Planting Garlic and Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Interplanting Garlic and Tulips
Interplanting tulip bulbs with garlic bulbs as a deterrent for

Like most, I plant my bulbs and garlic together in the Fall. This year the first frost is very late so I didn't plant them until late October. To make the work of sowing bulbs and cloves so much easier, I wait until after my fall clean-up of garden beds and after I have added compost and mulch. This way, I can space them all out on the surface and then submerge them easily in the loamy new layers of compost and mulch. 

In my last garden, I had competition from rabbits, but here in Durango, the deer make certain things impossible to grow, i.e. tulips. Last year I fruitlessly tried to interplant my garlic with my tulip bulbs as a deer deterrent. Anyone with deer experience reading last year's post probably got a belly laugh from the idea. It does not work. Deer are hungry in the spring and tulips are delicious to them, regardless of the garlic. I did grow a few successfully but had to cage them in with wire, decreasing the aesthetic. The deer seemed to have no interest in the alliums, crocus, daffodils, or hyacinth, so this year I chose more of these and a few new varieties of "deer-resistant" wild tulips.  

Tulip cages to keep the deer at bay   Caged tulip blossoms

In mid-March, I added these tulip cages to protect them from the deer after losing several burgeoning tulip blossoms to the deer. I managed to see them bloom but don't love the "caged" look.

Planting Garlic

Because garlic develops underground, it can absorb whatever it is exposed to in the water and soil in which it grows. If I must buy garlic, I purchase organic or from local growers that I know at the farmer’s market. Since garlic is easy to grow, doesn’t take up much space in the garden, and is a cooking essential in our daily recipes, I always plant it. Eventually, I hope to grow all we need for the year.

Sourcing Garlic to Plant

As the main peeler of garlic in our home, I prefer hardneck as it peels so much more easily and generally has larger cloves. I do plant some softneck so I can braid it at harvest for easier long-term storage, but hardneck will always win for its ease of use. I also love the fact that hardneck garlic offers an early spring harvest of scapes, the seed pods that can be eaten before the seeds mature. This year I ate most of the immature scapes but let some grow to maturity so I could use the seeds. I planted these tiny cloves this fall to see how well this works as a garlic starter and will update after next year's harvest.

Mature garlic seeds from a garlic scape   Harvested garlic seeds from a mature garlic scape   Planted garlic seeds from a mature garlic scape 

Mature garlic seeds developed from a hardneck garlic scapes. This Fall, I separated the garlic by type to see if I found any differences in flavor. While I like to cook, I am no chef and to me garlic is garlic. It all tasted pretty much the same.

Garlic sperated by type after peeling   Peeled garlic stored in a two pint jar

I thought I'd see if I could tell the difference between the different garlic varieties but I am no sommelier and have decided garlic is garlic.  This is half of the amount I purchased from my favorite stand at the Durango Farmers Market, Mocking Crow Farm. The other half was saved as my seed garlic for fall planting.

For the past two seasons, I have purchased bulk garlic from my favorite farm stand in early September. From this large quantity of garlic, I take an afternoon to break apart the heads as gently as I can and divide cloves into two piles: cloves to plant and cloves to eat. I select the cloves to plant based on two criteria. First, I separate the largest cloves which selects for cloves that will grow large in subsequent seasons. Second, of the largest cloves, I only set aside those with their cured skin intact as they will not dry out before I am able to plant them in late October. For the remaining smaller cloves and those with open skins, I peel them all with my trusty garlic peeler and save them in a jar in the refrigerator. I simply pull these out and dice them for any given recipe. This is an especially helpful timesaver in the fall just prior to making large batches of salsa full of garlicky goodness.

Garlic for eating and planting from a local farm
This year's garlic sourced from Mocking Crow Farm: Chesnook Red (HN), Georgia Fire (HN), Sonoran (SN), German Red (HN), Montana Zemo (HN), Persian Star (HN)

Sowing Cloves

While I build a larger garden in the backyard, I have been interplanting garlic around my bulbs and perennials in the beds on either side of the walkway to our front door. This works well, as we harvest it in mid to late July, leaving room for succession plantings of other late-season vegetables like beans, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, carrots, and kale. Garlic cloves are hearty. Every clove I planted last season in my clay soil came up and offered a decent harvest. The heads were more compact than I would have hoped, however, I believe that as I condition the soil with additional sheets of organic matter over time the heads will have more room to grow. I typically bury them 6 to 8 inches deep to offer enough soil insulation so they do not freeze over winter. I give them about 4 inches of room in every direction and then wait until spring when they poke up from the surface.
Harvested garlic drying in the sun
This summer's garlic harvest curing on the pea trellis next to our front door.

Planting Bulbs

Who doesn’t set their gardening clock by the peaking and cresting of the spring bulbs? It sets the mind to dreaming of all possibilities in this new season. What will I add to my garden this year? New beds? New plants? Outside of their beauty, blooming bulbs offer early sources of food to pollinators and the start of the zone 5/6 timer on the growing season. “Oh, the daffodils are up? Time to start hardening off my indoor starts. Oh, the tulips are up? Which perennials do I need to get in the ground?” This biological alarm cannot go off unless you plant your bulbs in the fall and tuck them in for the winter. Outside of preplanning, bulbs are easy to grow and are a small effort for a big spring payoff.

The first spring daffodils in bloom

The first spring daffodils in bloom this past spring.

Sourcing Bulbs

If you plant bulbs, they will multiply, and five years in, you will find you have more spring blooms than you know what to do with; however, to begin I order them online for the first few years. I never buy more than one variety so I can see how well adapted each is to my garden and its microclimates. If it does well and I love it, I may get more in subsequent years, but getting new and different varieties each year ensures a true diversity of spring blooms over time. 

A variety of tulips and daffodils in the spring garden
A variety of tulips and daffodils in the spring garden.

This year I chose to not order any more tulips because of the deer. Instead, I invested in three dozen more saffron crocus as they did really well in the front garden and I want a bigger saffron harvest next year. I used a more "local" online nursery in southwest Colorado, High Country Gardens, and shopped for deer-resistant bulbs. This resulted in the purchase of a new iris, a red spider lily, several varieties of allium, and three plants very new to me: red crown imperial, snake's head fritillary, and Persian lily. These will complement the tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil bulbs I planted last year and grow the menagerie of spring blooms.

Sowing Bulbs

Getting ready to plant bulbs in the fresh layer of compost

Getting ready to plant bulbs in the fresh layer of compost

Like garlic, bulbs just need a 6- to 8-inch-deep tuck into the new organic matter added as a part of the Fall clean-up. Most varieties come with instructions about eventual height and spacing, so I try to place the taller varieties toward the back of the bed and the shorter ones toward the front. I am not an admirer of alternating, neat monochromatic bands of blooms, so I do my best to mix the colors as I like a wilder cottage garden look. This means interplanting bulbs around existing perennials and always being surprised in the spring, summer, and fall with what comes up. It's like planting yourself little presents to be forgotten and discovered later.

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