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!