Winter Solstice and plant behaviour

Winter Solstice in my garden

Welcome to the Winter Solstice (in Australia).   The longest night and the shortest day of our calendar year. 

For some of us it is simply a sign that we are at the ‘half way mark’ of the darker months, and the sun is on his way once again.  For many, this is a pivotal time of year- the closing of one cycle and the rebirth of the new, and many pagan rituals will revolve around this notion. 

It marks the point when the days will begin to get longer again.   But for gardeners around the world, this time also heralds an important stamp on the Solar year.  A marker from which they can plant on, or count from, in order to know how many days or moons it will be until their next crop harvest. The Winter Solstice is a cornerstone of the garden plan or calendar, because plants rely on the length of uninterrupted night time hours, to trigger them to store sugars in their bulbs, flower, set seed, or sprout.

The scientific name for this process is called ‘Photoperiodism’, and it’s used by just about every plant in the world, except for those which have been manipulated by man toward certain conditions.

In Winter-tender herbs such as Chamomile, Basil, Coriander or Mint, you   will see that they produce seed in Autumn and then either go dormant or die off completely over the Winter months.  If you plant these herbs before the Winter Solstice, they can develop small and spindly stems, and bolt to seed before they develop anything else worthwhile.  People often make this mistake of greenhouse or cloche growing, thinking they are preserving the warmth- Remember it is the light which plants are chasing.

On a side note, around the time of WWII, experiments proved that plant growth can be manipulated by shining lights on the plants in the night. to break their night time hours. 

Plants with root storage such as a tuber, taproot or bulb, all have a good supplies to help them get through the Winter months.  The shortest nights trigger these bulbs to start ‘waking up’ and send their energy into growing the plant.  This is why it is traditional to plant Garlic on (or just before) the Winter Solstice. This will give the clove the greatest number of growing days between the Solstice and the Spring Equinox, at which time it will be signaled to stop growing and begin storing its energy as ‘food’ back in its’ developed bulb.

So now is the time to plant out your garlic!  The first thing I suggest you do is scour your cupboards for any bulbs who have decided that it’s time to sprout!

You can also purchase organic garlic bulbs from various place, however I do stress you need organic – imported garlic is sprayed to oblivion and you may not get any growth out of it at all.

How to plant garlic… one of my favourite herbs on the planet!

  • Once you have your bulbs, simply split it into individual cloves. The fattest cloves are the ones you want to plant!
  • The cloves need to be pressed flat side down  into the soil, to around 4-5cm. 
  • The cloves need to be spaced 20cm apart, especially if you want big bulbs!
  • Garlic loves nutrients, so make sure your soil is well prepared and full of compost or manure.  It is easier to have well-prepared soil beforehand, as compost onto the plants can cause them to rot or go moldy.
  • Your garlic should shoot in 3-4weeks
  • Watch for rats here in Victoria. Rats love digging up garlic!  Covering with chicken wire may help
  • Traditionally, garlic is unearthed at the Summer Solstice