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When Garlic Sprouts in the Fall

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Sometimes garlic starts to sprout in the fall. Source: willholmes, Flickr

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?

Rene Barabe

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!

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Garlic in snow: a perfectly normal occurence. Source: stayandroam.blog

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.

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Shredded leaves make a good and inexpensive mulch. Source: pxhere.com

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!blog-snow-garlic

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “When Garlic Sprouts in the Fall

  1. Barry Langille

    My garlic always sprouts in the fall without fail. I’m in Nova Scotia, zone 5a, and it’s never a problem

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