How to Care for Garlic
Removing the garlic scapes in the springtime forces the plant to direct all of its energy into the bulb
Welcome to Homegrown/Homemade, a video series from FineGardening.com. We’ll be following a gardener (Fine Gardening executive editor Danielle Sherry) and a cook (Sarah Breckenridge) as they plant, maintain, harvest, store, and prepare garden vegetables. If you’re new to vegetable gardening, you’ll find these videos very helpful. In this video, the topic is garlic.
Episode 2: How to Care for Garlic
Learn how to care for garlic with this step-by-step guide.
1. You can pick some garlic scapes in the springtime without fear of hurting the bulbs underground. Contrary to what you might think, you actually should remove all of the garlic scapes in the springtime. This forces the garlic plant to direct all of its energy into the bulb of the plant. This helps the bulb get bigger and have better storage quality.
2. Understand what garlic scapes are. Garlic scapes are a long, hard green stem that shoots up from the center of your garlic plant, forming a curled shape above the ground. They are a false seed head and show up late in Spring.
3. Remove the garlic scapes. Follow the hard stem down as far as you can into the center of the garlic foliage. Snap/pinch off the hard stem. If the stem is too hard to snap off with your fingers, you can cut it with a pair of garden shears. Be sure to pick the garlic scapes before they uncoil, otherwise, they will be too woody to use in cooking.
4. Don’t worry about yellow leaves. Yellow leaves might scare you into thinking your garlic plant is unhealthy. However, that is not the case. It is normal for garlic plant leaves to turn a bit yellow as the Spring season progresses. When it looks like about 40% of the plant is looking yellow and seems to be dying, that is when it’s time to harvest your garlic.
5. Use your garlic scapes to add flavor to your favorite dishes!
Garlic isn’t hard to grow. In fact, growing garlic plants is almost ridiculously easy. It has a few important requirements that are easily met: decent soil, adequate moisture, and, of course, planting and harvesting at the right time.
When is the right time for planting garlic? Plant garlic four to six weeks before the ground freezes in your area. You can fudge the planting time a little. I have planted as early as September (by mistake) and as late as Thanksgiving (to experiment) and have had decent crops. Roots will start to grow soon after you plant. Your aim is to get good root development before the plants go dormant. Green shoots may appear in the fall, which is fine.
If you’re concerned that your garlic plants look all but dead, don’t fret. You can start harvesting garlic when about 40% of it has died back and is looking terrible. Even if you’re a bit past 40%, there is still a good chance you can harvest a healthy crop.
The harvesting process is just as easy as growing this plant—you just pull them up. But there is a little more to it because you then have to cure the bulbs. Lay the bulbs out or hang them in small bunches, and allow them to air dry in a cool, dry spot for at least a month. As soon as the tops are completely brown and dried up, you can cut them off, leaving about an inch behind.