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Planting Garlic in the Spring?

Kari Holmberg, Pine County Master Gardener

One of my favorite spring garden tasks is planting garlic. Yes, garlic is normally planted in the fall, but I have limited space for it to over winter, so years ago I started experimenting with spring planting.

Garlic is a bulb and I have read that it requires a chilling period for it to differentiate into multiple cloves. I have planted as early as April 1 and couldn’t tell the difference from fall planted heads. I have also planted as late as April 15 in southern Pine County, but the further we get into springtime temperatures, the higher percentage of heads will be “off”.  I have had from 20 % to 100 % success. 

What I mean by “off” is that the garlic will form a solid one-piece clove shaped sort of like a mini squash with a solid paper covering, but thicker and stiffer. It’s a bit like paper mache. I have harvested and dried the heads as usual. The spring and fall crops are ready to harvest at almost the same time which is around the end of July or beginning of August. They are particularly nice when you need a lot of garlic for pesto, for example. 

Cut out the basal plate (where the roots attach) trying to be very aware of where your fingers are because the paper covering is tough, and the heads want to roll. Then cut the whole head into halves, then quarters if desired. The stiff covering comes off easily, much faster than peeling normal garlic. It stores and tastes the same. The heads might be a little smaller, but not much.  

 If you want to try this, the first challenge will be time. The latest that I have done this is April 15. In Northern Pine County there still may be time to try this. The second challenge is to find seed garlic to buy in the spring.  I plant fall garlic and save back a portion of the crop for spring planting. I don’t know if garlic is sprayed in grocery stores to prevent sprouting. In the past, I purchased Wisconsin grown garlic at a food coop, and it worked just fine. I have only planted hard neck garlic because it is considered hardier. However, I have no idea if that matters with spring planting. I’m not saying spring planted garlic is better, but it allows me to double my crop despite my limited space.

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