Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Growing Garlic in North-Central Montana

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

As August continues to slip away many home gardeners are harvesting the fruits of their labors and probably looking forward to the time when they can wrap up the gardening for the year.  If you love garlic like me and my family, you might want to rethink those dreams of being done for the season. 
There are a number of spring flowers and other plants that need to be planted in the fall for their success next spring.  There has been much discussion about the right time to plant garlic.  Traditionally, garlic is planted in very early spring and harvested at the end of summer.  This schedule works for growing seasons such as those in some areas of eastern Montana.  However, parts of the state such as ours really have no spring, going almost directly from cold weather to hot.  Due to the physiology of bulb formation this condition leads to disappointing yields.

Many gardeners have better luck planting garlic between mid-September and mid-October.  The plants develop a strong root system, overwinter, and are harvested the following summer.  If you decide on fall planting, be sure to mulch your plants with about six inches of straw to protect them from winter heaving and desiccation.  Omit the mulch if you can count on a snow cover for most of the winter.  The plants will grow beneath the snow and may be two inches tall as the snow melts.  If you plant early enough in the fall so that the plants send up several inches of leaf growth, be sure to protect them from deer which will sometimes eat the leaves down to the ground.
Each bulb is made up of several cloves held together by a thin membrane.  Separate the cloves just before planting and plant only the larger outer ones.  Plant small cloves and you’ll get small bulbs.  Garlic does best on rich, fertile, well-drained soil high in organic matter and with a slightly acid pH.  Turn under about five pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer or equivalent per 100 square feet before planting.  Work some compost or other rotted organic material into the soil at this time.

Set the cloves into the soil right-side up about two inches deep and four to six inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart.  Five feet of row will satisfy the average person for one year.  You’ll need about one pound of cloves to plant 20 feet of row.  Garlic does best when planted in a sunny location but will tolerate partial shade.

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