Growing Garlic

One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is planting their garlic too early! In our climate, garlic will grow best when planted in the fall, before the ground freezes, but not so early that the garlic actually sprouts before the first frost. The goal is to have the garlic clove produce roots and prepare for winter dormancy – not grow a shoot that will die back from cold exposure within a few weeks.

Generally, garlic cloves in Chicagoland should be planted around Halloween. In some years, the ground doesn’t freeze until well after Thanksgiving, giving procrastinators extra time to get the garlic in. In some years, we’re still experiencing days in the high 70’s through mid-October, making early sprouting more likely. If you forgot to plant garlic in the fall, garlic can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground thaws. This is usually around the end of March or early April. Planting later could result in the garlic not developing as large of a bulb, or just a single bulb instead of one with divided cloves.

Garlic cloves should be planted from “seed garlic” – disease-free cloves from a reputable nursery, seed supply company, or local farm. Garlic planted from the grocery may or may not sprout, depending on several factors. Plus, there’s a world of different garlic varieties out there!

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Several varieties of local seed garlic, from Willow Garlic Growers.

Join us for our garlic class this Saturday (October 22) for more information on selecting garlic varieties, which garlic will produce a scape and which garlic is better for braiding, and of course – planting garlic. Each participant receives one head of seed garlic after the class.