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The perfect time to plant your garlic bulbs

If you are a vegetable gardener, this is typically the time of the year you are taking plants out of the garden, not planting. But, this weekend I plan on being out in the garden planting. Yes, you read correctly. Now is the time to plant on of my favorite crops - garlic.

Garlic is an "allium," which means it is in the same family as onions and leeks. Garlic is originally from Asia where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.

Since garlic does not produce seed, it is propagated by planting individual garlic cloves from the bulb. And, planting garlic is pretty simple. First, purchase a hardneck variety, since these are better adapted to our colder climate than the softneck garlics. When shopping for garlic, avoid getting your garlic from the grocery store as most of these have been treated with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting during storage.

To get the largest bulb possible, plant your garlic in the fall about two weeks after the first killing frost. Garlic likes to grow in loose soil, so cultivate the soil prior to planting. Plant each individual clove so that 2-3 inches of soil covers the base of the clove. Plant each clove a few inches apart and in rows about six inches apart.

After planting your garlic, mulch heavily with either 4-6 inches of straw or chopped leaves. This prevents damage from fluctuations in soil temperatures. Later, in the spring when the temperatures stop dropping dramatically at night, you can pull the mulch away from the bulbs and into the rows where it will suppress weeds.

During the growing season make sure you plants do not dry out. Garlic has a shallow root system and is susceptible to drought. When the garlic sends up its flower stalk, or scape, cut it off and enjoy this once a season treat. They are great as a pesto, stir-fry, or grilled.

When about half of the leaves are browned next June or July, dig up your garlic, allow it to dry, and enjoy!

Anne Lenox Barlow is the horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; and Franklin County, 483-7403. E-mail your questions to askMG@cornell.edu.

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