Garlic and Other Bulbs

It's definitely feeling cooler outside now. It is time to do some tasks to enhance the garden for next year. Around Columbus Day is the time to plant next year's garlic. I know you can buy it in the supermarket but if you really love garlic it is fun to plant your own. It gives you a real appreciation and love for how this species grows. Simply put, there are two major groups of garlic, the softneck and the hardneck. The hardneck garlics are the ones that have the cloves arranged around a central stem. This is the garlic that sends up the very attractive scape or stalk with bulbils on the top in the spring. The hardnecks are divided into varieties including porcelain, purple striped, and rocambole. Although less hardy than the so-called soft necked varieties the hard necked are more flavorful. The softneck include the artichoke and the silverskin varieties. You are probably familiar with these. They are commonly sold in supermarkets, as they are a “good keeper” and are also used for garlic braids. You are probably also familiar with the elephant garlics. They are the mildest and are frequently the ones chosen for roasting.

You can purchase garlic for growing in your garden locally or on line. Larger cloves of planted garlic tend to produce larger heads. Garlic likes rich loose soil. The individual cloves should be planted pointy side up 2 to 3 inches deep and about a half foot apart. Some people add bone meal. I don't. Don't be disturbed if the garlic begins to grow and peaks out of the soil. Its natural antifreeze will take it through the winter just fine. Just make sure you know where you have planted it and which types you planted where.

Maybe you would rather plant flowers for next spring. Try naturalizing bulbs in your lawn. Although you can actually plant any of the spring bulbs in an existing lawn, crocuses are perhaps the easiest because they die down before you have to give the lawn its spring cutting. The corms also multiply so the effect just gets better year after year. Some people actually arrange the crocus corms by color to make words or designs. I am not one of them. I like to mix up the different bulb colors and types and then rather randomly plant them. The result is beautiful. I love to watch the faces of people, especially young children, when they see the flowers peaking out of the grass. Such beauty for so little cost, time and labor!

If you chose to plant bulbs in existing beds, be sure the soil is loose. Plant small bulbs about two times their height and large bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths about three times their height. If deer eat your flowers in the spring, plant the many types of daffodils. Daffodils and their relatives, the narcissi, are toxic to mammals and will be left untouched. Sprinkle bulb food over the soil at the time of planting. This is to promote good root growth. Plant the bulb in groups for a great effect.

While you are at it, how about trying to force some bulbs? Forcing means that you treat bulbs in such a way that you can force them to bloom earlier than they normally would. This enables you to have a spring garden in your home. Go to your local nursery. The bulbs that are sold singly have information sheets indicating which types are the best for forcing. Put potting soil in a pot. Place the bulbs in the pot so they extend a bit above the top. They may touch. Add soil up to the necks of the bulbs. Thoroughly water. Now place the pots in an unheated garage or other suitable place. Some people even bury the pots outside but then you have to take care digging them up later which can prove highly inconvenient. I place my pots into plastic storage boxes which I check every week or so. The first year I planted bulbs for forcing I merely set them all in a corner of the garage. One day I came out to discover that every single tulip bulb was gone. The other bulbs were untouched. Apparently a small “friend” had really enjoyed the treat!

So much to look forward to!

Forever Young Magazine October 2005