Although garlic is a perennial, it needs annual division and replanting to produce the bulbs that are common on the market. Several types are available, both with and without topsets. Elephant garlic is not really a garlic at all, but a type of leek that forms a pungent bulb that tastes like and resembles the garlic bulb.
Garlic may be grown successfully throughout the temperate United States in home gardens. It is started by planting small cloves that are divisions of the large bulb. Each bulb may contain a dozen or more cloves, depending on variety; each clove is planted separately. The larger the clove, the larger the size of the mature bulb at harvest. Do not divide the bulb until you are ready to plant—early separation of the cloves results in decreased yields. Select “seed bulbs” that are large, smooth, fresh, and free of disease. Garlic grows best on friable loam soils that are fertile and high in organic matter. Gardeners that grow good onion crops can grow good garlic.
Garlic does well at high fertility levels. Apply 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. The bulb is small if the soil is excessively dry, and it is irregular in shape if the soil becomes compacted.
Throughout all but the hottest and coldest areas of the country, fall planting is preferable. Dry bulbs are normally divided into cloves and planted in the fall. Plants root and begin to sprout before cold weather. Planting should be late enough to allow roots to develop well and top growth to begin before the soil freezes. In most areas, this planting date is sometime in October.
In the first thaw of spring, the plants are off and growing luxuriantly. If planting must be delayed until spring, garlic should be planted very early (March or April) to permit full development. Fall preparation of the soil is desirable so that the soil can be fertilized and planted with minimal tillage when-ever it first can be worked. Plant the cloves 3" — 5" apart in an upright position (with points up) to assure a straight neck, and cover them to a depth of 1" — 2". Allow 18" — 30" between rows, or plant 5" — 8" apart in all directions on raised beds.
Bulbing occurs in June, and bulbs can be dug when the tops start to yellow, usually in July. Tops normally cannot be allowed to dry completely in the field because the unpredictable moisture in the soil may begin to rot the delicate papery wrapper scales. Do not wait until all leaves have browned, but harvest when about five green leaves remain. This assures good wrappers on the dried bulbs. Place the bulbs on trays with screens or slatted bottoms, and remove the tops when dry. Bulbs can be braided or bunched with twine and hung in a dry, dark, airy place to complete drying.
The mature bulbs are best stored under cool, dry conditions. They then usually keep for months.
An interesting recent development is the culture of garlic in the form of scallions. Topsets or small cloves are planted fairly thickly in a row and the green plants dug, cleaned, and bunched like green onions.
Garlic is a member of the onion family that is commonly sold as a vegetable, though its use is more like an herb. Its health benefits are becoming so well known that it might as well be considered here as an herb. Garlic is used both cooked and raw in a wide variety of dishes. When grown as scallions the whole plant, tops and all, is chopped into dishes for flavor.