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Spring Garlic Care - What to do for success!

Updated: May 23, 2023

It's finally Spring here in Northeast Washington. After 6 months of snow cover, our garden has finally melted off and the garlic has emerged; signaling the beginning of our growing season. I thought now would be a good time to talk about what we do to cultivate a successful garlic crop.

Observe and monitor.

The most important thing we do right now is take weekly walks through our garlic to observe and monitor growth and to watch for signs of stress or disease. In our early walks we are looking for plants that are not emerging and finding out why. Most often it is trapped underneath the mulch and just needs a little help through. We also see cloves that were:

  • Planted upside down.

  • Planted too deep.

  • Collected by gophers and other rodents.

  • Rotted due to damage, disease, poor drainage, etc.

As time moves on, we will begin to cull out weak or sickly-looking plants. We'll plan to do more posts on what we're looking for and culling during this process.

Fertilize and irrigate.

Now that our garlic has reached about 3-4" we will begin weekly foliar feeds, alternating between fish emulsion and worm tea. We have a 5+ year rotation in our garden, so prior to planting we had been growing cover crops in this plot for 3 years since our last "cash crop", building fertile soil in preparation for growing garlic and then 1-2 years of various annual crops. Before planting we spread composted chicken (Nutri-Rich is our commercial fertilizer of choice and should be readily available throughout the Western US), cow manure from our homestead herd, and a soil drench of compost and worm tea.

How you treat your soil should be guided by your local needs. Finding out your soil composition, including particle size, organic matter content, and mineral content will guide you through the proper soil amendments. I recommend reaching out to your local University Extension for guidance on common soil amendments for your area and also having a soil test completed to find out your individual garden needs.

Garlic thrives when well fed (fertilized) and watered. It will survive in less than ideal conditions but will result in smaller bulbs. If you feel your garden needs additional fertilization this Spring, consider a side dressing of blood meal at 3-4", followed by Nutri-Rich (or your favorite high nitrogen fertilizer formulated for fruiting plants). This will provide an immediate, water-soluble boost from the blood meal accompanied with the slower release and more balanced fertility of the chicken manure. I'm really not familiar with conventional fertilizer methods and cannot really provide any advice.

In addition to fertilization, water is the most important thing to provide your growing plants. We have very limited access to irrigation and garden in a very arid region, so we utilize drip irrigation to water directly at the root zone with a precise amount of water. Your garlic needs about 1" of water per week. Many places in our country easily receive enough precipitation to not need to supplement any water, especially if mulch is used (plastic, fabric, and straw/leaf mulch will all conserve moisture and suppress weeds). Garlic doesn't like the competition of weeds so be sure to keep your patch well weeded.

Check back soon to learn more, and in the meantime keep your garlic well fed, well-watered, and don't forget to take time to slow down and listen to the rustle of the leaves in the wind and just enjoy the company of the plants.

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