By Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension
Many people who want to grow garlic forget that garlic needs to be planted in the fall. The reason for this is that garlic requires a long growing season and needs to overwinter. By planting in the fall before the soil freezes, this gives the garlic the right amount of time to reach maturity by the end of June.
Garlic is in the Allium family which includes onions, shallots, and leeks. The entire garlic is called a bulb while they actual pieces of garlic are the cloves. The cloves are what you will find as seed garlic in the stores. As the clove grows during the season, it will fully develop into the garlic bulb.
There are a wide range of garlic varieties out there. Some varieties are better for Italian or Asian cooking. Some varieties may have a greater heat level to them. When deciding on a garlic variety, you want to choose a hardneck type. Hardneck types grow best in our climate while Softneck garlic grows better in warmer climates. Recommended varieties for our area include Music, Carpathian, Spanish Roja, among others. If you know vegetable growers in your area, talk with them about the varieties that they grow. They may be able to sell you garlic to grow.
Sometimes backyard growers will use garlic from the grocery store to plant. This is not recommended as most of the time this garlic is the softneck type and will not grow as well as if it was a hardneck variety. You also do not know what the variety is.
When planting garlic, plant each clove double its height. The garlic clove should be planted as it appears in the garlic bulb with the bigger part facing downward. Space garlic cloves 3-6 inches apart. Garlic needs to be mulched with about 6 inches of heavy straw or leaves. This will protect the garlic as the colder temperatures and snow set in. In the spring, you do not need to remove the mulch as the green tips of the garlic will grow past the mulch.
With these garlic growing tips in mind, you are now in the right time frame to plant garlic until the soil freezes.