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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: 


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

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

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

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

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

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

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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