The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Garlic

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UT Gardens’ October Plant of the Month

Submitted by Lucas Holman, Extension Agent and Director, UT/TSU Extension Wilson County

Since I have started planting garlic, I have had zero vampire encounters in my garden. That’s not hearsay, that’s scientific fact. Garlic is one of those unique crops because you plant it in the fall and harvest it in the early part of summer. It prefers loose, well-drained soil and will not tolerate “wet feet.” If the soil does not drain, root rot can occur and your crop will fail during the winter. Most small growers prefer placing a layer of straw down after the garlic is planted to aid in weed prevention.

There are two main types of garlic – softneck and hardneck. Typically, softneck varieties prefer warmer climates, and hardnecks need colder climates. The main difference is that hardneck varieties form a flowering stalk and softneck varieties do not flower. If you see a beautiful braid of garlic, it is softneck. You cannot braid hardneck garlic because of its hard, flowering stem. It’s a good practice to break off the flowers after the first curl from the hardneck varieties to send all that energy to the bulb.

Tennessee is a great growing environment for both hard- and softneck garlic. If you are looking for softneck cultivars, try ‘Inchelium Red’, or ‘California White’. For those interested in hardneck cultivars, look for ‘Music’, ‘Purple Glazer’, or ‘Chesnok Red’.

When planting garlic, plant individual cloves instead of planting the entire bulb. When you break up each bulb, most bulbs will yield anywhere from seven to 14 cloves. Each clove needs to be spaced 6 inches apart and planted 2 inches deep. When planting use a low nitrogen fertilizer to encourage root growth instead of leaf growth. In the springtime it’s best to use a higher nitrogen fertilizer about the first week of April.

Everyone has their own way to determine when garlic is ready to harvest. I like to harvest my hardnecks when the bottom two to three leaves have completely turned brown. The rest of the leaves are green and still growing. Each green leaf represents a paper shell around the bulb, and you need six to seven shells around the garlic to help with the storage process. Softneck garlic should be harvested when the top bends over at the neck, much like an onion.

Once harvested, garlic heads need to cure in an area with good air flow that is out of direct sunlight. I like to hang mine from the rafters in my barn. A carport also will work. Just make sure the sun does not hit the garlic. Allow two to four weeks for the heads to cure. This curing process will help the bulbs last anywhere from six to seven months.

With the diversity of cultivars of garlic, be sure and experiment with a few different ones and you might just find a new favorite for your garden! For more information please check out Garlic for the Tennessee Vegetable Garden (UT Extension publication D75) found online at Simply enter “garlic” in the search box.

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson, Tennessee. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the UT Gardens are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public.