Growing garlic for food and ornament

Garlic is one of the most useful plants for the Canadian garden. It is one of the first things to come up in the spring, takes very little care, produces an edible crop which even the most novice gardener can be proud, is highly ornamental and, best of all, it is good for you!

I started planting garlic about 16 years ago when a gardening friend appeared in the fall proudly bearing gifts of that year’s garlic crop. Some cloves were kept for eating and the remainder was planted shortly after Thanksgiving. Since that time, garlic has had a permanent and rotating place in my garden.

Garlic is planted in the fall, just like most other bulbs. Single cloves should be separated from the whole bulb and planted individually. The best method is to dig a trench approximately 3-4 inches deep with each row at least 6 inches apart. At the base of the trench, scatter a generous supply of compost mixed with bonemeal. On top of this place cloves about 5 inches apart, tip side up. Cover the cloves with soil and tamp down lightly. Onion-like growth will emerge in early spring with the distinct aroma of garlic if broken off. The leaves are a unique blue-green colour which sets them apart from other plants in the garden.

In July, pigtail-like flower heads will sprout from the centre of the plant. These should be cut off as soon as they appear so that energy is not spent forming seeds but directed to clove and bulb formation. In mid to late August the plant tops will begin to die back. In late August to early September the new garlic bulbs can be dug up. After digging, leave the bulbs in the sun to dry. Remove the dried earth, cut off the tops to about inch above the bulb and store in a cool, dry place for use throughout the fall and winter. Save some of the larger bulbs for re-planting in mid-October.

This simple rotation will keep you and several of your friends in steady supply of home-grown garlic.

Garlic can also be used for its ornamental qualities in the flower garden. The bulbs are winter hardy and can be left in the ground year after year. A better flowering display results when the bulbs are divided every 2-3 years since the overcrowding of bulbs reduces flower size. The flower head is attached to the stalk by a curly pigtail. Once the seeds mature, the flower head splits open. This unusual flower is an excellent companion to summer flowering perennials such as delphinium, gayfeather or lilies. Garlic can also mix well with taller annuals such as dahlias, canna lilies and margarita daisies. Garlic is also known to prevent insects and diseases. As a preventative measure, each fall I plant smaller cloves around each of my roses. Any more than three cloves tends to overshadow and overcrowd the rose. I have noticed a decline in chewing caterpillars with the help of the garlic.