When it comes to growing your own garlic (Allium sativum), proper timing means the difference between a harvest of healthy, densely flavored bulbs and anemic, tasteless ones. Although garlic is suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, it produces the most flavorful bulbs when grown in cool soil. In a Mediterranean climate, planting between late October and early November gives the cloves adequate time to form bulbs. If fall frosts are possible in your area, wait until after the first one to plant. The earlier you get cloves the ground, the larger your harvested bulbs will be.
Sun and Soil
Even in winter, garlic needs at least six hours of daily sun. It grows best in loose, organically rich well-drained loam. If necessary, improve the planting bed's lack of drainage or fertility with plant-based compost or well-aged manure before planting. Loosen its top 6 to 8 inches with a spade or tiller and work in 2 to 3 inches of compost or 1 inch of manure. The Cornell University Department of Horticulture estimates that 30 pounds of compost covers 10 square feet of soil to a 1-inch depth. Space the rows of garlic 1 foot apart, with 3 to 5 inches between the individual cloves.
Mulch and Water
Mulching newly planted garlic with a 2-inch layer of straw lures soil-aerating earthworms to the garden bed and discourages weeds. Don't water until the garlic's new, green shoots appear. After that, a weekly total of 1 inch of rain or supplemental water is enough until the foliage begins yellowing in early summer. That equates to 6 gallons of water per 10 square feet of soil. The goal is to keep the soil consistently moist. After the leaves yellow and until you harvest the bulbs, let the soil dry out between watering sessions.
When garlic's shoots are 6 to 8 inches high, side dress the bed with granulated, high-nitrogen 21-0-0 fertilizer. Rake the mulch aside and dig 1- to 2-inch-deep furrows between the rows with the edge of a hoe. Keep them 6 inches from the plant. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tablespoons, or the label's specified amount, of fertilizer evenly over each 10 square feet of furrow and cover it with soil. Water the furrows immediately and reapply the mulch.
Pests rarely affect garlic, and planting certified disease-free cloves from a reputable nursery dramatically reduces the likelihood of disease. Weeds may become troublesome because garlic foliage doesn't provide enough shade to keep them from germinating. Pulling or digging the weeds up as soon as they sprout stops them from stealing the garlic's moisture and nutrients without exposing it to chemical herbicides. Replacing the straw mulch as it decomposes also helps.
About Those Curling Stalks
In late spring, hardneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) send up thick flower stalks that eventually curl around themselves. Cut them for use in salads because leaving them on the plants channels energy away from bulb development.