Grow Garlic in Wisconsin

Published On: February 4th, 2021

Garlic is one of the easiest of crops to grow. With minimal space and effort, you can harvest a generous crop of this “super food”. Garlic is an extremely flavorful and healthful food. There are two basic types of garlic: Hardneck and Softneck.

Hardneck Garlic

Planted in Late Fall

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Hardneck garlic is more cold-hardy and therefore better suits growing in our Wisconsin climate. The ideal time to plant Hardneck garlic is late September through mid-November.

It forms an edible central stalk (scape) in summer that is delicious when chopped and added to stir fry, egg dishes, pesto, and salads. The stem of this scape is what forms the hard center, or “neck” of hardneck bulbs. Hardneck garlic tends to have stronger, more complex flavor than Softneck types. Examples of Hardneck varieties include Music and German Red.

Softneck Garlic

Planted in Early Spring

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Try to plant as soon as the soil is workable, to achieve the longest growing period possible. The planting, growing and harvest method is the same as for hardneck garlic with the exception that there will be no edible scapes to harvest.

Softneck garlic matures more quickly than Hardneck, does not produce an edible scape, and tends to have milder flavor. While all garlic stores well, Softneck garlic is known for its exceptionally long storage life. Examples of Softneck varieties include California and Elephant.

How to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Garlic

Although the planting timeframe is different, the planting, growing, and harvesting methods are the same.

Purchase bulbs that are intended for planting usually referred to as Seed Garlic. These can be found at most garden centers, like ours. Don’t plant supermarket garlic because it may harbor diseases or may have been chemically treated to discourage sprouting and growth.

Planting: Full Sun, Loamy Soil

Select a full sun site with loamy soil for your planting bed. Break apart the bulbs into separate cloves, leaving the papery covering intact. Plant the cloves, pointed tip up, about 2” deep and with several inches between each clove.

Side note about fall planting of hardneck garlic. Since you’ll plant these in late fall, cover the garlic with organic mulch, like straw, to protect the bulbs from variable winter temperatures. You can remove the straw in spring when temperatures become consistent. You can gently cut off the green scapes in early summer before the bulbs finish in late summer.

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Harvesting: Late Summer

It’s time to harvest your garlic when the leaves turn brown and begin to die back.

  • Don’t attempt to pull the bulbs up by the stems.
  • Gently loosen the soil around the plant with a gardening fork and lift the bulbs from the soil.
  • Shake excess soil off the bulbs and hang them to dry.
  • Don’t wash the bulbs as that will encourage rot.
  • Once the bulbs have thoroughly dried brush any remaining soil off the bulbs and they are ready to eat. This usually takes a week or two.

Garlic bulbs will last for many months if properly stored. They should be kept in a dark, dry location with good air circulation. It is not recommended to store garlic in the refrigerator as they are more likely to sprout there due to the moist, cold conditions.

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Hardneck garlic showing the central neck.

Health Benefits of Garlic

Garlic has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. There is evidence that garlic’s health benefits include lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of cancer, and a stronger immune system. Check out these interesting articles: