Question: I planted 68 garlic cloves in late September and they’re starting to sprout barely a month later. Will they still produce good cloves next year?
Answer: Normally, garlic grows sight unseen under the ground during fall and winter, but it’s not dormant. It really does grow during the off season, producing a good root system and the beginnings of next season’s sprouts, but it does so underground. It’s only in spring that the first leaves pierce the soil. At least, that’s usually the case in cold climates.
In mild climates with cool winters (garlic needs at least 40 days of cool temperatures, otherwise it won’t form good cloves), garlic often begins to sprout about 4 to 6 weeks after it’s planted. The leaves remain visible, but short, during the winter, then they really start to grow in earnest in spring, when temperatures warm up and days become longer.
A Mild Fall Leads to Early Sprouting
In your case, it’s the abnormally warm fall that has encouraged your garlic to start to sprout much earlier than it usually would in your area. In other words, your garlic thinks it’s growing in California rather than in North America’s cold Northeast!
But hardneck garlic, the type grown in cold regions, is well adapted to irregular winter weather. The leaves that have already sprouted will simply stop growing when truly cold weather hits and will stay dormant until spring finally does arrive, then will continue their growth. This won’t reduce the harvest to come.
Still, it would be wise to cover the leaves with a good mulch to protect them from the extreme cold that could burn their tips … but then, a good winter mulch is always recommended for garlic, no matter what happens in the autumn.
Take advantage of the tree leaves currently falling in their millions and shred them (that way, they won’t blow away), then cover the garlic leaves completely. Chopped leaves are an excellent mulch and they’re free too!
For those reading in Fall of 2022 – this happens to me all the time – the garlic will be fine – in fact, take it as a sign that all is well with your planting. I think, too, that I get bigger cloves when they sprout a bit in the fall. I mulch well when I plant, but if you get those early peekers and can’t put your hands on leaves or straw, you can also shred paper products – such as paper towels and napkins (so long as they don’t have cleaning product on them), shredded newspaper, used paper coffee filters and so on. Throughout the year I also collect small (1 inch around or so) fallen tree branches with the leaves still on and put them aside as a quick cover; the “fan” of leaves provides some cover from harsh winds and prevents ice from forming directly on the leaves. It also discourages squirrels from digging around in the garlic bed. 🙂
Thanks for the info.
My garlic which I planted in October this year (2021) came roaring up by early Nov. It’s been warm this fall, but certainly not hot. First time I’ve seen that happen here in PA.
Thank you for this advice. I thought I’d lost my crop of about 130 garlic because of an extremely warm October. I will get out and give it more mulch to protect them.
Me too.. and really thank you for a bit of peace of mind on my first autumn sprout of garlic.
I am a beginner. I have garlic sprouting and is clumped together somewhat. Should I redistribute them and spread them out then cover with leaves? I am in central NY State/
I’m not sure why they would be clumped together (did you plant entire garlic bulbs? You should have planted the individual cloves.) At any rate, don’t disturb this plant just before the cold. Also do any moving or dividing when it is dormant (late summer or early fall).
My garlic always sprouts in the fall without fail. I’m in Nova Scotia, zone 5a, and it’s never a problem