To mulch or de-mulch garlic & garlic roots

compulsivegrower(8)March 10, 2013

Hello Allium forum !

Garlic shoots are up & it's an exciting time !

Last year in the garden I had fall planted garlic ( in sandy stony soil ) that remained mulched with straw until August. Garlic crop was absolutely fantastic

Replanted this fall in different soil ( heavy clay ) and I decided to de-mulch my garlic while weeding yesterday and I noticed that my garlic roots were almost all at the surface of soil. So it seems the tender spring roots are growing up & out instead of down into the soil.

Maybe this is normal and I didn't notice it last season bc I kept the mulch on till maturity but my first thought of panic was that these roots maybe can't penetrate the hard clay ? Is that possible ?

And Secondly who's in favor of leaving mulch on and who's in favor of taking it off in the spring ?

Thank You !

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I usually add more tree leaves onto my garlic in the spring to make sure that the weeds never get a chance to come up. It has always worked for me as my bulbs are typically much larger than the ones bought in the stores.

Here is a link that might be useful: My garlic beds

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 8:20PM
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AiliDeSpain(6a - Utah)

I have left my mulch on and slightly uncovered the emerging sprouts.
I'm not sure about the root issue though, I have clayish soil as well and do not have this problem?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 1:08AM
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gemini_jim(7 MD)

I have clay soil. I remove most of the mulch in the spring (just did this weekend) so that sunlight can reach the soil. I do this partly because I have been dealing with white rot, which likes cool moist conditions. Later in the spring I will weed the rows and add some mulch back, but by the end of May most of my garlic will be starting to dry down anyway.

What do you mean by roots at the surface? Actual fibrous roots, or the cloves you planted in the fall? I find the tops of a lot of cloves are showing this time of year. The old clove will rot away, and the roots will pull the plant deeper into the soil. May not be as deep or as fast in clay soil, but my bulbs always end up at least a few inches below the surface by harvest time.

If you have actual roots showing, then the whole clove must be out of the ground or tipped sideways or something. If that happens I would carefully hill soil up around the clove.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:04AM
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Last night I was looking at my garlic, which is mulched with a mixture of grass clippings and leaves. The chickens managed to get into one bed, shoving the mulch off to the side but not hurting the little garlic shoots. I'll fix the chicken barrier today, but I think I'll leave the mulch off to the side for a while to see if there is any difference in early growth.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:31AM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

Grass clippings can harbor rust and infect your garlic crop with that disease if they are used for mulch. Both myself and a friend had this happen. No rust after we stopped using the grass clippings.

Also, yes, it is normal for the feeder roots to seek out heat, moisture and nutrition in the top layer of the soil. Here where the winters are relatively mild, I believe that the roots grow all winter. My early, soft-neck varieties get pretty sad looking without a good dose of high nitrogen fertilizer in late winter or early spring. I have already fed and mulched two times this year.

All-in-all, it appears that I will be having a good harvest this year if we don't have late rains as we have had the past two or three years.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:40AM
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I really don't put much thought in whether or not the garlic is well mulched. They tend to start growing in March regardless of anything, and always make pretty big bulbs as long as they get enough space, and have good loose soil.

Here's quite a bit of progress already on my garlic.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:39PM
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I realize that this is an older thread, but I'm interested to know what others are using to mulch their garlic. I've been using straw the last 3-4 years that I've planted garlic, but read recently that straw can harbor mites, which will then feed on the garlic. Has anyone experienced problems with straw? My biggest weed here is grass, so no way am I using hay as a mulch, and I don't think leaves will work very well unless I could find a way to cut them up. I can buy an actual wood mulch from a local lumber yard, but I think that might be too heavy.

I'm probably going to use straw again, but am curious to learn what others are using.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:15AM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

I use a combination of potting soil and composted bark mulch, the same thing they are grown in. I mostly use the "mulch" as a vehicle for chicken manure &/or other fertilizers.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:50AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

In the past, I've mulched with wheat straw, and had too many wheat seedlings in the Spring. Alfalfa hay tends to be mostly weed-free, and doesn't mat down much. Marsh hay works well too - if it is real marsh hay, not just pasture cuttings; I check it for weeds & grass seed before I buy.

My favorite mulch is chopped leaves, which have no weed problems, and are easy to spread. They mat heavily, which is both a good & bad thing. It cuts down on weed seedlings, but on my heavy soil, the leaves can keep the soil a little too wet... so I generally pull the mulch back if we have a wet Summer.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 5:29PM
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my favourite mulch is pea straw. Any seedlings are easy to remove. I used barley straw once and never again, there were far too many grains that germinated and looked like young garlic leaves - I use bulbils as dividers between varieties and kept yanking them out thinking they were barley sprouts:(

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 8:22PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Are you talking about FALL mulch or SPRING mulch ?
I think in the north (zones 6 and lower) they do FALL mulching to keep the ground temperature stable. Zeedman is the authority on this.
Then there is spring mulching which has different purpose ; weeds prevention, moisture/nutrients retention. I use just crushed fall leaves that I have. In GA I used pine straw. They all work fine. Since the bulbs are near the top, you want to keep the soil around them moist so they can freely expand in size.
I never like grass clipping as mulch. I even sun dried them but still they get caked and stay too wet. Straw, pine straw are ideal to me.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 2:57AM
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I like the idea of wood mulch, and if I had planned better I would have bought some from the mill. I'll probably have to stick with straw again this year. I just planted my garlic and I normally mulch with a layer of straw to insulate the plants during winter. The straw is still there in spring and helps with weeds.

I have 300 row feet of garlic and even if I could find enough leaves to cover my rows, I don't know how I'd keep them from blowing away. Not unless I could chop them up somehow.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 8:14AM
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still_kris(z17 NoCA)

Grass clippings can spread rust to your crop. Better to not use those. I live where idiots can grow great garlic (or so someone on this forum suggested) so only use mulch in late winter to feed them and also help preserve moisture whenever that becomes a problem, which is rare.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 8:53AM
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I mulch with a few inches of old or spoiled hay (no seeds) at the time of planting and leave it on through harvest. The garlic plants have no problem piercing through the hay in March and I usually get a 99+% stand. I feed by sprinkling fertilizer such as blood meal right on top of the hay between the rows and let the rain take it down to the soil surface. Very little weeding and watering is necessary.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 9:28AM
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