Growing Garlic in the PNW

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Growing Garlic in the PNW

If you are thinking about planting garlic this year, now is a good time to set yourself up for success.

We don't plant till early November, but now is a good time to get your seed stock and prepare your planting site. If you plant your garlic too early in the warm weather of October your garlic can send up shoots quickly and will be knocked back a bit by a hard frost. Garlic is a hardy plant and will continue to grow and produce, but this may cause it to lose energy and produce smaller bulbs.

Choosing good seed stock is important if you would like to harvest big bulbs in the summer. Though there are many factors, the larger and bulbs and cloves, the more likely you will grow large bulbs. If this is not a concern you can buy smaller bulbs from the farmers market. For the best results buying large garlic bulbs sold for seed is recommended. Soft neck types are easier to grow than hard neck types.

When planting garlic choosing a good site is important. Full sun will produce the largest garlic and morning light will help the soil warm up more quickly in the early spring. Garlic is susceptible to fungal disease so choosing a spot that drains well will help keep your garlic. If your planting site has heavy or clay soil, amending with the best compost you can find will help. Remember that the garlic takes a long time to mature (it will be ready the following July!) and that you will need to water it in the spring as the weather gets more dry to get large bulbs.

If you are growing a lot of garlic it is a good idea to get a soil test to learn how your soil needs to be amended. For the home gardener, two things to remember are that calcium is usually in short supply in the PNW, unless it is added due to the rain washing it away, and that your garlic will likely grow bigger with some added nitrogen. The lack of calcium also means the soil could be more acidic than is ideal. Adding some agricultural lime or dolomite is a good bet, but it should be added sparingly because it is possible to overdo it and make soil ph alkaline. Adding some long term nitrogen like feather meal (or soy meal), compost or worm castings will help as the plants begin to grow in the spring.

If you are growing garlic for the first time, remember that getting big bulbs can be difficult depending on your site, so try to enjoy the growing experience without expecting too much from you plants the first time.