Looking to grow prize-winning garlic with plump cloves? Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow out there. A natural fungus and pest deterrent, it is a good crop to plant in your garden. Plus, homegrown garlic has a much richer flavor than what you’ll find at the store.
Although garlic isn’t a demanding crop to grow, you’ll have a better yield if you properly fertilize it throughout the growing cycle. Generally, garlic is a long-season crop that takes between 180 to 210 days to maturation, depending on the variety. As such, proper fertilization is of paramount importance as the plant’s needs change as they mature.
Keep reading for more information about fertilizer for garlic and the key to growing large and healthy garlic bulbs.
What Is Fertilizer For Garlic Plants?
Poor soil fertility is among the most neglected factors affecting the growth of garlic plants. It is important to note that all soils, regardless of fertility levels, benefit from adding fertilizer. Generally, garlic is a heavy feeder, mainly because it takes a long time to come to fruition. As such, garlic prefers soils with high organic matter and benefits more than most vegetable crops from the addition of amendments. When nutrients are at optimum levels, plant growth is healthy, and bulb size is maximized. To understand your soil needs for healthy garlic growth, we highly recommend doing a soil test.
What Is Soil Testing?
Soil testing is a process that measures soil fertility. It lets you know how much fertilization is required to prevent over-fertilization and deficiencies in certain nutrients. Usually, gardeners who use organic fertilization methods feel they do not need to test their soils. This is not a good practice and can often lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients or even over-fertilization without knowing it. To test your soil, take a small sample and send it in for testing. The general soil fertility recommendations in the 0-24 inch depth portion of soil are:
Pounds per 1000 ft2: 3 lbs (1.3 kg)
Pounds per acre: 120 lbs (55 kg)
Pounds per 1000 ft2: 4 lbs (1.8 kg)
Pounds per acre: 160 lbs (73 kg)
Pounds per 1000 ft2: 4 lbs (1.8 kg)
Pounds per acre: 150 lbs (68 kg)
Pounds per 1000 ft2: 1 lb (0.5 kg)
Pounds per acre: 30 lbs (0.5 kg)
If the soil test shows that your soil has low nutrient levels, you can improve it by adding commercial fertilizer or organic fertilizer.
Artificial manufacturers state the proportion of nutrients in their products on the package label. For example, the three numbers exhibited on the packaging of commercial fertilizer product labels tell the consumer the percentage of each of the three main nutrients contained in the product. These nutrients include potassium, nitrogen as well as phosphorous. The first number states the percentage of nitrogen, the second number refers to the amount of phosphorus, and the third number indicates the percentage of potassium.
If you are applying fertilizer nutrients individually, potassium, sulfur, and phosphorous should be applied and incorporated into the soil before you plant cloves. Fertilize garlic with a high source of nitrogen. Nitrogen application should be done thrice:
- 1st time- Nitrogen should be applied at planting
- 2nd time: Apply nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season starting in early spring.
- 3rd time: After the first spring application, nitrogen should be applied every 2-3 weeks until the scapes emerge.
There are many different all-natural fertilizers that you can use in your garden or with potting soil. Most of these fertilizers can be made at home using common items from your pantry or backyard. Here are 8 of our favorite DIY fertilizers
Grass clippings and most of the weeds that you’ll find in your garden are high in nitrogen, which makes an excellent fertilizer.
Put your kitchen and garden waste to work by making your own compost. Compost releases its nutrients slowly, allowing your garden to go for a year or two without needing reapplication of fertilizer. Compost manure also helps your garden soil retain moisture, essential for garlic gardens to thrive during hot, dry summers.
Manure comes from a variety of sources – horses, chickens, cows, and even bats. Manure is a good source of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients, but you’ll need to use it carefully. Raw manure has high levels of acidity and nutrients than your garlic plants require. Hence, putting on too much can damage or burn your plants. As such, it is best to use well-composted manure. Composted manure is less nutrient-dense and acidic, and you can use more of it to improve your soils’ water retention without risking burning your plants.
If you opt to use amendments such as manure or compost to fertilize your soil, add them in the late summer or early fall before planting garlic cloves. This ensures that the organic materials have enough time to integrate with the soil to release their nutrients before the garlic grows. However, it is important to understand that most composts and manures tend to be low in nitrogen. Therefore, large amounts of nitrogen are required to meet the complete needs of the garlic.
How To Use Fertilizer On Your Garlic Plants
The growing and fertilization conditions for both hardneck garlic and softneck garlic varieties are the same.
Prepare The Planting Area
Both softneck and hardneck varieties prefer average to fertile, well-drained soil. Sandy, clay loam soil is best for growing garlic, thanks to its great drainage properties. Garlic has well-developed root systems that grow more than three feet deep in well-drained soil. Plant the cloves in a raised bed at least 4 inches high and 20 inches wide if you are planting in heavier soil.
Improve Soil Nutrition Before Planting Garlic
Before planting cloves, work a couple of tablespoons of complete fertilizer, fish meal, or bone meal into the garden soil several inches below where the garlic base will rest. Select healthy large cloves free of disease for planting. The larger the clove, the bigger the bulb you will get the following summer.
Plant garlic cloves with the pointed end facing up, 1-2 inches deep, and 2-4 inches apart in rows spaced 10 – 14 inches apart. When sowing garlic, supply a balanced fertilizer blend to your garlic seed at planting time.
A good blend of fertilizer will support proper foliage and root development. Use bone meal once during the planting phase to promote scape growth in hardneck varieties. You will need to cut off the scapes from hardneck garlic to allow proper bulb growth.
Mulch Your Garlic Beds
Mulch to improve soil structure and reduce weeds. Mulch the garlic bed with wood chips, hay, or compost in the fall before the ground freezes. Mulching increases soil quality, moisture retention, and nutrient availability for crops. Ensure the mulch is fine and fluffy or chopped up to allow good air circulation.
Once you have sown your garlic, it is time to consider a schedule for further fertilization of garlic.
How To Fertilize Growing Garlic
Add Blood Meal Immediately After Planting
We highly recommend adding blood meal directly after planting garlic. If you planted in the fall, fertilization should occur in the spring.
Side Dress Your Garlic Plant With Organic Fertilizer
Apply additional organic fertilizer by side-dressing the plant, gently working the fertilizer into the soil beside the plants. Side dressing your garlic plant in late winter with compost manure is highly recommended to boost growth. Also, spray the leaves with a high nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks.
Fertilize A Second Time In May
Also, just before the bulbs begin to swell in response to the lengthening daylight, usually in early May, fertilize a second time lightly. It would be best to not fertilize with high nitrogen foods after May, as this may stunt the bulb size.
Increase Potassium Fertilizer To Develop Large Bulbs
Organic nutrients leach out of the soil whenever it rains, or the soil is irrigated. So as the plant grows bigger, increase the percentage of potassium in small amounts to help develop larger bulbs. This should take place around mid-May.
Decrease Nitrogen Fertilizer
Once the main leaves have grown, they slowly decrease nitrogen. This should start about 50 days after planting. Stop feeding your plants with fertilizer when leaf growth slows down, and bulb growth picks up.
Weed And Water Religiously
Keep the area around your garlic weed-free during this period since it doesn’t compete well with weeds. Water your garlic deeply every 8 to 10 days if spring is dry. Start checking for mature cloves at the end of June.
Avoid Over Fertilizing Your Garlic Plants
When amending your soil, it is important to not over-fertilize it with nutrients such as Nitrogen. Excessive amounts of nitrogen cause excessive top growth, leading to small bulbs because the plants focus too much of their energy on producing leaves instead of storing energy below ground. Over fertilization can also cause damage, such as burning garlic plants, especially when they are young.
Over-fertilizing your garden also results in the contamination of local ground and surface water. So do not exceed the recommended amount thinking that more is better. When fertilizing your garlic plants, always remember the golden rule of applying fertilizers: “not enough is always better than too much.”