How to Plant Garlic in Fall

Planting garlic in the fall is a time-honored tradition for many gardeners. In very cold climates, fall-planting garlic solves problems such as beds covered with snow or soil too wet to plant in early spring. In warm winter areas, fall-planted garlic gets the benefit of the cooler temperatures it likes. As always, soil preparation and good management mean better garlic.


Reasons to Plant Garlic in Fall

Garlic can be planted in spring or fall in many climates. Fall-planted garlic grows more slowly, but during the semi-dormant stage of late fall and early winter, it develops strong roots (think daffodils – garlic is a similar but edible flowering bulb). Insect pressure is lessened by the cold weather. You’re likely to harvest bigger bulbs and in many cases they will have better flavor.

Preparing the Soil

Garlic is like a teenager – always hungry. Feed that demand for nutrients with soil amendments such as aged manure, well-rotted leaf mold or organic compost. Work a balanced 10-10-10 organic fertilizer into the soil. If your soil is heavy clay, add sand to promote drainage. Once the garlic is actively growing, fertilize several times with seaweed or fish emulsion.

Managing Nitrogen

If you’ve prepared the soil properly, garlic needs no further fertilizer until it shows above ground and is actively growing. At that point, you want to promote leaf development, so plenty of nitrogen is essential. Too much nitrogen can make the bulbs split into individual cloves, however. Once cloves start to develop, continue to fertilize but back off on nitrogen.

Varieties for Fall Planting

You can plant hardneck or softneck garlic in most areas. Hardneck garlic nearly always does better if fall-planted. Good varieties include:

  • Carpathian – spicy-tasting hardneck from Poland.
  • Siskiyou Purple – softneck that does well in hot climates.
  • Nootka Rose – softneck that stores well.
  • Spanish Roja – full-flavored, red-tinged hardneck.
  • Gregory’s China Rose – softneck; does well in warm winter areas.

How to Plant

Separate garlic into individual cloves – don’t remove the papery outer covering. Plant with pointed end up. Planting depth can vary. In warm areas, plant the cloves one to three inches deep. Some desert gardeners actually plant the cloves directly on top of the soil and cover with a mulch of straw or leaves. In cold climates, you should plant deeper – up to six inches.

Harvesting Fall-Planted Garlic

Fall-planted garlic takes longer than garlic planted in the spring. Add about two months to the published maturity date or simply figure an average of 220-240 days. Hardneck garlic will send up a flower stalk about three to six weeks before the clove is ready. Cut these off to promote bigger cloves. Once about half the leaves of any garlic variety have dried, it’s usually ready for harvest.