In the Southern U.S., we plant garlic in the fall, and the best garlics for our relatively mild winters are the soft-neck garlics. These are also the ones that can be braided, if the leaves are left on at harvest.
Regardless of the garlic you choose to grow, it helps to take time to prepare the planting space for the crop. As always, add more compost to the bed. Mixing in some organic fertilizer, following package directions, is usually also a good idea.
To plant, separate a head of garlic into cloves, leaving the papery wrappings on the cloves. Lay the cloves out on the prepared planting space in either the rows or the grid pattern that you choose to have them grow in. Make sure the cloves are spaced at least four inches apart. Five or six inches space between cloves would not be too much.
Then, push each clove down into the soil, pointy-end up, so that the tip of the clove is about an inch or inch-and-a-half below the surface. Smooth over the top of the bed to cover the cloves, then water them well enough to settle the soil around them.
Why not plant hard-neck garlics? The hard-necked garlics that form beautiful, curved scapes (flower-and-seed heads) in late spring, sometimes featured in magazine photos, do not always produce good heads of garlic in Southern gardens.
Some years, of course, they do just fine.
Other years, the single clove that is planted, instead of forming a head of equal-sized cloves, will expand to become one giant clove (golf-ball size!) that has several tiny cloves formed around it, as in the nearby picture. The tiny ones don’t all come out of the ground when the “head” of garlic is pulled up in June, and those sometimes will grow into a head of garlic in a year or two. Growing hard-neck garlic in the South is a bit of a different experience.
Where do I find garlic for planting? Soft-neck garlics are usually the ones sold in grocery stores, in the produce section. If you buy an organically-grown head of garlic, it won’t have been treated with chemicals that prevent sprouting, and you can use cloves from that head of garlic for planting.
You can also order specific varieties of garlic from seed catalogs. A quarter pound of garlic may be the smallest order you can make, and that can be too much for a small garden. If you order garlic for planting, you might want to first find a gardening friend or two to share with!
This year, I ordered a Creole garlic variety, Ajo Rojo, and I will be sharing cloves with several friends. The Creole garlics are supposed to be among the soft-neck types most suited to very warm winters.