If you are health-savvy, you will be more inclined to consume organic and fresh produce to improve your life quality. In this case, we are focusing on garlic, but we can never be sure the store-bought garlic is organically grown. As such, we recommend growing your own garlic to be sure of the quality you consume. In light of the limited space around our homes, let's learn how to grow garlic in pots.
Accordingly, we will provide the basics and the process of growing and even harvesting garlic in containers. Even more, you can get better quality products when using a container garden to plant garlic. In the end, your container-planted garlic will prove to be more pungent and crisper than the one your buy from groceries.
Basics of Growing Potted Garlic Plants
Besides garlic, the whole idea of potting plants for your kitchen garden is relatively new in most homes. Not to say it is a difficult affair, but it needs to be done from the point of knowledge. Similarly, any farming needs to be done objectively rather than trial and error. Therefore, here are the basics to understand as you aim to obtain quality fresh garlic from pots.
1. Softneck vs. Hardneck Garlic
As you learn how to grow garlic in pots, you should start by knowing the types of garlic and their suitability to prevailing environmental conditions. As such, there are two types of garlic you can grow in a pot: Softneck and Hardneck. Here's how to distinguish these types under the allium family:
This type is commonly known not to be winter-hardy, thus the name suggesting softness. Subsequently, the Softneck garlic varieties thrive under mild climates. Moreover, this variety is easy to propagate, and it produces mature bulbs which you can store after drying or curing. Some examples of Softneck garlic plants include:
- Silver Skin (Many cloves per bulb)
- Inchelium Red (popular for cooking)
- Texas Rose (early harvest with a medium flavor)
- California Early (Popular and can be stored for 6 months)
This garlic type thrives in cold winters, thus the name suggesting hardiness. Furthermore, Hardneck varieties often have complex flavors and produce larger cloves. Even more, you can consume the scapes from the Hardneck varieties. Some common types of garlic under this category include:
- Russian Red (Thrives in extreme cold temperatures)
- Spanish Roja (Popularly used in restaurants)
- Georgia Crystal (Large cloves and hates heat)
- German White (All purpose)
Alternatively, you can grow Hardneck garlic in mild climates. As such, you can fake the cold conditions by putting the bulbs in a crisp drawer in your fridge for about two months before pot-planting them during early spring. While in your fridge, ensure you put them in a paper bag. Nonetheless, avoid fall planting for these varieties.
2. Choosing the Right Container
As part of knowing the proper way of planting garlic in containers, it's important to do so in the appropriate container. In most cases, terra pots are common for growing plants but are not favorable when cultivating garlic in containers. Terra cotta pots are very porous, thus requiring frequent watering within 9 months. Also, in cold climates, water trapped in the cracks and pores freezes, causing cracking and flaking.
Alternatively, we recommend glazed ceramic, fiberstone, plastic or plastic-stone pots. Moreover, your select container needs to have adequate drainage through a hole at the bottom. In addition, the best container for planting garlic should be at least 8-inches deep for ample growth of the roots. Other considerations to uphold for a garlic container garden include:
- Regarding the width of the pot, it will depend on the number of garlic cloves you want to grow. For instance, you can plant 8-10 cloves in a width of 22 inches. Progressively, the wider the container, the more cloves you'll be able to plant. Also, a large pot is good at keeping the bulbs well-watered due to more moisture retention.
- Grow garlic in a container with adequate drainage, like a durable plastic pot with drainage holes at the bottom. High moisture retention is good for garlic, but water logging is detrimental.
- Moreover, you can plant garlic in smaller containers for easier movement.
- If you keep your garlic pots outside during winter, you should ensure your container is frost-proof to avoid cracking due to extremely cold temperatures. This consideration is paramount when you have a glazed ceramic pot.
3. Choosing the Appropriate Soil
As you learn how to grow garlic in pots, choosing the proper growing medium (soil) for the best outcomes is important. Primarily, your select soil mix should be well-draining, which would be instrumental during high precipitation conditions like winter. Additionally, your select soil mix should be fertile for expanding heads and supporting tall plants. In light of fertility, you can use loose potting soil mixed with a 10-10-10 fertilizer or 75:25 compost.
In addition to your potting mix, you can include a quality organic mulch to suppress weed growth and for moisture retention. Progressively, as the mulch decays, it will add nutrients to the potting soil. For mulch, you can use fall leaves, straw or bracken.
Therefore, garlic in containers will do well in a rich, loose, well-draining loamy soil. Additionally, loamy soil is favorable to garlic due to its pH ranging between 6.0 and 7.5. So far, with the right soil, you will get quality bulbs and garlic greens, but you won't get heads like when you plant cloves in a traditional garden.
4. Choosing the Best Fertilizer
Besides soil for growing garlic in a pot, you will need to choose and add the right fertilizer in the right amounts. Naturally, a garlic bulb will require a good supply of phosphorous. As such, should supply garlic planted in a pot with a slow-releasing fertilizer in the correct ratio.
Ideally, you can add 2-3 tablespoons of your select fertilizer per pot. After that, use a trowel to mix and distribute the fertilizer in the soil. Also, for early growth before bulbing, your select fertilizer should contain a high amount of nitrogen.
Moreover, nitrogen-heavy fertilizers are good for spring growth. Once you notice green sprouts during spring, add fertilizer to your plants every few weeks as you keep the soil moist. Notably, you can stop fertilizing when bulbing begins to avoid inhibiting bulb growth. Finally, slow-release fertilizer will help achieve fertile soil for your pot.
5. Sourcing Garlic Cloves for Your Pot (s)
Ideally, you can get plants from a plant nursery or a local garden. Furthermore, you can use cloves from a credible seed company. Locally grown garlic might be safe from chemicals, but only when you can verify. To guide you in getting organically grown garlic cloves, you can use the National Farmers Market Directory by USDA.
Even as you aim to source from local gardens, some garlic varieties might not be available in the growing season between August and September. In light of sourcing cloves, you should also avoid using supermarket garlic. Store-bought cloves might contain growth-inhibiting chemicals to prevent garlic sprouts while up for sale. Even more, grocery store garlic can carry microscopic pests, including pests and viruses.
6. Knowing When to Plant Your Cloves
Timing is everything in agriculture. Timing will help you not strain as you try to provide the right conditions for your plants. As such, it is best to plant around the first frost. On this account of timing, let's also identify how to care for garlic in different seasons.
Growing Garlic in Pots During Winter
During winter, ensure you place your pots somewhere they receive adequate sun: an estimate of 6-8 hours of direct sun per day. Nonetheless, you can move your pot (s) in a sheltered spot around your house in very cold climates. Additionally, you can insulate your pot with bubble wrap to prevent the bulbs from freezing during extreme cold.
Growing Garlic in Pots During Summer and Spring
During spring, you can move your garlic pots back into the sunshine. Moreover, you'll start noticing tiny green shoots emerge from the soil during the early spring. Progressively, these shoots will grow into large green stalks and even develop a curly flower stalk in the case of the Hardneck garlic. But you can remove the flower stalk to divert the energy to the growing bulb.
Generally, heads produced during the spring planting will be smaller than the fall-planted garlic. Nevertheless, you can still get a bountiful harvest of medium garlic heads. However, growing garlic in a pot during the fall and waiting until mid-summer to harvest requires patience, thus planting during winter.
7. Proper Watering
Garlic grows properly in well-moisturized conditions. In the case of pot planting, you will need to water your plants properly for the best outcomes. Even during winter, winter requires consistent watering not unless the soil is frozen. However, ensure the soil dries a bit before the next watering to avoid rotting your plants.
In particular, watering is paramount during the germination stage, which is the most dominant period. Considering that you will water your plants during their entire life cycle, watering should continue for about 8-9 months. Most people encounter dead pots at the arrival of spring due to a lack of water. Also, avoid over-exposure to the rain during rainy seasons to avoid rotting.
Indeed, watering a garlic plant can be tedious considering its long growing season. As you learn how to grow garlic in pots, you can stick your finger about 3-inches into the dirt. If the soil doesn't feel moist, it's time to water. Also, when it's raining, you can move your pots into the rain for about 1-2 days for natural watering.
8. Covering with Mulch
Essentially, mulch is important in locking moisture within the soil during winter and fall. Therefore, whenever you plant garlic in a pot, it's best to use a mulch with a lighter color like that of dried straws. As such, the mulch reflects the heat away during the summer, locking the moisture into the soil.
Also, mulching potted garlic serves as insulation against extreme cold conditions. Therefore, when you apply mulch, you should water deeply to ensure the plants are adequately watered. Eventually, when spring arrives after the last frost date, you can remove the mulch as you prepare for harvesting.
Image Credit: themicrogardener.com
9. Pest and Disease Control
Garlic growing in pots is also affected by pests and diseases. Nonetheless, growing garlic in containers presents a lower likelihood of diseases and pests than planting in a normal ground garden. As such, some of the common pests and diseases that affect garlic include- downy mildew, white rot, bulb mites, purple blotch, thrips and onion maggot. Therefore, treat your potted garlic only when necessary.
Process of Planting Garlic in a Container
- Garden trowel
- Watering can
- Large, well-draining pot
- Quality potting mix
- Garlic cloves
- Slow-release fertilizer
Step 1: Prepare the Container
First, ensure your large pot is clean. If there is old soil used for planting flowers and other plants, you can discard it and sanitize your pot. Thereafter, fill it with a fresh potting mix to the brim and leave about 3-inches at the top. At this stage, you add the fertilizer if your potting mix doesn't contain any.
Step 2: Ready the Garlic Cloves
If you have heads, gently separate their cloves, leaving their papery skins intact. The papery skin protects the individual cloves from any infections within the growing medium. Ideally, save the biggest cloves for your pot as you intend to use the small ones for cooking.
Step 3: Plant the Garlic Cloves
When your pot and the soil are ready, you can now the cloves. As you plant garlic, ensure you place the pointy clove ends face up and leave their bases sitting 3-inches into the soil. Keep the planted cloves approximately 3-inches apart.
Step 4: Cover the Cloves
Use the garden trowel to cover the cloves with soil. In cold areas, cover your planted cloves with about 2-inches of soil. In warm climates, you will only require an inch of soil cover. After covering, use the trowel to pat the soil above the cloves to make it compact.
Moreover, the soil will settle and become more compact after you water it. To some, this step of covering might not be necessary. Ideally, you can just push your cloves down into your mix. In the end, always remember the more the room there is, the larger the heads become. Nonetheless, you should maximize your pot's space.
Step 5: Pot Placement
We recommend placing your container where it gets adequate sunlight. As earlier highlighted, the ideal location should receive at least six hours of direct sun per day or on most days. The advantage of pot planting is that you can change the location to your discretion depending on the highlighted conditions and considerations in this guide.
Eventually, we grow plants so that we harvest them for use. As such, knowing how to grow garlic in pots will be incomplete without knowing how to harvest your ready garlic. Accordingly, you should know how to harvest garlic scapes and garlic bulbs.
Garlic scapes are the winding, long, blue-green shoots that grow on Hardneck garlic varieties during spring. It is best to harvest scapes when they are young and tender. You'll know the scapes are ready for harvesting when they start to curl in circles. Picking scapes helps redirect energy to the growing bulbs.
So, harvesting scapes on growing Hardneck garlic varieties leads to healthier and larger bulbs. In addition, fresh scapes have a mild garlic taste. As such, scapes can be used for a stir fry making delicious sausages, adding flavor to food like roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. Also, the freshly harvested scapes can be eaten raw in salads or blended with fruits using juicer machines.
Harvesting Garlic Bulbs
You'll know the garlic bulbs are now ready for harvest when the foliage starts to turn yellow. Subsequently, harvesting mature garlic at times might feel like a chance affair, but now you have the sign. Timely harvesting ensures the heads don't split and start to rot while in the soil.
Alternatively, you can dig up to check and see if you can harvest garlic. While digging up, don't pull the stem out; instead, dig into the soil to check as you avoid damaging the bulbs. Once you've harvested garlic, gently shake to remove the soil and dirt from the garlic bulb.
Once harvested, leave the leaves on as you bundle your garlic loosely together for hanging to cure them. Cure or store your harvested bulbs in a warm, dry and well-ventilated room for about 2-4 weeks. When the skin on the heads starts to get papery, you can cut off the roots and the leaves.
For Hardneck garlic, you can store it for 4-6 months before it becomes unusable. Softneck can be stored for up to one year (12 months). Proper drying will prevent rotting during storage. Uncured garlic can present signs of viral and fungal infections.
In closing, garlic growing in pots is easy with the right knowledge and conditions. Eventually, your container-grown garlic will be adequately large but not as the one grown in the natural ground. Despite relatively smaller head sizes, you will harvest garlic with top-notch flavor and nutritional value.
Image Credit: gardeningelsa.com