Growing Garlic in Central NY

Last fall, a friend gave me some seed garlic in a brown paper bag. I thanked her, set them aside, and promptly forgot all about it. While tidying the kitchen in early November, I discovered them on a shelf.

“Hmmmm… I should have planted these a month ago. Well, I guess it’s now or never.”

I trekked outside, chiseled through the semi-frozen soil in my raised bed and managed to work in some organic fertilizer and rabbit manure.

“Boy, this would’ve been so much easier if I planted my garlic before the dirt was frozen!”

I buried the cloves under small chunks of icy soil then topped the bed with a thick layer of mulch. I watered them in and felt so frugal for ensuring my friend’s gift hadn’t gone to waste.

Next spring, my garlic was up even before my daffodils. I felt like such an accomplished gardener. The robust shoots were 12″ high before I’d even started spring planting. There’s nothing like garlic for boosting your garden morale!

Despite planting it a month late, we were blessed with an abundant harvest. This care-free, forgiving crop has earned a permanent place in my garden.

Planted garlic bed after mulching in Fall
They’re alive!!! (Mid-April)

Garlic – A Unique Crop

To me, garlic always seemed like a strange crop. That’s probably why it took me so long to grow it. I’ve grown plants my entire life, but I had a really hard time wrapping my head around garlic’s growing cycle – until I finally realized that they’re bulbs.

You know – like tulips, daffodils, and crocus…

Bulbs get planted in the fall. They overwinter, come up in spring, bloom, and die back in summer.

Bulbs multiply each year. One daffodil turns into a clump of daffodils – one garlic clove turns into a head of garlic. The only difference is that you cut the bloom stalks (scapes) off garlic and harvest the bulbs (heads) instead of leaving them in the ground.

Garlic Varieties

There are 2 basic types of garlic: hardneck & softneck. I’ve only grown hardneck and will be discussing that type in this post. Personally, I feel hardneck garlic is better because you get two crops instead of one – tasty scapes & garlic bulbs!

Hardneck Garlic

  • More winter hardy, does best in colder climates
  • Fewer, but larger cloves per head
  • Easier to peel
  • Tough central stem from producing a scape or flower stalk
  • Usually more flavorful
  • Don’t store as long as softneck garlic
  • Stores for 4-6 months after harvest

Softneck Garlic

  • Not as hardy, better for warmer climates
  • Many cloves in each head – various sizes
  • Harder to peel
  • No flower stalk, so their stems stay flexible
  • Soft stems can be braided
  • Store very well, making them preferred for commercial production
  • Heads can last 9-12 months

Garlic Scapes – A Spring Delicacy

Before growing garlic, I’d never heard of garlic scapes. Since then, I realized I’ve been missing out on a wonderful gourmet delight!

So what are scapes anyway? Scapes are bloom stalks that hardneck garlic plants send up on spring. They have a delicate garlic flavor. You can use them like green onions to add a subtle garlic flavor to dishes. They make amazing pesto, and can also be roasted, pickled, or sautéed.

Cut garlic scapes when they emerge in June
Curly garlic scapes – Yum!

Growing Garlic – Central NY Style!

OK, now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to learn how to grow garlic. NOTE: The times listed below are for central New York (zone 5) or similar climates.

Plant garlic in fertile, well-drained soil in late September or October. Before planting, dig in a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure. If you want nice plump garlic heads, plant the plumpest garlic cloves you can find. Separate heads into cloves. Plant cloves 1″ deep 6-8″ apart (pointy side up). Water in and cover the bed with 4″ of mulch. Lawn clippings, hay, straw, wood chips, compost, or shredded leaves work well.

In spring, add a second layer of mulch when shoots emerge. Pull any weeds that manage to grow through the mulch since they rob nutrients from the bulbs. Cut scapes (bloom stalks) when they appear in June. Harvest garlic in July when the lower leaves just start to turn yellow – too early is better than too late.

These garlic bulbs were harvested July 21st. I should’ve harvested the bulb on the left a week or two earlier since heads start to separate once most of the leaves turn yellow. No worries, I just save the split ones for planting or use them before the smooth bulbs. Firm bulbs store longer.

Dry the garlic plants in a dry, well-ventilated area for 2 weeks. Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sun which may cook the bulbs. A shaded greenhouse, garage, or shed work well. Once curing is complete, trim the dry stalks and roots from bulbs. Rub bulbs with a rag or soft bristle brush to remove dirt and extra wrapping.

Store cured garlic in a dry airy basket, wire bin, or mesh bag. Save some of the plumpest bulbs for seed garlic and enjoy the rest!

Kitties playing in the garlic & oregano bed (May)
Freshly harvested garlic (mid-July)

Where can I get Seed Garlic?

Purchase good-quality seed garlic from a reputable source, not a supermarket. Grocery store garlic is usually treated to prevent sprouting and may carry lethal white rot fungus (Sclerotium cepivorum) which can infect the ground for 20-30 years. Don’t risk introducing this serious problem into your garden.

Each fall we offer garlic kits for those who want to grow their own garlic. Our plump productive strain of hardneck garlic – enough to plant a 2’x2′ or 2’x3′ garden bed. The Basic Garlic Kit contains seed garlic, rabbit manure, organic fertilizer, and planting instructions. Our Deluxe Garlic Kit includes everything in the basic kit plus a 2.8cf bag of our professional potting mix.

Seed garlic can also be purchased from Old Path Farm (Sauquoit, NY) in the fall or other local growers. Old Path Farm grows long-keeping white porcelain garlic.

For those who don’t live in central New York, you can order seed garlic online or get some heads from a friend who grows garlic.

Have you grown garlic before? Share your best tips below!

2 thoughts on “Growing Garlic in Central NY”

  1. Melynda Freetage

    We have grown our garlic for over 10 years. We enjoy it so much! Growing garlic, getting the scapes in the Spring. Eating the best garlic. Everyone should do it, if you can.

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