Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES Ð- Fall usually finds most gardeners frantically trying to bring in the last of the summer produce before Jack Frost nips the growing season. But, fall also is planting time for next year's garlic crop.
"Garlic, like tulips, should be planted in the fall so the bulbs have a chance to swell and develop good root systems before cold weather sets in," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "The bulbs will resume development in the spring, generally maturing in mid- to late June, depending on where they're grown."
Garlic requires a lot of nutrients, so fortify the garden with compost and a balanced fertilizer. Unlike its onion cousin, the garlic bulb is segmented into cloves. Plant individual cloves 1 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 6 inches apart, with the pointed tips up. Planting larger cloves will result in larger mature bulbs the following summer, Dickerson said.
There are two types of garlic. "Hardneck varieties produce seed stalks with bulblets at the top," Dickerson said. "These small bulblets can be planted in the spring to form new garlic plants, but it usually takes two growing seasons to produce mature bulbs." Softneck varieties generally don't produce seed stalks.
'California Early' is a softneck variety that has performed well in Extension variety trials across the state, Dickerson said. It produces 10 to 22 white to pinkish cloves.
"Some gardeners prefer elephant garlic because it produces larger bulbs and has a milder taste," Dickerson said. "Elephant garlic is actually a type of leek, but it has a segmented bulb similar to garlic and is planted in the same way." Because of its larger bulbs, elephant garlic cloves should be planted farther apart.
When garlic begins new growth in the spring, side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer to encourage good bulb development. Stop watering in early June when the bottom leaves begin to turn brown.
To harvest, dig up garlic bulbs with a garden fork later in June. "Allow the bulbs to cure in the shade or braid them together by their leaves into a garlic ristra," Dickerson said.
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