grow to be full-sized.
When growing in a container, you can choose to move your plant around as needed to receive the necessary sunlight. If kept inside, a southern-facing window sill is a good option for maximum sun exposure.
For the most part, your garlic plants—if planted outside—should receive enough water from natural rainfall; however, some watering may be needed in the warm summer months. Your garlic plants will need water every three to five days between May and mid-June; this can either be from rainfall or your garden hose depending on how much rainfall you are receiving.
Around mid-June, you can start slowing down on watering efforts, as it becomes less important in this part of the growing season.
Hint: If watering is a frustration, check out these DIY irrigation systems that make it a self-watering garden!
Fertilizing can be very beneficial to your garlic plants, as they require a lot of nutrients to grow. Some common fertilizers for garlic include blood meal, chicken manure, and 10-10-10 fertilizers that can be purchased from the store. Adding compost to your garlic plants can also help to add the necessary nutrients for growth and maximum yield.
There are two important times to consider fertilizing your garlic plants. The first is in early spring—nitrogen-heavy fertilizers are most important at this time. It is a good idea to fertilize again in early May when most plants start growing their bulbs. Fertilizing at this point will give your garlic an extra boost to grow to its maximum potential size.
Check out these organic garden fertilizer recipes to add a natural element to your garden this year!
Pruning is an important step in the process of growing garlic—unless you are growing to harvest the bulbil, in which case the above-ground growth should be left alone. When growing with the intent to harvest garlic bulbs, it is a good idea to remove any extra growth as it will take energy away from the growth of the garlic bulb itself.
The sections of the plant you are removing are commonly referred to as flower stems; however, they are technically false flower stems called scapes. Garlic plants do not have flower stems because they do not have true flowers.
Harvesting and Storing Garlic
For most gardeners, harvesting garlic will take place sometime in July. It may be time to harvest your garlic crops when the lower leaves of the plant begin to yellow—this will happen regardless of how healthy your plant is. Some gardeners will test dig a few of their garlic plants to help judge the best time to harvest the remaining plants. The trick is leaving the plants long enough that the garlic bulbs grow to their maximum size while making sure they don’t stay underground long enough that the cloves start to separate.
When it comes time to harvest your garlic plants, the best practice is to lightly dig the bulbs out with a gardening tool such as a spade, small shovel, or even a spoon. It is important not to try and pull the plants out of the ground, as this can harm the bulb or you may lose the bulb in the soil. Once removed from the ground, lightly brush off loose soil and lay the bulbs in a dry and shady spot for approximately two weeks to let them cure. Many gardeners will hang their garlic on strings to provide air circulation for faster curing times.
When the husk surrounding the bulb is dry and papery, the bulbs are ready to be used or stored. Many gardeners will remove the first one or two layers of husk because there will generally be some dirt left behind; however, make sure to leave the remaining layers intact for storage. If kept in a cool and dry location, bulbs will stay good for several months. Never store garlic in a refrigerator, basement, or any location that will introduce moisture to the crop as this will cause the garlic to go bad in a much shorter time frame.
Common Disease and Pest Problems for Garlic
Garlic plants are generally very hardy and aren’t generally affected heavily by disease or pests. There are, however, a couple of ailments to be on the lookout for that can cause harm to your garlic plants and affect their health and crop yield.
While not many diseases will affect your garlic plants, white rot is one you are more likely to have to worry about when it comes to causing harm to your plants. White rot is a fungal disease that is more common in cool weather, so monitor particularly well if temperatures start to drop to lower than average temperatures for the growing season.
While there is no cure for white rot once an infection has occurred, there are measures to take that will protect your future garlic crop. An infected plant should be destroyed away from other plants so the disease does not spread. In addition, the soil where infected plants grew should not be used again the following season. It is best to turn this soil a few times and wait for one to two growing cycles before planting there again to ensure that the disease is gone.
Just as there aren’t many diseases that will harm your garlic plants, there are not many pests either. The most common pests to find in your garlic plants are nematodes. These pests thrive on any member of the allium family group, including onions. Nematodes are spread through the soil, so infected soil will need to be treated once infected. These pests can be brought by animals grazing through your garden, and they can also be introduced from dirt on your shoes.
The best way to keep your garlic safe from nematodes is to apply preventative measures such as testing the soil prior to planting and avoiding bringing in outside dirt when possible. An infected garlic bulb can sometimes be cleaned using hot water to get rid of nematodes if only a few are present. If the bulb is too damaged, however, there is no option but to get rid of it and save the bulbs you can while working towards prevention for future growing seasons.
Garlic is a member of the allium family which is the same family in which onions and scallops are categorized. Growing garlic is easier than many people might think, and you don’t need a large garden space to do it either. When compared to many other crops, garlic is one of the easiest plants to start, grow, and nurture.