EXPERT GARDEN TIPS — Growing “zesty” garlic exhilarates the senses

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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Gardeners, in our household garlic reigns king, used in almost every evening meal prepared.

Garlic is incredibly pungent once chopped, releasing its powerful aroma. The flavor of garlic is a bit spicy if eaten raw in salads or dressings, but not “peppery” like jalapeno pepper or peppercorns.

It’s a complex flavor with a distinct ‘earthiness’ this gardener truly enjoys. In fact, my family enjoys garlic so much that I cultivate garlic in raised bed gardens each year.

Garlics historical record suggests garlic has been cultivated for around 5,000 years. There are many references to garlics use in ancient Egypt, India and China.

Cultures who used garlic to flavor food and in traditional medicine. Some researchers believe garlic originated or is native to Central Asia, where it grows wild.

Other researchers believe ancient Sumerians (Mediterranean Sea) first cultivated garlic, with other sources which claim garlic came from the eastern plains of the Caspian Sea, then spreading to Asia.

It doesn’t matter to me which group is right, I’m glad garlic was cultivated and continues today.

Growing your own garlic is not complicated and the taste of fresh garlic is truly amazing, much more intense than store bought. There are two “true” types of garlic: Softneck and Hardneck (elephant garlic is not a type of garlic, though I’ll discuss briefly).

SOFTNECK – types of garlic perform best for those of us who live in SETX and the southeast, where our winters are mild. Most of these varieties do not produce scapes (green curled stalk). There are numerous varieties which include Creole, Silver Rose, Loiacono, and Early Italian, to name a few.

HARDNECK – garlic types are adapted to cold winter areas and produce curled scapes in early summer. Popular varieties include porcelain, purple stripe, Montana Giant and Shilla.

ELEPHANT – garlic (not true garlic) produces a large, mild-flavored bulb comprised of 4-6 huge cloves (much larger than typical garlic), but its flavor is only slightly “garlicky” as it is closely related to leeks and is perennial.

Now that we’ve reviewed the two (true) types of garlic, let’s “dig” in (yes, gardening pun intended and a bit cheeky) into the steps necessary to cultivate garlic which starts with sourcing quality garlic bulbs. We are all sweltering in triple digit heat, so let’s stay indoors and do a bit of research on garlic varieties which may be of interest, then place your order.

PURCHASING — Now is the time to purchase garlic cloves from a reputable garlic grower. Otherwise, be prepared for growers to be out of stock. My recommendation is to purchase organic garlic from Texas growers if possible-unless you wait too late to order. Remember, do not to use “grocery store” garlic, often you will be wasting time and energy, and be disappointed with outcome!

PREPARATION — Plant garlic in a raised bed, not recently planted with onion ‘family’ members. Incorporate compost into the top 6 inches, while adding 10-10-10 fertilizer at the recommended rate. The soil must be friable and well drained. Separate garlic bulbs into individual cloves carefully, without damaging the cloves’ structure.

Plant each clove, pointy end up (root end down) and cover with 1 inch of soil. Clove spacing is important, so make certain to space cloves’ 4-inches apart. Mulch the planted cloves with a 4-inch layer of pine straw, to protect against winters temperatures.

CULTIVATION — Gardeners in SETX, we need to plant garlic cloves in early winter for spring harvest to allow roots to develop during winter months. In early spring new growth will begin, which is necessary for large bulbs to form.

Leaves begin to appear in spring, an indication it’s time to feed the plants using two teaspoons of a high-nitrogen fertilizer which decomposes slowly, i.e., blood meal worked into the soil beside the plant, adding more every two weeks, as needed.

Once the leaves begin to turn brown, the garlic is ready to harvest. Begin checking when there are 5-6 leaves left. Garlic must be cured for a minimum of two weeks before it can be stored. Once cured, remove garlic bulbs from leaves and store inside.

Everyone knows garlic (bulb) is used in cooking, but did you know the entire plant is edible and has different tastes?

GREEN — When garlic is ‘green’ it is similar in appearance to green onions and leeks, but its flavor profile is much sweeter, more mellow and greatly subdued from the intensity garlic cloves. The entire leaf and stalk of green garlic can be used. Pick stalks which are completely green and fresh, not wilted. Yellow leaves signal the plant is near to becoming a bulb and stalks are tougher (woody).

SCAPES — Are formed once ‘green’ garlic has formed the bulbous root, yet before the bulb is ready for harvest. The bulb sends out a thin, long, curly stalk from its center. This curly stalk is the garlic scape, which typically forms on Hardneck varieties. Like green garlic, they are tender and completely palatable with a sweeter, more muted flavor.

BULBS — Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest by the end of June. Speaking from experience and providing words of caution, novice gardeners may opt to ‘pull’ garlic from the soil, rather than ‘lifting’ the bulbs using a garden fork or spade.

Pulling the garlic from the soil can lead to poor curing and diminished storage time due to damage to the stalk or the bulb. Bulbs should be large, covered with papery skins, and full of moisture at this point, since they have not been cured. Bulbs should feel firm and heavy, with some clusters more open than others.

Did You Know:

  • Garlic used to be called Russian penicillin.
  • It was provided to Russian soldiers during WWII as medicine.
  • It was the 1st herb to be cultivated.

Garlic is easily grown in our mild climate, providing bountiful harvests with minimal care. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from and I suggest selecting multiple varieties to cultivate until you determine which garlic variety holds the flavor profile your family enjoys the most.

So long for now fellow gardeners, let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

John Green is a longtime Texas gardener. For comments and questions, continue sending them to