The garlic plant (Allium sativum) is a perennial that's hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 8, but because it's typically grown by gardeners as a fall-planted annual, it can grow quite happily even in the warm Florida climate.
Garlic varieties fall into two broad categories, the hard-neck types and the soft-neck types. Soft-neck varieties tend to produce larger bulbs than hard-neck types, and their bulbs store better. Soft-neck garlic is typically more sensitive to cold than hard-neck garlic, so it often doesn't do well in northern climates. It does just fine in Florida, however, and is the preferred type for garden growing in the state.
Recommended cultivars for Florida include "Creole," "Italian," "Tahiti" and "California."
Garlic plants develop in stages, with foliage growth occurring first when days are relatively short and cool. After the plant's foliage is mature, leaf growth ceases and bulb development begins. Consequently, plants need plenty of time to fully develop their foliage before they begin to devote energy to producing bulbs, and if they don't get it, the bulbs will be underdeveloped at harvest time.
Fall planting allows the plants to begin developing foliage through the winter so that they can spend much of the warmer season developing their bulbs. In Florida, the ideal planting time is in a range between September and February.
Garlic likes sunny locations with well-drained soil. Drainage is crucial because if the soil holds too much moisture for too long, the bulbs may rot. Soil texture is important, too, because the bulbs will struggle to develop in heavy soils.
The ideal site for garlic has a crumbly loam soil. If your soil is sandy or heavy clay, mixing in an ample amount of organic compost will help to bring both the soil's texture and its moisture retention capabilities into line with garlic's preferences. Planting garlic in raised beds is also a solution to drainage problems.
Adding a balanced fertilizer at planting time will give garlic plenty of fuel to begin its growth in the winter. Mix approximately 3 pounds of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of area into the planting bed before you set the cloves.
The garlic you buy in the grocery store is sometimes chemically treated to prevent sprouting, and it may harbor diseases, so it is not a good source of seed cloves. Buy seed garlic instead from a commercial supplier or local grower.
Don't separate individual cloves from the garlic bulb until you're ready to plant them, and leave the paper-like skin on the cloves. Set them in the planting bed at a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and leave about 3 to 5 inches between cloves. Plant the cloves so that their pointy ends are facing up; if you plant them upside down, they will probably still grow, but the bulbs are likely to be misshapen and stunted.
Garlic will usually get enough water from rain during the winter, but if soil conditions are dry, water them thoroughly at planting time. A few deep waterings per month might be needed during dry conditions.
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