I love garlic. But failed completely the first time I tried to plant garlic.
After attending a garlic festival sponsored by the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, I stopped at a local nursery, bought garlic bulbs, and without much knowledge at hand, went home and planted my garlic. I was so disappointed the following August when very few of the plants came up and the bulbs themselves were puny.
The next year I had a bumper crop of nice-sized garlic. I was delighted. After all, garlic is not only a healthy addition to any diet, but a key ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes.
Here are three top mistakes to avoid when planting your garlic.
1. Neglecting your soil
Garlic loves loose, loamy soils that are rich in nitrogen. Here's my first mistake, I have clay soil that compacts and restricts root development and bulb growth. Be sure to add compost or manure along with a rich topsoil to prepare your garden bed. Because my soil is clay, I also add some sand to discourage soil compaction during the growing season.
Also, if you intend on planting garlic every year, be sure to rotate your crop. The garlic will soon deplete the nitrogen. During the growing season, use a 10-10-10 fertilizer to help keep your garlic well nourished and growing to it's full potential. Be sure your soil is well drained. If amending your soil is more work than you want to tackle, you can plant your garlic in containers and grow them indoors.
2. Being stingy with your water
Water your garlic frequently, especially after you first plant them. Don't over water, but keep the soil moist. If you live in an arid climate, you will find a good layer of mulch will help retain moisture and protect the bulbs from any severe cold snaps. I use between 4 - 6 inches of mulch depending on the plant's location in my garden.
You will either plant your bulbs in fall (September 15th - October 15), or wait until spring. I always recommend planting in the fall, but you have to be vigilant about monitoring the moisture. If you have not had much snow or rainfall, you will need to do winter watering to ensure the plants get the moisture they need to form a good root system.
You can reduce watering when the weather begins to warm and new sprouts emerge, but you must ensure they do not dry out. Watering is particularly crucial when growing the garlic in containers. It is important to check the soil moisture regularly.
3. Plant garlic in the shade
Garlic loves the sun. The first year I planted garlic, I planted them too close to a large tree. They only got about 4 hours of full sun each day, which produced smaller and slightly deformed garlic. The optimum is 6 - 8 hours of full sun.
As garlic is a southern European native, they love nice sunny locations. Because of my arid location, with frequent water restrictions, I pull the mulch away from the sprout to form a 4 - 6" circle, but leave the mulch on the ground to help keep the root system moist during the heat of the day. In more humid locations you may not find this necessary. Your sun-loving garlic will produce larger and better-formed bulbs to show its appreciation of the sunshine.
Plant each clove in your row approximately 6" apart, and space the rows about a foot apart. Overcrowding your garlic plants can also result in smaller and even deformed bulbs.