Garlic is a must for many cooks, and the great news is that here in Michigan, it’s actually very easy to grow garlic. It can be tucked just about anywhere in the garden, and, when you grow it yourself, you really get two crops in one. You get the bulbs, which is what most people think of when growing garlic, but you also get the scapes (which are the flower stems) which you can harvest in late spring to early summer. The scapes provide a delicate garlic flavor, and are great in many dishes that would benefit from a bit of garlicky goodness. Let’s take a look at how to grow perfect garlic here in Michigan.
Garlic Types: Hardneck or Softneck?
There are two general types of garlic to choose from: hardneck and softneck. Michigan gardeners will have better success with hardneck varieties.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon)
Hardneck garlic varieties are generally hardier than softneck varieties, making them the best option for Michigan gardeners. They are also the best option if you want to enjoy garlic scapes, because hardnecks are the only type that send up a storng central stem, or scape, in spring. Hardneck varieties tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but the individual cloves tend to be bigger.
Within the hardneck family, there are nine sub-types of garlics: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain. The Purple Stripe and Rocambole types are the hardiest, best for gardeners in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and other parts of the state with very long, cold winters. Gardeners who live in warmer zones, such as those in southern lower Michgan, can easily grow all of the hardneck types.
How and When to Plant Garlic in Michigan
Here in Michigan, you’ll want to plant your garden in October and November — before the ground freezes hard, but after we start getting cooler temperatures. This will allow the bulbs to start forming roots before we get a deep freeze.
Garlic needs a site in full sun to grow well. To plant garlic, dig holes or furrows six inches apart and three inches deep in loose, well-drained soil. Place individual cloves (separate them – don’t plant entire bulbs of garlic) in the holes, pointy end up, and cover with soil. Water them in. If you have squirrels or other animals that try digging them up, consider covering the area with chicken wire or wire mesh — the foliage and scapes can still grow through it, but it will deter wildlife from digging them up.
Spread a six-inch deep layer of organic mulch, such as fall leaves or straw, over the planting area. Within six to eight weeks, shoots might emerge if the weather is warm enough. This is fine — the plant will stop growing once the soil gets cold, and growth will start up again in the spring.
Companion Planting: What to Plant Near Garlic
Garlic is one of those crops that you can plant throughout your garden to help naturally deter pests. It actually accumulates sulfur, which is a naturally-occurring fungicide that will help protect your plants from diseases. Garlic also helps repel insects such as aphids.
Best Companion Plants for Garlic
Garlic helps the plants listed below grow better. Because garlic isn’t overly picky about where it is planted (as long as it is in full sun), it’s easy to tuck it into the garden wherever you have a spare spot. Plant garlic near: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots, and kohlrabi.
Avoid planting garlic near beans and peas, since it may stunt the growth of both plants.
Garlic Pests and Problems
Garlic really isn’t bothered by many pests or disease issues. Rot can sometimes be a problem; guard against this by providing your garlic with good, well-draining soil. The most common pest is squirrels and other animals, which may dig up the bulbs. Deter them with chicken wire, as mentioned above in the “planting” section.
Another common concern gardeners have is that sometimes the garlic will send up green growth in the fall after planting, when we don’t expect to see any foliage until spring. This is nothing to worry about; growth will halt once the weather cools, and the bulb will send up new green growth in the spring.
Growing and Harvesting Garlic
Once you have your garlic planted, there really isn’t much to do. In spring, give the bed a topdressing of compost and/or bloodmeal, then do this again once you see the scapes. Harvest the scapes when they just begin to curl. When the foliage has turned yellow and dead looking, it’s time to harvest your garlic. Dig it up, and let it cure in a dry place for several days.