Irrigation is a very important component of growing garlic. Garlic’s root system does not go very deep and therefore cannot get water from deep in the soil so it depends a lot more on irrigation. It is much more important in different parts of the United States. In the west it is a necessity. It is difficult but it is very important to find the best balance of dry and wet soil so that the garlic can grow without stress. A good way to get to this balance is to know your soil type and be checking it consistently. We use a drip tape system to provide water during spring and early summer to efficiently keep the soil moisture under control.
The most important time to keep track of your watering and the amount the garlic is getting is around the time the bulbs are growing the fastest which is usually from May to July which of course all depends on your planting time and your area that you live in. Around 1 inch per week during the dry season is a good average to have. We recommend stopping the irrigation about one month before harvest. However keep an eye out on your own soil and garlic and do what works best for your area.
Mulching is very important in protecting your garlic through the winter and providing a safe haven for it until spring. There are many different types of mulching materials and they are all not equal. Many have advantages and disadvantages and many are just plain wrong and should not be used. Good mulch can be mulched leaves, weed free straw, compost, and plastic mulch. We do not recommend pine needles or composted wood.
Good mulch will keep an even temperature and also keep the moisture to minimum. Mulch can also suppress weeds from growing if you use a heavier one. It will also protect from chemical and biological activities that might harm the garlic plant. If the mulch is too heavy however it can keep the soil from warming in spring as well as keep too wet soils from drying out.
At the moment we use chopped straw and cover it loosely with a good 6-10 inches. Fresh grass clippings also seem to work well at about 6” deep and also old chopped wheat straw. Mulching is different in different climates and you must find what will work for you.
Oftentimes we will need to go back after a very hard wind or snow and add more mulch but at the same time right before spring we often go out and make sure the straw was not too heavy and if you need to you can possibly move some straw around so that the garlic will not get smothered or moldy and will be able to grow through the mulch.
If you find that the rains are too heavy during the spring the mulch can cause the garlic to rot and might need to be removed at the end of spring or early summer. This can be easily taken care of by constantly checking in on the garlic and the soil.