Q: I’m interested in growing garlic. I just bought some at the grocery store. Can I use that to start new plants?
A: Although it is tempting, it is not a good idea to use this grocery store garlic as a start to your garlic crop. There are a couple of reasons. Much of the garlic we have in our grocery stores comes from California, making it not hardy enough for northern winters. And many of the commercial garlic producers treat their garlic with a growth inhibitor to diminish the chances of it sprouting after harvest. This inhibitor will influence how well your garlic will grow or even if it will grow.
I suggest getting your garlic bulbs from a garden center or reputable seed vendor. You will note you have a choice between softneck and hardneck varieties. As a rule, hardneck garlic is more cold tolerant. It’s named hardneck because it grows a scape, which becomes very stiff or woody. The softneck varieties are the ones used in braiding garlic. With both types, each bulb will need to be divided into individual cloves. When splitting, you want to make sure you have a piece of the basal plate (the part that holds the bulb together) on the clove. Each of these cloves then can start a new plant.
It is advised by the UMN Extension to plant garlic after the first killing frost. So those gardeners near Lake Superior might do their garlic planting a tad later than those farther from the lake, as we can be in different planting zones. Garlic can be pretty flexible though, as some sources just suggest fall planting. Each clove should be planted with the pointed end up and basal part down. Suggested depth is 2-3 inches, or ~2 ½ times their size deep and 6 inches apart. Double rows are also recommended. You do need to mulch with 3-4 inches of covering such as straw.
Garlic is ready to harvest in later July. Garlic is a fun, easy useful crop. Not only are the cloves used in cooking, you can use the hardneck scapes for making pesto. Health benefits are also proclaimed. And don’t forget the warding off of vampires! For more information, see extension.umn.edu/vegetables/growing-garlic#growing-garlic-from-cloves.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.