Ask a Master Gardener: There’s still time to plant garlic

What beautiful weather we are having, and it looks like it is going to continue for at least another week or so. But beware, the average killer frost date for Mid-Missouri is Oct. 15. Anyway, this weather is great for getting the garden ready for winter. Of course, there is at least one crop left to plant: garlic. October is the month to plant fall garlic in Mid-Missouri, and luckily, it can be planted all the way up until the first part of November. So you still have time to get your cloves. Hopefully it will stay dry enough to plant it.

I think I might have wrote about planting garlic before, but several people inquired about it so this is a refresher course for those wanting to plant garlic again. If you are not one of those, maybe this will inspire you plant some this year.

With garlic's increasingly popularity, everyone should consider having at least a few plants in the garden. It is easy to grow and is great for flavoring up your favorite recipe. As with most things, nothing beats home-grown.

Garlic is not planted as seeds but as individual cloves. By planting these cloves in the fall, it allows the cloves to go through a cold, dormant period that enhances its ability to produce a larger head in the spring.

Once again, it is a good idea to locate the garlic in an area that will be out of the way and will not be disturbed with the spring garden work. You can plant the garlic in the same area you planted the "over wintering" spinach if you are doing that.

Sometimes, the soil in a fall garden can be a little depleted after a summer of growing. So when preparing the soil for planting, apply 3-4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet (or follow soil test recommendations). Also, it is a good idea to spread 2-3 inches of organic matter such as chopped leaves, dry grass clippings or compost over the soil surface and work it in with a spading fork or rototiller. Garlic grows best in well-drained soil. If your soil is high in clay (think Mid-Missouri), adding organic matter will help break up clay particles for better drainage.

Garlic varieties are classified into two main categories: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk while soft neck varieties do not. Climate can have a significant impact on garlic flower stalk formation as well as garlic taste. Try a few different varieties and/or talk to others who have grown garlic in your area and select those that do well and have a flavor you like.

The garlic you buy in the grocery store will sometimes be treated to prevent sprouting; of course, this will not work in the garden. If you can find organic in the store, it will not be treated. Otherwise, you should get it from a seed supplier just to be safe. One year, I bought organic garlic at a local grocery store and it did great in the garden. This year, I have some I grew last year and saved just for planting this year. I will see how that grows.

Open the head of garlic, if you are not planting all the cloves, select the biggest ones for planting. Dividing the bulbs more than a few days before planting may result in decreased yields. Plant the cloves about 5 inches apart and about 3 inches deep. Water thoroughly to stimulate growth if the ground is dry.

Next, cover the row with a layer of straw or other light mulch to extend warm soil temperatures. The mulch will allow root growth to occur before the ground freezes and inhibit weeds during the fall and spring. It also protects the shoots when they emerge in the spring. Mark the area when planting so you know exactly where to expect the new garlic shoots to come up.

You can harvest the fall planted garlic late June to mid-July. The plant will start turning brown.

Watch for this. And reduce or stop watering. Once the plant is brown, that is the time to dig up the bulbs and start enjoying.

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected].