Garden Docs: Tips on planting garlic and caring for olive trees

Debi J. of Windsor asks: How and when do you plant garlic?

The ideal time to plant garlic is in the fall, in October and November, before the rains and cold weather set in. The garlic cloves will remain dormant through the winter, and when the weather starts to warm up in spring, they will begin to grow. You would start to harvest the garlic in the summer.

Garlic can be planted in spring, but the harvest would probably be disappointing. You would wind up with lower yields and immature heads because the cloves will not have been exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees. Garlic is very cold-hardy and will survive through the winter with no protection from the elements.

Hardneck garlics produce flower stalks called scapes in early summer. The scapes should be cut off to allow the bulb to develop into a larger bulb. Garlic bulbs/heads are ready to harvest and cure in mid to late summer, after most of the lower leaves have turned brown and dried out.

Garlic prefers a sunny location with well-draining soil, with some compost added and a thick layer of mulch spread on top after planting. Now is a good time to select your planting location and incorporate the compost into the soil. When October comes around, your planting bed will be ready.

Separate the heads into individual cloves, being careful not to break off the basal scar, which protects the bulbs from rotting. Plant each clove with the basal root end-down and the pointed tip up. For most hardneck and softneck varieties, the tips of the cloves should be 2 inches deep and planted 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Larger cloves will produce larger bulbs with fewer cloves, and the smaller cloves will produce heads with many small cloves.

Greg U. of Santa Rosa asks: I just planted a young olive tree this spring and would like to know how and when to start pruning to yield the most fruit.

The purpose of pruning an olive tree is to allow more sunlight into and through the tree to improve its ability to produce more olives. Shaded branches of the tree will not produce olives. Wait at least two years after planting an olive tree before pruning it. You can even wait until the olive tree is at least four years in the ground. During this time, the tree will grow and develop new foliage and shape. The more leaves the tree has, the more food it will produce to feed itself, so having many leaves at this early age will provide energy for growth.

When it’s time to shape and prune, trim the tree the same way you would fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches), using the open-center or vase-shape pruning methods. For this type of pruning, remove the tree’s central branches to allow sunlight to reach the inside of the tree. These types of open pruning also increase the fruiting area of the tree. Once you have removed the central branches and established a sound structure for the tree, all the other pruning you will do going forward will be for maintenance, removing any growth that starts to fill in the center of the tree.

You also can keep down the height of the tree by pruning out the tallest-growing branches.

The best time to prune olive trees is between late winter and flowering. You also can prune olive trees in spring or early summer once the tree begins to open its flower buds. If you wait until you see the young fruits developing, you can be more selective with your pruning. It’s best to delay pruning until after the rainy season, since pruning opens entry points for water-borne disease. Olive trees are more vulnerable to frost damage after pruning, which is one more reason to wait until spring.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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