Trial & Error in Garlic Planting; Dos and Don’ts

The early spring og 2011, I was busily caring for my little indoor tomato seedlings when I was given a few sprouted garlic cloves by a dear friend. She told me she had found them sprouting in her refrigerator, decided to plant some of them inside, and they grew and seemed happy enough. So she gave some to me to try as well. Like my friend, I really hadn’t planned on planting garlic, but why not give it a shot? I didn’t know the first thing about planting garlic, and being preoccupied with other things, I didn’t look much into how to care for them. I just figured it would be a fun side-project. (Not researching much beforehand ended up being Mistake no. 1.) So I planted the ones she gave me plus quite a few of my own non-sprouting supermarket cooking-garlic cloves that I had in my refrigerator; I ended up with 22, total. “You never know,” I though to myself. Sure enough, after a few days, they all sprouted! What a thrill!!

Since garlic cloves are so large compared to the seeds of most vegetables (many are the size of sugar granules), I had planted them in disposable plastic drinking cups to make sure they had plenty of room. Learning that garlic prefers cool weather and are hardy to frost, I decided to put them outside during the day, and bring them inside overnight. I placed them on an old, rusty cookie sheet in order to transfer them back and forth easily. I’m not sure that my though-process was all wrong, but I failed to acknowledge my tendencies toward forgetfulness.

Here’s a picture of them, taken with my cellphone, chillin’ on the deck. Boy, if they knew the kind of chillin’ they had ahead of them! Poor things…

Garlic in cups

Mistake no. 2: Leave them outside all night long, because I would forget to bring them inside. This early in the spring in my zone (zone 5, and I think it may have been March or early April), we get frost, real hard frost, just about every night. In the morning, when I would finally see the garlic plants outside on the deck, I’d hurry desperately out to get them, only to find them frozen solid. Through and through, the cups were hard as rock. I’d bring them in to let them thaw and warm up a little.

Mistake no. 3: Forgetting again, and again, and yet again. I’ve since come to learn that yes, garlic tolerates frost, but not necessarily the softneck variety so much, and especially not combined with the frost-shock-treatments I gave them! The garlic variety you get in the produce isle at the grocery store is generally softneck. This was garlic from the grocery store. Softneck. And not necessarily the hardier of the softnecks, either. So… yeah. Feel free to judge.

Another thing I later have learned is that even if garlic is of the hardier kind, they still do not like to be frozen solid, especially if you combine it with thawing. Freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw… They do not like it! And I did just that. Very smart. Very smart, indeed. In fact, in the beginning stages of growth, I read, the fragile, little roots can tear away from the clove if left in freeze-thaw conditions like this. Who knew? But I do know now.

Mistake no.4: No holes in the bottom of the cups. Some days I would also find them in standing water. Not a lot of plants like to grow in standing water. I’d pour it out, even squeezing the cup a bit to try to wring out the worst of it. But the soil was still sopping wet and getting more compact for every squeeze. Holes in the bottom of the cups would have helped the water to drain.

I soon started noticing wilt. What a shocker! Many of the plants were drooping and not looking happy at first, then the tops wilted. They still lived, just not very happily. Others seemed to be doing just fine, which surprises me when I look back at their neglectful treatment.

I can’t remember everything that happened, as I had no idea at the time that I would be blogging about this later on, and so no notes were taken, nor any more pictures. But I did plant them in-ground as soon as we had tilled later in the spring. (Correction: my husband tilled. He’s such a good guy!) I think enough damage had been done by then though, that nothing I did from now on could have saved them. They gradually died, one after another; just rotted in the ground until I had only 3 left. That’s when we went on vacation, and were gone for almost a month.

Mistake no. 5: Leaving them for almost a month!

OK, time for a couple of vacation pictures from Norway, the country of my birth:

Lyngdal, Norway


Stavanger, Norway


When we came back from our wonderful, unforgettable vacation to Norway, two of the garlic bulbs had been harvested by dedicated family members who lovingly cared for my garden while we were gone. The bulbs looked like……. um…. It’s hard to find appropriate words to describe it. Less than appealing, for sure! “Brown”, “dry”, “small”, “shriveled”, are some nicer key words I am willing to mention. They went directly into the compost. The last one I harvested myself after another week or so. This one too, had partly rotted and was happy to join the others in the compost. I’m wondering if these three would have been OK if they had been harvested in time. I think they stayed in-ground for much too long. We shall never know.

I may have made other mistakes as well, but I think the ones mentioned did the job good enough. My garlic plants were doomed from the beginning. But hey, I learned some valuable lessons and will hopefully be much more successful with my next batch, which is already planted in-ground and mulched, as of October, 2011. This time I am much more prepared: I did a lot of reading, planted at the right time, and used excellent quality seed ordered from Territorial Seed Company, which I hope will thrive in my area. It might be a tad cold for them, so I put down a good layer of mulch. This softneck variety still may not tolerate our hard winters, but I do believe they have a good, fighting chance, unlike my first, failed garlic-planting attempt.

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3 Responses to “Trial & Error in Garlic Planting; Dos and Don’ts”

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  1. Kimmy says:

    Sorry about your garlic. Norway looks so beautiful. I would absolutely love to visit here someday.

  2. Christina says:

    Thank you so much for the potato info. Yours is by far the most informative for me.

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