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Garden Help Desk: What to do when growing your own garlic

By USU Extension - | Apr 15, 2023

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Garlic is very cold hardy and is often the first thing seen in the garden when the weather is unsettled and soils are still very cold.

I planted some garlic cloves last fall. The green tops are a few inches tall already. What should I do for the plants?

Regular watering is important once the weather warms and our soils start to dry out. Garlic doesn’t like wet soil, but the soil shouldn’t dry out completely between waterings, either. The plants aren’t deeply rooted, so you’ll want to water long enough to move moisture about 12 inches deep into the soil for garlic plants. Drip irrigation is a great option for garlic. Including organic mulch around the plants will conserve water, even out soil moisture, suppress weeds, and add extra nutrients to the soil.

Your garlic plants will need additional nitrogen during the spring and early summer. Side-dress your plants with about a half pound of ammonium sulfate (or another equivalent nitrogen source) for every 100 square feet of garlic plants now (mid-April) and then another quarter pound in the last half of May.

Garlic is ready to harvest in mid-summer. Once you see the leaves begin to yellow you should stop watering that part of your garden. This helps the garlic mature and reduces storage problems after harvest. Don’t leave your garlic to completely dry out before harvesting. The tops can easily break away from the bulbs if you try to pull the plants up from the soil, so use your spading fork to carefully loosen and lift your garlic first.

Wait until your garlic bulbs have had a chance to fully cure before cutting back the tops. This takes a week or two in a shady, protected spot with good airflow. Once the bulbs have cured you can cut back to tops, leaving just an inch or two above the bulbs. Keep your garlic in mesh bags in a cool, dry place.

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Garlic is a tough plant and is seldom bothered by frosty weather in the fall or in the spring. There's no need to worry if your garlic bed is buried beneath snow.

I’m going to make some changes in my flowerbeds this year. Some of the plants needed too much babying. Can you help me find plants that will do better here?

There are lots of annuals and perennials that do well here, so you’ll have plenty of choices. If you’re using seeds and transplants from local, independent nursery and garden centers, you can pretty much count on them offering varieties that do well here, although it’s possible to also find specialty items that are intended for gardeners who are looking for a challenge. Always check the plant tags for details when you’re looking at plants you aren’t familiar with.

Whether you’re buying plants from local nurseries or you’re ordering seeds and transplants online, here are some things to keep in mind.

The hardiness zones for Utah Valley average out to about warm zone 5, so shrubs and perennials that are only hardy to zone 7 may overwinter just fine in some parts of the valley for a few years, but every now and then we have a winter that damages or kills marginally hardy plants. Plants that are hardy to zone 6 may be reliably hardy in the warmer parts of Utah Valley.

We live in a desert. Our summers are hot with low humidity and can be windy, and our winters are cold, with low humidity and frequent wind. Utah Valley isn’t the right place for shrubs, perennials, annuals, or vegetables that prefer mild, cool or humid climates.

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There are many annuals and perennials that do very well here in our dry climate and alkaline soils. Reading plant tags or descriptions will help you choose beautiful plants that don't need extra attention to look their best.

We have alkaline soils. This high soil pH means that we shouldn’t be choosing plants or varieties that prefer acidic soils. Acid loving plants will struggle here with problems like iron chlorosis and other nutrient related disorders and need extra attention throughout the season.

Most soils in our area are low in the organic matter needed to help soils both hold moisture and drain more easily. Any plants that prefer rich, moist soil will need good soil preparation before planting, as will plants that need freely-draining soils.

The average last frost in this area is May 15. The average first frost is Oct. 15. This gives us about 180 frost-free days, but only about 100-120 days of reliable warm-season growing weather. Warm-season annuals, perennials and vegetable varieties that need more than 100 days for flowering or harvest aren’t the best choice for us.

Also keep in mind that planting at the proper time, in the right location, using mulch, and deep, infrequent watering will go a long way to making your yard and garden successful.


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