You may not have to wait until October to plant garlic

bulbs of garlic
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

One of the things I like about garlic is that planting it gives you something to do in late fall when there is nothing else to do in the garden. I have always heard that you’re supposed to plant garlic in October.

But is there any reason you can’t plant it earlier?

Since you harvest in July or August, I think it might be convenient to take cloves from your best heads of garlic and plant them right away.

Robert Pavlis of the Garden Myths website did a test and concluded that planting garlic in October has no benefits over planting in August.

Last year he planted hardneck garlic cloves on Aug. 2, Sept. 1 and Oct. 1 in his garden in Southern Ontario. He’s in Zone 5, and Western New York is in Zone 5 or the warmer Zone 6.

Pavlis found that the cloves planted in August were the first to show new growth in spring, but within a week there were green tips on all of the garlic. The cloves planted later quickly caught up to the first ones, and by harvest time, all the batches produced the same size bulb with the same average number of cloves. He didn’t see any advantage to planting late.

So why are we told to plant in October? Maybe it’s just a convenient time for farmers to plant, Pavlis conjectures, because they’re so busy earlier in the season. Planting garlic does give you something to do when there’s not much happening in the fields or in your garden.

Some people have suggested that planting earlier may give pests and diseases more time to attack the garlic, but he hasn’t seen evidence for this is. Or maybe it’s just that kind of gardening advice that gets repeated and no one knows how it started.

I do wonder if planting early would work as well in our Zone 6 areas as it did for Pavlis in Zone 5. I didn’t have time to plant in early August, but I plan to plant some by early September.

Pavlis has a couple other caveats on his test: He used one unnamed variety of hardneck garlic. Other varieties of hardneck or softneck garlic may behave differently. Different soils may give different results as well.

You can read the details of Pavlis’s test on planting garlic early here. You can subscribe to his blog for free.

Pavlis is also the author of  two books, Garden Myths and Building Natural Ponds.

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3 Comments on “You may not have to wait until October to plant garlic

  1. This is not a very good test… one garden, and one year. I tried planting garlic in our city garden one fall, in early October. That year we had a cool fall but a very mild winter, with lots of warm spells, and the garlic was a foot high by Christmas. I suggest you wait as late as possible before planting…

  2. We usually plant our garlic ,which is hardneck, in late September and have had good results. We live on in island in the thousand islands and close our cottage the first week of October.

  3. Hugh, it is definitely a limited test and Robert Pavlis concedes that point. I think I will try it anyway with part of my crop. I can’t grow zucchini, but garlic does well in my yard, so even if I lose some, I should be okay.

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