Planting garlic requires up to a year or two in advance of taking action on the ground that will be accommodating the garlic. Garlic can be highly adaptable to most soils in North America. Several areas such as Texas and Hawaii might have too hot of a climate to support the growing of garlic.
Soil should start to be prepared one to two years in advance. Grass sod usually should be planted 1-1/2 years ahead. One example of preparing the soil with plants is by planting Rye Grain and Red Clover and then in the winter planting Winter Rye. Then that April follow with some Spring Oats, and then Buckwheat until it is time to plant. This is just one example of how to improve the soil before planting. There are many different grains that you can plant depending on your soil and your weather and zone.
Garlic also requires a well-drained soil no matter where you are located. Some soils such as a clay soil can be made into raised or elevated beds so the soil can drain better and the rains can fill in the trenches. In the Laurel Highlands where we are located we have soil that is wet and full of clay. It takes much more work to prepare and get ready for garlic. We have found much success using elevated beds for our garlic as you can see in our picture above. That is Craig using attachments on his tractor to make our elevated beds in our fields. We use a bed shaper, plastic mulch layer and drop tape layer. Our beds are 8″ high, by 36″ wide. We plant 6 rows 5″ apart. It also makes it much easier to remove the garlic during harvest time.
If you have clay soil it is best to use organic matter and not sand to enable the soil to be better for the garlic to grow. The best soils are free draining loam with lots of organic matter.
Nitrogen has a very important role in the growing of garlic. Garlic has a decently high need for it to grow. We advise you to test your soil for this before you plant and possibly even during the growing season so that you can be sure if you need to do another applications. When garlic is low and deficient in nitrogen it will start showing symptoms of yellowing of older leaves and leaf tips, it will not grow as well and have lower yield. You can also see an overall yellowing of the whole plant.
Some form of nitrogen, such as compost or manure, can be put into the soil before planting. This should be around one third of the amount that you will use for the year. When the garlic has grown 4-6 inches in the spring another application of nitrogen should be applied. Several authorities advise not to put anymore applications of nitrogren after May because it might affect the size of your bulbs.
Because we have chickens we have used some chicken manure, food scraps and bedding, and organic minerals that we obtain from Lancaster AG. We have been careful to incorporate this into the ground several months before planting and after it has been composting for several months as well. We also use Blood Meal in our compost and sometimes use a combination of fish meal and maxi crop soluble. It is mixed with water and foliar spray and used every two weeks although no spray in the last month before harvest.
Rabbit and horse manure would also be one of the better organic matters to use as well since they are not that high in nitrogen and are weed free. Other materials that are good are Alfalfa meal, Blood Meal, Bone Meal, Fish Meal, Granite Dust, Greensand, Gypsum, Kelp, Dolomitic limestone, Calcitic Limestone, Compost, Potassium sulfate, Rock Sulphate, Soybean Meal, Sul-Po-Mag, Wood ash, and Livestock manure as mentioned previously.
Before using any supplements we definitely advise you to take your soil to be tested to find out exactly what it would need, saving you time and money as well.