We have always mulched our garlic crop. Last year, we planted one unmulched bed of Porcelain garlic as a trial.
In the spring, the unmulched garlic sprouted and emerged from the soil earlier than the mulched garlic. Visually, there seemed to be more winterkilled cloves in the unmulched garlic (though a low enough amount to not be a concern). There have also been many more weeds in the unmulched garlic. However we could weed with hand tools since there was no mulch in the way.
None of those results surprised me. (I was happy about the low winterkill.)
I was really surprised (knocked right off my feet!!!) when I harvested a few Porcelain garlic plants to sell at market as green garlic. I started with the unmulched garlic and was pleased to see that the bulbs were a mostly a decent size. When I pulled the mulched bulbs, they had barely begun to swell and were a fraction of the size of the unmulched bulbs.
I imagine since the unmulched garlic emerged earlier, it also put on more leaf growth earlier, and therefore had more energy to start bulbing earlier. I’m guessing that the unmulched garlic will also be fully mature 1-2 weeks earlier than our mulched crop.
We will be repeating this trial in the fall. We’ll also add a Rocambole and Marbled Purple Stripe to the trial to see how they fare without mulch. If we can consistently get earlier garlic without mulch and have acceptable winterkill rates, we could grow a portion of our crop unmulched to spread out the harvest over a longer window.
Do you have any stories to share about mulched vs. unmulched garlic?