Gardening: Start thinking about garlic

By Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
Garlic scapes are typically one of the first vegetables in spring.

The fall bulb catalogs are beginning to arrive, which reminds me that it’s time to think about planting that most popular allium of all, garlic. If you’re a foodie, it’s probably a staple on your grocery list. My late partner Jeff Ball, a passionate foodie and a great cook, swore our homegrown garlic was far better than anything we could buy in a grocery store.

Because this member of the allium family needs a long growing season to produce a mature bulb, here in Michigan garlic must be planted in fall, and late October is prime time.  Plant some easy-to-grow cloves of garlic this fall and you can begin harvesting succulent garlic scapes in spring and mature bulbs in mid to late summer.  

  The good news is garlic is a snap to grow and you don’t need a lot of space to do it. You can edge your tomato bed with garlic or stick some cloves in the perennial garden next to heavy feeders such as delphinium.  

Simply divide up the bulb into cloves, leaving the papery skin intact. Plant the cloves, pointy side up, 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. 

Garlic thrives in six hours or more of sun in well-drained soil rich in organic material. Adding a handful of good-quality compost to the soil at planting time will improve the flavor, and mulching with shredded leaves keeps the cloves from heaving over the winter.  It’s best to wait until the soil cools after a few frosts to plant the cloves. 

There are dozens of varieties of garlic to choose from, but they’re divided up into two groups, hard neck and soft neck. Michiganians must stick to hard neck varieties because they can handle the big freeze in winter. The garlic you buy in the grocery store is usually the soft-neck variety from California and will not survive our cold winters.

You can buy Michigan-grown garlic to grow as well as eat at farmers markets. 

Uncle Luke’s Feed Store in Troy ( and its sister store Flushing Lawn and Garden in Flushing carries a couple of varieties of hard neck garlic for planting. 

Johnny’s Selected Seeds  ( sells German Extra Hardy, recommended for hardiness and flavor and Music, Michigan State University’s pick of the litter.  

If you buy online, don’t wait until the last minute to place your order as they sell out of garlic surprisingly early. Order now and they will ship in October.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at