Growing up with an Italian grandmother, I can’t imagine living in a culinary world where garlic doesn’t exist. It’s an essential ingredient in some of the most delicious dishes, and it has many wonderful health benefits in addition to its punchy and spicy flavor. As much as humans love to eat garlic, garlic also loves to eat. This means we need to fertilize it.
Garlic is what we in the gardening world call a “heavy feeder.” It requires many nutrients to grow large, flavorful bulbs of this zesty root.
Fertilizing your garlic plants can, and probably should, occur both before and during the planting and growth of your bulbs. We have great tips on using some of these fertilizers to get your cloves started!
Garlic plants require various feeding methods and nutrients for optimal growth.
A surprising number of methods and substances can be used to feed garlic plants. I love garlic, and garlic loves fertilizer, so here we go to dig into how you can feed this heavy feeder and grow some plump, delicious bulbs for yourself.
Keep in mind that you only need one or two of these fertilizer ingredients, and you shouldn’t apply too many at once. Always follow package instructions and take care not to overfeed your crops.
Enhance the rooting process by soaking cloves in water, baking soda, and kelp fertilizer before planting.
The first place to work some fertilizer into your garlic planting routine is before you ever touch the soil. Soaking your garlic cloves before you plant them may help the rooting process, which means they get established more quickly in the soil. The faster a clove establishes roots, the better its chance of surviving and becoming a plump bulb of delicious garlic.
While this technique is not required, it can be beneficial if you want to add it to your process!
Adding a few ingredients into the water when you soak garlic will help to give it that extra push toward a healthy start:
- 8 cups of water
- 1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
- Kelp fertilizer (1-2 tbsp. of liquid kelp or 1/2 cup of dry kelp meal, depending on package recommendations)
Soak your cloves overnight in the solution the night before planting. Don’t leave them too long, or you risk rotting your cloves. Soaking for the perfect window of 8-12 hours will actually help protect them from fungal diseases. Avoid soaking for much over 12 hours.
After removing them from the fertilizer solution, give your cloves an alcohol or peroxide rinse to kill any mites lurking beneath or on the surface. It also eliminates mite eggs, which can overwinter in your cloves, hatching in the spring and making a mess of things.
Increase yields and environmental sustainability in your garden by preparing your soil for planting with neem cake.
To prep your bed for planting, make sure that there is an ample amount of nutrients in the soil. There are a few items that you can add to your soil before planting to give your garlic a strong chance of rooting and thriving through the winter.
One of these items is neem cake. Neem cake is a byproduct of producing neem oil and is an excellent source of slow-release nutrients. It also acts as a deterrent for pests and aids in the breakdown of nutrients in other added fertilizers.
Neem cake can increase yields by up to 25% and improve the soil’s fertility level. Increased yields, fewer pests, and it’s environmentally friendly as well; neem cake is a great product that you can feel good about using in the garden,
Incorporating compost into soil promotes healthy root development.
Adding compost to your beds serves more than one purpose and leads to plants with strong roots and a sustained release of nutrients in the soil over a long period. Mixing compost into your soil helps to loosen the soil and is particularly important if your soil type compacts easily, like clay.
Garlic likes loose soil, especially because it helps with healthy root development. Since the portion we want to harvest is the roots, we want to give those roots the best environment to form within.
Compost also breaks down slowly over time, allowing for a slower, more steady release of nutrients over a standard liquid or granular fertilizer. Think of compost as a long-term method of enriching your soil. You can make this soil conditioner at home, too!
Composting food scraps and yard trimmings is a great way to repurpose items that would otherwise go to waste. Just keep your compost pile aerated and maintain a proper balance of browns (carbon-rich materials like leaves and straw) to greens (nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings and veggie waste).
Manure is a valuable, nutrient-rich fertilizer that provides essential nitrogen and phosphorus.
As a chicken keeper, I know the amazing value of manure as a fertilizing agent. Not only is manure a great source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other valuable nutrients, but it is also good for the environment.
From a sustainability perspective, using manure as fertilizer helps reduce water pollution from runoff. It also improves the soil structure, leading to less runoff and, most importantly, less erosion.
Adding manure to your soil before planting has a similar effect to compost. It helps to loosen the soil, making it more hospitable for garlic roots, and offers a more long-term nutrient delivery system. But it’s best to age or compost your manure in advance instead of adding raw animal poop to the soil.
This is a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that enhances the soil.
Alfalfa meal is a great organic fertilizer to add to your soil to condition it for planting garlic. It contributes a healthy amount of nitrogen to the soil and a fatty acid called triacontanol, which acts as a growth stimulant.
In addition to its nutrient profile, alfalfa meal can also improve the texture and composition of your soil, making it more hospitable to root development, which is our main goal in growing garlic. Adding this natural fertilizer can also help combat weeds, making it an all-around gardening gem.
This high-nitrogen natural fertilizer supports initial growth.
Blood meal is a dried powder derived from animal blood. It’s a natural fertilizer with a very high nitrogen content. When garlic cloves germinate, they need some extra nitrogen to jumpstart photosynthesis. Mix blood meal directly into your soil or dilute it with water and pour from a watering can.
However, use blood meal only in the initial stages of garlic growth, as excess nitrogen will lead to rapid leaf formation. This can inhibit the formation of the roots and bulbs, so while it is a great soil amendment when you first plant your garlic, switch it out for bone meal after your cloves sprout.
Incorporating worm castings from vermicomposting enriches soil.
Also known as worm castings or worm manure, vermicompost is a balanced, slow-release source of fertility and soil-nourishing organic matter. Worm composting is a simple and effective way to make compost at home with a vermicompost bin or worm bag. It takes up very little space and produces high-quality compost. Alternatively, you can purchase worm castings that are ready to add to your garden.
Many species of epigeic worms (like Eisenia fetida, also known as red wigglers) can break down organic materials like food scraps, shredded newspaper, and manure. When you allow your compost ingredients to pass through the microbially-rich gut of worms first, the nutrients become more available to your plants. The worm castings also act as food and a home for beneficial microbes that help plants uptake their nutrients.
I wouldn’t rely solely on vermicompost as your only form of fertilizer as it varies widely in nutritional benefits, but it is a great micronutrient boost and a source of beneficial microbes for your garlic beds.
Use bone meal after sprouting to balance out nitrogen and promote strong bulb formation.
Bone meal, made from ground animal bones, is an excellent source of phosphorus, one of the most essential nutrients in garlic growth. Phosphorus helps to strengthen the cell walls and assists the bulbs in storing energy for growth.
Phosphorus is also instrumental in root development, which we know is crucial to growing large, healthy bulbs. Most soil contains an amount of phosphorus, and this macronutrient is also in most commercial fertilizers.
Adding phosphorus in the form of bone meal also helps to balance out high nitrogen in the soil after the garlic bulbs have sprouted. Excess nitrogen increases the green growth of leaves above the ground, leaving less energy for the part of the garlic we desire. It also decreases the storage life of your bulbs.
Use bone meal as a soil amendment before or after planting. To use it after planting, sprinkle some on top of the soil or add it to other fertilizers to reap the benefits.
Fish meal is a phosphorus and calcium-rich organic fertilizer that fortifies the plants and improves bulb formation.
Another organic animal byproduct that can be used to fertilize your garlic is fish meal. Fish meal is a powder that is a byproduct of fish oil extraction. It can be purchased as a powder, pressed into cakes, or diluted into a liquid formula called fish emulsion.
Fish meal, like bone meal, is a phosphorus-heavy hitter. It also contains a lot of calcium, which strengthens the cell walls of plants. This fortifies your young garlic bulbs, making them more robust and tolerant of frost and other damaging conditions. It also creates good-looking bulbs of garlic that are well-formed.
Using a granular fish meal will give your garlic plants a long-lasting, sustained release of these important nutrients. Simply work some powdered fish meal into the top few inches of your soil. Fish meal takes longer to break down than liquid fish emulsions, which will deliver an immediate boost.
Eggshells are a valuable natural fertilizer when dried, crushed, and added to the soil.
Speaking of calcium and its role in the development of cell walls, it won’t come as a surprise that eggshells are loaded with calcium. If you raise chickens or just like to eat eggs, saving your eggshells for your plants is a fantastic use of something that could otherwise end up in the trash.
To use your eggshells for fertilizer, allow them to dry out. You can expose your eggshells to the air, which will work quite well, or you can dehydrate them in a warm oven. Heating them may destroy any bacteria present.
Once dry, crush your eggshells into a fine powder and dig small trenches in your soil between bulbs. Sprinkle them into the trenches, and then cover them back over. Avoid adding raw eggshells straight to the garden, as this could attract rodents and other pests.
One thing to be aware of is that eggshells can take quite a while to break down, even when powdered, as they are not organic matter — strictly speaking, these are mineral additives as they’re almost pure calcium carbonate. People with alkaline soil may not see results for up to a year or more as their soil lacks the natural acidity that causes the eggshells to release their calcium into a soluble form. However, alkaline soil often has an abundance of calcium already and doesn’t need the eggshells!
Choose complete fertilizers with specified N-P-K ratios.
Finally, let’s talk about what type of complete fertilizer you can use to give your garlic the best nutrition from start to finish. These are the fertilizers you will purchase from retailers with specific ratios of macro- and micronutrients.
These fertilizers will typically be labeled with a series of 3 numbers, separated by hyphens, which represent the ratio of nitrogen (N) – phosphorus (P) – and potassium (K) that are contained in the soil.
Initially, before your garlic has sprouted leaves, a high nitrogen fertilizer is best to give your cloves a strong start. A formula of 16-6-4 NPK fertilizer will greatly benefit your early garlic growth.
Once your garlic sprouts, you will want to reduce the amount of nitrogen in the soil and add more phosphorus and potassium. Once your cloves show growth on top of the soil, switching to a formula of 5-10-10 is the best thing to keep those bulbs growing robustly. Fertilize up to every two weeks during its growing season.
There are many great ways to repurpose household castoffs to fertilize your garlic crop. In addition, several organic methods work well for maximum yield. Commercial fertilizers can also be very effective and are a convenient way to deliver nutrients quickly when your plants need them most.