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Garlic has garden benefits beyond its culinary use

Keeping pests away, the stinky plant makes a great companion to other vegetables

Garlic is a natural pest deterrent as well as a culinary delight.

Garlic is a natural pest deterrent as well as a culinary delight. Kathy Morrison

Get a head start on a more flavorful 2023 – and protection for your vegetable garden from pesky pests. Plant garlic this fall and enjoy its many (fragrant) benefits.

Garlic is now available from such mail-order seed companies as Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply in Grass Valley as well as local nurseries. It can be planted from October through December for harvest next summer, though earlier is better.

Garlic ranks as the most popular vegetable to plant among American gardeners, according to recent surveys. Why? We eat a lot of it, on average 2.5 pounds per person each year.

California, which produces most of the nation’s garlic supply, has an ideal climate for this onion cousin. According to UC Davis research, the best varieties to grow in the Sacramento area are “softneck” or silver skin garlics. They put all their energy into producing fat bulbs underground and rarely bolt. The most popular softneck varieties for our climate: California Early and California Late.

“Hardneck” varieties, also called “top-setting garlic,” also grow well in our area. Hardnecks produce a strong stem or scape, which is a spring vegetable all its own. These varieties often have purple or red skins and evocative names such as Purple Italian, Russian Red and Spanish Roja.

In addition to its culinary assets, garlic is a natural pest deterrent. Its scent keeps a wide range of pests away from neighboring plants including codling moths, spider mites, aphids, ants and snails as well as several species of gnats and flies.

Deer and rabbits don’t like garlic either. Planted along the borders of a garden, garlic can form a scent barrier to hungry critters. Garlic builds up sulfur content in the soil, acting as a natural fungicide. But not all vegetables like this extra dose of sulfur. Avoid planting garlic near peas, beans, asparagus, parsley or sage. (It will actually stunt their growth.)

And even though it's a close cousin to onions, garlic shouldn’t be planted in the same spot where onions have grown in the past two or three years; it can pick up diseases or other issues.

For the best crop, garlic needs full sun and good drainage, but not much room or water.

When planting, break the head apart into separate cloves, each with a little bit of the “foot” attached where they were connected. Plant pointy end up, about 2 inches deep. Garlic can be planted only 3 or 4 inches apart. Water once when freshly planted, then let the cloves rest. After they sprout, they need weekly irrigation if there’s no rain.

Baby garlic plants don’t like competition; remove any weeds that try to crowd them out.

For more tips on growing garlic: https://vric.ucdavis.edu/veg_info_crop/garlic.htm 

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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