If you love garlic, you'll love what growing it at home can do for its flavor. Not only can you harvest it fresh, but you can try out lots of different varieties that aren't available to you in the grocery store. There are hundreds of varieties, each varying in color, spiciness and usefulness in methods of cooking.
The success of your crop depends in large part on when you plant. Fall is the best time, aiming for a planting window that's early enough to achieve good root development before the ground freezes and not so early that you have significant top growth. Usually that means planting garlic about the same time as spring-flowering bulbs. In Minnesota, that might mean mid to late September; November or even early December is usually the best time in the coastal regions of Virginia. To be certain about the right time in your area, check with your local extension office or trusted garden center.
Besides the timing, a few other factors are essential in getting a good crop of garlic:
Buy the bulbs at a garden center or via mail-order catalog. The bulbs at grocery stores may be treated to prevent sprouting or retard growth.
Separate the bulbs into cloves the same day you're going to plant them. If you wait longer than a day, the cloves will dry out.
Choose a site that has excellent drainage and receives full sun. Till or spade the soil six to 10 inches deep. If the location offers rich sandy loam, great! If not, amend the soil with liberal quantities of organic matter. You want the soil to be loose and very workable.
Dig a trench two to four inches deep if you live in the North, about an inch deep if you live in the South. It's helpful to line the bottom of the trench with bulb food. Garlic is a heavy feeder.
Space four to six inches apart and position the pointed tips up. If you're planting elephant garlic, space the cloves six to eight inches apart.
Cover with soil so that the tips are about two inches below the soil surface, and water well.
Provide a generous layer of mulch for the winter, especially if you live in a colder climate.
When spring arrives, be sure to keep the garlic bed well weeded.
Plants can be expensive and identical cultivars difficult to source, but increasing your own stock or growing new varieties is not difficult and is very rewarding in exchange for a small amount of financial outlay.
Many plants do not produce viable seed or, if they do, it is so fiddly or slow to grow that it is easier and quicker to take cuttings from your favorite plant. Always keep your new cuttings moist and in a warm, sunny place.