Garlic (Allium sativum) is a hardy, tasty and useful perennial. Related to the onion, garlic is considered a must for planting by many home gardeners who like to cook, as it is often used as a condiment or seasoning in a wide variety of foods. The consumption of garlic has health benefits as well, according to experts with the University of Minnesota. There are over 600 varieties of garlic, and most grow best in areas that have long, sunny days.
Garlic thrives in rich, loamy soil high in organic matter. The soil should be moist but well-draining and not soggy. Overly saturated soil will result in misshapen bulbs, as will heavy, clay soils. For best results, amend the soil with organic matter before planting garlic. In addition, make sure the pH level of the soil is between 6 and 7. Use a pH soil testing kit, and if the pH is outside of these boundaries, add lime or aluminum sulfate according to the instructions on the testing kit.
Garlic grows best in warm climates, but it does need a cold period (called "chilling") in order to bloom. For that reason, many experts suggest planting garlic in October. Other horticulturists insist that an early spring planting in March--when the weather is still cool enough to freeze occasionally--is fine also. Protect the newly planted garlic from sudden hard freezes by surrounding your young shoots with three to four inches of straw mulch.
In addition, the plants need plenty of time to develop long leaves. The longer the leaves, the better the bulb. Therefore, the longer the days in your climate, and the more sun your garlic is exposed to, the better.
Water just enough so that the soil is kept cool and moist but there is no standing water collecting on the surface of the soil. Garlic has shallow roots, so if standing water occurs, the roots may develop root rot and die. If it rains, you do not have to water. In very hot periods of drought, you may need to water more frequently.
Garlic plants are heavy feeders. They thrive on fertilizer and should be given an application of nitrogen-rich (20-10-10) fertilizer in late March, in mid-May and then every other week throughout the growing season.
Garlic can be harvested in August, or when the foliage turns yellow and brown. Use a trowel to loosen the dirt around the bulb, then simply grasp the plant firmly and pull up with a smooth motion. Fresh garlic straight from the ground is known as "wet" garlic and has the best taste, although garlic is also frequently dried and ground.