When it comes to foods that pack a punch, it’s hard to compete with garlic. Not only does this delicious root add so much flavor and dimension to some of our favorite meals, but it has impressive superfood health benefits too.
While growing garlic is an exercise in patience, it doesn’t really take much effort or skill at all. Here in Iowa, you can plan ahead and plant your garlic crop now in the fall. That way, you can do a large part of the waiting over the winter when your garden is frozen anyways.
Growing Garlic at Home
The key ingredient to planting garlic is patience, but it’s a very straightforward and simple process. In the end, you’ll be rewarded with cloves that simply taste better than anything you could buy from the store. You’ll save a little bit of money, but most importantly, your dinner table will appreciate the step-up. The intensity, aroma, and nuance in your garlic flavor will make a world of difference for all your favorite savory dishes.
Fall Garlic Planting Guide
Plant garlic in the fall so that it has the cold season to lay dormant and then start growing as soon as the weather and soil warm up again. Any time before the first frost while the soil is still workable is possible, but the best time is in early October. This gives them a chance to develop a root system to help them endure the winter. Earlier in the fall might trick your garlic into growing too soon, and too late might shock it with cool temperatures too soon, meaning that your patience will be wasted on a failed crop.
Start by choosing the largest bulbs, focusing on those that have the fattest cloves that you can find at our garden center in Iowa. Size matters, so be picky with your bulbs! Avoid any bulbs with visible deformities, mold, or fungus, or any that feel squishy to the touch. If you’re going to invest the time in your garlic harvest, you want to be sure to pick a winner to start with.
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How to Plant and Grow Garlic
Start by breaking your garlic bulb into cloves. Resist the temptation to peel them like you would while making a delectable pasta sauce—each of the cloves will grow into its own bulb with some time, but it needs the protection of its papery covering to do so.
Choose a part of your garden for your garlic that has well-draining soil, verging on sandy, to help prevent any lingering moisture around the sensitive garlic bulbs. Full sun is ideal. Ensure that your chosen area is free of weeds and mark it out so that you don’t forget where you planted your bulbs once fall comes to an end, the snow arrives, and then thaws again. Your garlic plants will hate competing with others and need to be grown alone, so leaving their area alone is important.
Plant the garlic cloves 6-8” apart and sprinkle some bone meal in each hole as you plant. Dig deep enough that the tops of your garlic cloves are about 2” below the surface of your garden.
Mulching the site will not only keep your garden looking pristine, but it will help to insulate your bulbs and save them from any cold temperature shocks over the winter. If you’re dreaming of delicious garlicky recipes already, investing in mulch will make sure that your wait is rewarded with a tasty garlic harvest.
After planting, the waiting game begins! We recommend that you spend your winter digging up all of your favorite recipes to use with your summer garlic harvest. The garlic will do a great job of taking care of itself if you set it up properly, you just need to find a way to wait until they’re ready. Keep an eye out in the summer for the bottom leaves dying to show you that the wait is finally over and you can harvest and enjoy your garden treats. If you’d like some help getting started with planting garlic this fall, visit Ted Lare in Des Moines, Iowa, and our experts will be happy to help!