Planting garlic is a bit different than planting other vegetables, since garlic is planted from bulbs or bulbils. You've already chosen your cultivars, prepared the soil for your garlic crop, so now it's time to get planting!
Popping (Separating Cloves)
The first step in planting garlic from bulbs is separating the cloves. This is a great group activity; if you're a small farmer, get all hands on deck for planting. If you're a homesteader or hobby farmer, invite friends over for a popping party! Here are some things to know about popping:
If planting hardneck garlic, you can grab the stiff stem in one hand, the bulb in the other, and rotate the stem vigorously to help loosen the cloves.
Don't scratch or break the clove. If juice is visible, you are inviting disease into the clove.
If the skin peels off or is nonexistent, that's okay. The clove will still grow just fine.
*Be careful of the basal plate. This is the part of the clove that attaches to the root base of the bulb. If too much of the basal plate comes off while popping, showing the bottom end with juice, discard that clove (bake it or otherwise eat it!).
- If you have more than one cultivar to pop, be sure to keep them separate. Consider popping one cultivar at a time to avoid mixing them up.
Dimpling and Spacing
It's important to give garlic enough room to spread its leaves and its roots. If you plant too close together, you'll end up with too-small bulbs. If you plant too far apart, you'll waste valuable space in your field. The ideal spacing is 7 inches all around. Try using a diamond pattern in beds that are 3 feet wide, with 6 rows per bed. Leave 3 feet between beds, enough room for weeding. With this spacing, we plant 35,000 cloves in 2/3 of an acre. Many growers give their garlic far more space than this, planting two rows wide per bed and up to 12 inches apart. It's really up to you, because garlic can't have too much space.
If you're a hobby farmer or homesteader growing a relatively small amount of garlic, you can space and dimple by hand. But if you want things to look symmetrical, take a 2 by 4 and drill holes in it at the right spacing, then put dowels into the holes. For commercial growers planting by hand, a proper dimpler is a must. Some small farmers use a large steel barrel with welded pegs at the right spacing, using a tow bar to pull it behind their tractor. Or you can make a simpler, hand-push version.
If you have concerns about mold spores, or perhaps lack full confidence in the seed garlic you purchased, you may wish to dip it in a solution intended to kill back the mold. A capful of bleach in a 5-gallon pail of water, or a couple of capfuls in a wheelbarrow full of water, will do the trick. Put the cloves in a mesh bag, dip the whole thing in the bucket or wheelbarrow and let it sit for a few minutes, then pull out the bag and let the cloves drip dry for a bit before planting.
Clove Orientation and Depth
Now it's time to plop those cloves into the ground. Here are some tips for planting well:
Make sure the tips of the cloves are about 2 inches below the soil.
Hardneck cloves must be planted right side up. That means with the pointy side up and the part that was attached to the bulb root downward. Otherwise, they will grow, but the stem has to do a 180-degree turn, and the bulb will look funny.
Gently pack the soil around the clove. Be careful not to puncture cloves with sharp rocks.
An apron with deep pockets or a tool belt can hold cloves easily as you plant.
Planting bulbils is different from planting cloves - except for the biggest ones, like Rocamboles, which can be planted at least 4 inches apart. With all others, you can plant literally thousands of bulbils in a very small area.
Use a ¾ inch thick board that is a few inches shorter than your bed is wide. Create furrows about 1.5 inches deep across your bed.
Distribute the bulbils all the way across the furrow. Orientation doesn't matter, so you can sprinkle them if you want instead of placing them.
Rice-grain-sized bulbils, like Porcelains, should be spaced ½ inch to ¾ inches apart. Marbled Purple Stripes and other medium bulbils should be spaced about 1 inch apart. Larger bulbils should be spaced about 2 inches apart, and the largest (like Rocamboles) should be 4 inches apart.
Cover the bulbils with soil, gently patting the soil on top of them.
Gently water them in; don't fully saturate the soil.