Did my garlic survive winter?!
This past winter has been one of the harshest on record in my hometown of Squamish - just North of Vancouver, Canada.
We've had stretches of days where the temperature has been below -10C for days on end. On top of that, we have been getting snow consistently since Mid-December (including a few snowfall records) and there has been more than 1ft of snow on the bed with my garlic babies in it for the past 30 days.
As we get towards the end of January when I would normally see my garden sprouting, it has gotten me wondering, has my garlic survived underneath that pile of snow!?
So - let's head out to the garden to check in on the babies.
How cold hardy is garlic?
Back in the Fall when I planted my garlic, we decided to go with Hardneck Garlic (specific variety: Red Russian Garlic) instead of Softneck Garlic. The reason for this decision is that Hardneck Garlic is significantly more cold hardy than softneck garlic and has a higher likelihood of surviving the harsher winters that we can experience in Canada.
In terms of specific temperatures, the Sustainable Market Gardening team shared that garlic can withstand:
When properly planted, cloves can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C). Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground isn’t frozen Garlic tops will make growth whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).
How to protect garlic during freezing temperatures and snow
On top of that, there were a few things we did in the Fall when planting our garlic babies to help protect them through the winter:
- Depth: We planted our garlic 4" deep which provides a nice layer of soil and compost insulation.
- Mulch: We applied about 6" worth of leaf mulch across the top of the bed to create a further layer of insulation between the cold winter air and the garlic beneath the surface.
- Fabric cover: Lastly, we also put landscape fabric across the bed to help ensure that the leave mulch did not get blown away but rather remained on top of the garlic plants for the entire winter.
Before beginning to remove the snow and landscape fabric, I poked a thermometer into the soil where the garlic was and was thrilled to see that the soil temperature where the garlic would be was right around freezing level - a great sign.
With that covered it's time to brave the snow and start seeing if there are any signs of growth!
Signs of Garlic Sprouting
After shovelling off all the snow, pulling back the landscape fabric, and gently moving the leaf mulch, I was VERY pleasantly surprised to find the first the first garlic babies were already sprouting through the surface!
This really exceeded my expectations as there has been no light that could have made it down to the garlic with the snow and landscape fabric on top of them as well as the frigid winter temperatures.
However, thinking back to that thermometer, the root zone where we planted the garlic with worm castings was above freezing level and from the article referenced above the roots can grow so long as the level is above freezing.
Are my garlic plants developing roots?
Ever curious and loving experiments, I decided to dig up one of the garlic cloves to see what is happening beneath the surface.
Note: This garlic clove will not grow back so I don't necessarily recommend doing it, but rather just learning through my observations here (unless you're equally curious - then go for it!)
Once again, I was quite surprised and impressed with just how much root development the garlic plant has put on through the winter. A few of the key factors behind this include:
- Worm Castings: When we planted the garlic in the Fall we did so with a handful of our pure worm castings to ensure it had all of the microbes and nutrients to grow big and strong.
- Warmth: As alluded to above, there were a number of things we did to keep the plants warm through the winter and keep the root zone near or above freezing level.
Based on the amount of root development that has occurred, I think we can say we have done a good job of keeping that root zone sufficiently warm and filled with nutrients and microbes!
So - the garlic babies have survived the winter. But...
When do I apply the next worm castings?
For the coming weeks, I will allow the garlic just to slowly wake up. We're still in the midst of winter and experiencing some freezing temperatures so I'm not too focused on promoting growth within the plant... just yet.
But, as we get to the back-half of February and the temperatures start to consistently remain above freezing level as well as the sunlight beginning to touch the bed, I will amend in the following manner:
- Remove Leaf Mulch: I will remove the Leaf Mulch that we had on the garlic bed through the winter and move it to the compost. Leaves are high in Carbon and Low in Nitrogen making them a good mulch but not necessarily helping on the nutrient and growth front.
- Worm Castings: At the base of each plant where the stem enters the ground, I will sprinkle 1 handful of our pure worm castings onto the soil around the stem.
- Organic Fertilizer: I will then apply 1 tablespoon of our 4-4-4 Superfood in the exact same place - sprinkled around the stem of the plant where it enters the soil. Once the Worm Castings and Superfood have been applied I will gently massage those into the top 1" of soil.
- Water: To help work those Worm Castings and 4-4-4 Superfood into the soil I will water the bed to help move the worm castings and superfood from that top 1" of soil towards the root zone.
- Compost Mulch: Lastly, because temperatures are still cold and I want to protect the Root Zone, I will apply 1-2" of compost that will serve both as a layer of insulation but also will feed additional nutrients into the soil towards the root zone of the garlic babies