Have you ever wondered how does garlic grow?
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Garlic seems like such a mysterious allium to me! When you buy garlic from the garden store you get a bulb (much like you would from the grocery store), bring it home and break it into cloves, and then plant the biggest cloves in your garden. This can be done in the fall for bigger bulbs, or in the spring if you’re late getting started.
Last winter I tried planting garlic in a container because I’ve heard some people have had luck that way but nothing came up. Last fall I planted them in the garden bed and, lo and behold, garlic sprouts popped up in April, like little green men stretching their arms to the sky after a long winter (I picture them yawning. Or doing the YMCA. They’re very expressive plants if you ask me). Here are the waving garlic men in my garden:
There are few things more delightful than the first green things that pop up in the spring – crocuses and garlic! Unfortunately some weeds popped up with my garlic too, and I decided to dig up one plant to weed underneath before it became more of a problem (I am battling goutweed, in case you were wondering about the landscape fabric). I was super curious what the plant would look like underneath the soil because I don’t know how they turn one clove into a whole bulb. This is what I found:
You can clearly see that the single clove has roots growing out of the bottom and leaves out of the top – no bulb in sight. The most surprising thing was actually the smell though – the smell of garlic was overpowering as I dug it up! I couldn’t get over it. The smell was so strong I can’t imagine any critter wanting to eat it right now. I weeded the bed and gently put Mr. Garlic back into the bed to grow some more. But I couldn’t stop wondering… how does one clove make a bulb?
How garlic grows from cloves
A common misconception, even among garlic growers, is that a large solid bulb grows and then divides into cloves right before harvest. Actually, tiny vegetative buds occur on the surface of the true stem at the base of the inner leaves. Some of the buds are fertile (another strange term, since they never actually get fertilized). Specialized leaves swell into cloves around each fertile bud in mid-spring in order to nourish and protect the bud through its period of rest and during its early growth.
So it’s all different kinds of leaves! No way! I guess this makes more sense than a single giant clove magically splitting into a dozen though.
How garlic grows from bulbils
I said at the top one way to grow garlic was to plant cloves. The other way garlic reproduces (hardneck garlic, anyway) is by producing bulbils. Have you ever seen garlic scapes at the farmer’s market? They came in a CSA box one time and I tried treating them alternately like green onions and asparagus. Truth is I missed the tang of the cloves, as garlic scapes are terribly mild.
If you don’t remove the scapes in summer for a tasty snack and they are left to develop they will produce bulbils. Bulbils, unlike cloves, will take three years to produce bulbs, but each plant produces many more bulbils than cloves. I keep reading that you should cut the scape off to ensure a bigger bulb but others dispute this – another suggested that if you just let the bulbils fall where they may you’ll have a steady supply for garlic each year! Sounds good to me!
Have you had any success growing garlic?