Learn how to care for garlic, make your harvest
If you planted garlic in your garden last fall and have pretty much ignored the plants for the last several months, it’s time to start paying attention to them again.
Garlic is a fairly trouble-free crop that’s easy to grow, but it does require proper care. Early summer means it’s time to give your garlic patch a good weeding, if necessary. It’s also time to watch for the production of scapes. Scapes are long flowering stems that grow from the center of hardneck garlic varieties. Softneck garlics do not form a scape.
Remove the scapes
Scapes need to be removed from the plants soon after they form. When the scapes begin to twist into a curlicue shape, the time is right to remove them. Leaving the scapes intact takes energy away from the bulb. Eventually, the scapes develop tiny bulbils at their top. The production of bulbils saps energy from the plant and leads to smaller garlic bulbs at harvest time.
To remove the scapes, use your thumb and forefinger to snap them off the plants where they emerge from the top leaf of the garlic plant. You can also use a sharp pair of scissors for this job.
Garlic scapes are edible and can be quite delicious, with a mild garlic flavor. Turn them into pesto, toss them on the grill or roast them like asparagus.
Over the coming weeks, you’ll also want to be sure your garlic receives enough water. However, the soil should never be waterlogged because this can lead to rot. Though we’ve had ample rainfall this season, during times of drought, be sure to water the plants until they begin to turn yellow. Then, it’s time to stop watering and start looking for signs of harvest time.
When mid-July rolls around, your garlic plants will begin to turn yellow and die back. This is a sign that it’s time to harvest. Both hardneck and softneck garlics are ready for harvest when the plants are 50% yellow. Do not delay the process. If you wait too long to harvest, the bulb will split apart and won’t store as long. If you harvest too early, the bulbs will not be fully formed.
After digging your garlic, hang the plants upside down or lay them out on newspaper in a cool, dry, well-aerated place to cure. Everyone does this process a little differently, but the main idea is to keep them dry and allow the greenery attached to the bulb to naturally die back and dry. Curing takes about 2 to 3 weeks.
Cured softneck garlic can be braided and hung in the kitchen. Or you can cut the dead foliage away from the bulbs and store both softneck and hardneck garlic in a well-ventilated, cool location. They’ll last for several months.
With the right care, you’ll enjoy a hearty homegrown garlic harvest.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.