Planting garlic

I planted some garlic bulbs last fall and was happy with the harvest this summer. Fresh garlic is so good with pasta dishes, and it’ll grow almost anywhere.

Sandra Mason is an extension horticulturist at the University of Illinois. She says most people are familiar with the garlic bulbs at the grocery store. Just as store-bought tomatoes don't have the same ripe flavor as homegrown, garlic from your garden tastes better. And it's fun to experiment with different varieties and distinctive flavors.

"Some of them are hotter, some of them actually have kind of a nuttier flavor to them, and you find that people after they start trying something they end up with their favorites, and I think a lot of chefs actually have their favorites," says Mason.

Mason says most chefs like the hardneck type of garlic.  It produces better flavor and has a stem up through the center called a flower scape. They have less of an outer bulb wrapper, which makes them more sensitive and reduces their shelf life. Softneck varieties have the white papery skin and under the right conditions, can be stored for up to nine months. 

No matter the variety you choose to grow, good soil with lots of compost makes a difference. Plant garlic in a big area, too, so it can spread out as it takes root.

"What you'll do is you'll get the bulb, and then those things have individual cloves, and then you want to break them apart.  And you want to do that right before you plant them," she says. "And then you're going to plant them 3-or-4 inches deep, and then about 4-inches apart in a row, and then probably 3-feet or so between the rows so you want to give them plenty of space."

Don't be surprised to see some green shoots peeking out of the ground yet this fall. Garlic puts down roots and grows a bit before winter. But it needs to sleep over the winter, so be sure to mulch it before the hard freeze sets in.