Garlic likes soil that’s moist but not too wet. If you have any experience with plants or gardening, you know that’s a tricky balance to maintain.
Because garlic is so potent, it’s not prone to the same problems as other plants, like insects and even fungi. But, incorrectly watering garlic comes with its own problems.
Over and Underwatering
To grow healthy garlic, the moisture content of the soil should be about 50 percent, but that’s a tricky thing to monitor. You should aim to keep the water moist without allowing it to get too dry.
Garlic has a shallow root system. Each bulb grows about 50 fine roots, and they commonly extend to about a foot long. This root length might not seem shallow, but it is compared to plants like peppers and beans with roots up two feet deep and pumpkins up to three feet deep.
What this means is that you have to keep the top of the soil moist so that the garlic doesn’t dry out. This is why so many people recommend placing mulch over planted garlic to help hold in moisture.
If garlic gets too wet, the bulbs sit in water, which can cause multiple issues. The most common are fungus and mold growth. Remove some of the mulch, and allow the soil to dry a bit to avoid any problems. Both over and under watering stress the plant, which can lead to small bulbs, deformities, and other issues.
There’s no way to be sure how wet the soil is. Some people swear by moisture sensors or probes, but others consider these tools unreliable.
If you’re not sure if you need to water, the best thing to do is stick your hand down into the soil. If your hand is mostly clean or covered in dry dirt when you remove it, the soil is dry and it’s time to water. If your hand is covered in mud, it’s too wet.
How to Water Garlic
How you should water garlic depends on the season.
Garlic tolerates cold weather well, and a lot of people plant it in the fall, though the plant won’t really start to develop until late spring when the temperature begins to warm. It naturally grows in the fall, goes dormant in the winter, then starts to sprout in late spring or early summer.
To make sure your garlic is getting the right amount of water, you have to pay close attention to the amount of precipitation, the temperature, and the time of year.
If you planted in the fall, the melting snow may be enough to keep the garlic going for a while as the temperature warms and the soil thaws. The same can be said if the early spring is particularly wet. Check the moisture to be on the safe side, but in the right outdoor conditions, you may not have to water until May.
In the summer, the plant needs more water for two reasons. First, the summer is hotter and dryer, so the soil is more likely to dry out. The second reason is because this is the period when garlic is most active.
If you live in a climate with a hot, dry summer, plan to water your garlic once or twice a week. Again, use a moisture sensor or stick your finger into the soil to make sure the top inch is dry first.
Garlic needs a consistent supply of water, but it should never get too wet or too dry. Late spring is a bit of a critical period when it’s easy to overwater because the temperature isn’t getting very hot during the day.
For best results, always water in the morning, so the soil has time to dry in the sunlight. This approach can help lower the chance of mold, fungus, or rot.
The type of soil matters for watering, too. With garlic, sandy soils will need watering more often, but with less water. Heavier soils need watered less frequently with more water applied each time.
Why? Light soil doesn’t hold onto much water, so it dries out more quickly. This means that you’ll have to water it more often to make sure it doesn’t dry out. If you use too much water each time, though, the soil will be too wet while draining, which can lead to problems.
Heavy soil, on the other hand, soaks up a lot of water and takes a long time to dry. So, while you don’t have to water as often, you do have to use a lot of water to make sure the ground is fully saturated.
Last Word on Watering Garlic
There’s no one answer as to how much water garlic needs. Generally, you should aim for one inch per week in soil with good drainage. That said, this isn’t always easy to estimate.
As mentioned, the best thing to do is physically check the soil to see how wet it is. If the top inch is completely dry, it’s time to water. If it’s moist, wait a day and check again. If it’s wet, remove some of the mulch and allow it to dry out a bit.
Because of its pungent taste and odor, with garlic, you don’t have to worry about insects and some diseases that are common with other vegetables. But problems can still arise from watering incorrectly, so it’s important to pay attention to what your garlic plant needs.