Garlic comes in several varieties, each with its distinct flavor and aroma. Discover the best types of garlic to grow in your garden, depending on which zone you live in.
Any fan of Mediterranean cuisines knows how important garlic is. It’s undoubtedly the backbone of most dishes that come from Italy, France, and Greece. Take the garlic out, and all you’re left with is bland food.
And like many other veggies, fresh garlic has more flavors than old cloves. But that’s not all you need to care about when growing garlic in the garden.
You also have to pick your variety carefully. Otherwise, you could end up with a strong, unpalatable garlic type. So you must understand the difference between softneck and hardneck garlic.
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Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Hardneck and softneck refer to two types of garlic that look the same but are essentially different, starting with the leaves.
Softneck garlic is easy to braid since the scapes are usually soft and easy to cut. But a hardneck garlic cannot be braided simply because the woody scape is too stiff to bend or twist.
So the next time you see braided garlic, you’ll know right away that it’s softneck.
The two garlic varieties also differ by head size and total cloves. Commercial growers favor softneck garlic because the head is usually large, and the number of cloves per head goes up to 20 easily.
Hardneck garlic, on the other hand, has small heads with same-size cloves that average from 4 to 12 cloves per head.
Additionally, hardneck garlic is easier to peel since the skin is a little rough and comes off effortlessly. Meanwhile, softneck garlic has smooth and thin skin that sticks to the flesh of the clove, making it harder to peel off.
The hardiness zone is a key aspect that determines the garlic type. While hardneck garlic can tolerate cooler zones, softneck needs more sunlight and higher temperatures, making it suitable for warm zones.
When choosing between the two, you should grow softneck garlic if you live in a warm zone – it’s more productive and has a higher yield. Hardneck garlic is ideal for cool zones.
Types of Garlic
There are more hardneck types of garlic than softneck, which is surprising since softneck garlic is more productive, making it commercially more viable. On average, there are only two softneck varieties – the rest are hardneck cultivars.
Here are the most common types to consider for your garden:
Rocambole is a popular hardneck variety that balances the usual garlic heat with rich and deep flavors.
It tolerates diverse growing conditions, including cold microclimates. Since it has uniform cloves and easy-to-peel skin, it’s the right choice if you’ve never planted garlic before.
The heads are medium-sized – between 8 and 12 cloves on average. The outer skin that wraps the head is usually purple or pink with some white shades. Unfortunately, rocambole doesn’t store well and has a short shelf life.
Many cultivars have been developed in the rocambole variety, including French rocambole. It’s easy to peel, averages 10 cloves per head, and has medium heat with buttery flavors. What’s more, it’s winter hardy, so you can grow it even in cool zones.
Killarney Red is another variety with 9 cloves per head, a unique taste, and less heat than other rocamboles. It tolerates cold conditions well and is hardy to damp and humid microclimates.
Other types of rocambole garlic worth considering are Ukrainian and Mario. But they don’t have the same rich flavors as the French or Killarney Red cultivars.
As with other softneck types, the artichoke garlic is highly productive and has fewer growing issues. It also matures earlier than most hardneck types and can adapt to many types of soil and microclimates.
The artichoke rarely, if ever, produces scapes. When it happens, simply cut off the flower before it pollinates or opens to encourage the plant to focus on developing its heads.
If you usually buy garlic at the supermarket, chances are it’s the artichoke; you can check by the white and thin skin. However, it’s harder to peel than hardneck types.
The two most popular and commercially cultivated artichoke cultivars are:
- Sicilian Gold: Italian by origin, this cultivar has smooth cloves of various sizes. It’s wrapped in purple skin and has creamy flesh with a moderate flavor. The average head produces 14 cloves easily. But it’s problematic to grow in cold climates since it tends to bolt unexpectedly, so you must remove the scapes by hand.
- Kettle River Giant: It’s a highly productive cultivar that produces large heads and cloves; the average bulb measures well over 4 inches in diameter. It has a rich flavor and longer shelf life than other softnecks. You can keep it at room temperature up to 8 months.
Porcelain garlic is a hardneck with many qualities. For example, its head is between 4 and 6 cloves.
A single clove is large enough to flavor any Italian dish that requires garlic. Furthermore, the Porcelain has a long storage life and thrives in warm and cold climates.
Here are the most popular Porcelain cultivars:
- Music: It’s widely grown in Quebec, Canada, which demonstrates its hardiness in cold climates. While the cloves are wrapped in purple skin, the head has white skin. It develops scapes if the temperature changes abruptly, which can grow up to 6 feet if left unchecked.
- German White: It’s another cold-hardy cultivar with large heads covered in white wrappers. Its head has about 4-6 cloves with strong flavors and mild heat. You can easily peel the cloves and store them for months.
- Rasa Blanca: This cultivar has delicious garlicky flavors without the usual heat of the hardnecks. It has white heads and white-to-creamy cloves. Despite being developed in Italy, it tolerates cold climates well.
Purple Stripes Garlic
The Purple Stripes Garlic has white heads with purple stripes, a pattern that can be noticed on the head and clove skin. You can grow this cultivar in cool zones and harvest it before the first frost.
Although it’s a hardneck, Purple Stripes has enormous heads averaging 8 to 12 cloves; you can easily peel them and keep them stored longer than Porcelains. But what sets this variety apart from other hardnecks is the flavor.
This is a garlic variety preferred by most Italian and French chefs – excellent for garlic bread since it has mild heat and packs the loaf with flavors.
Some of the most popular Purple Stripes cultivars include:
- Persian Star: It was developed where garlic is rumored to have come from – between Iran and Uzbekistan. It has a medium-size head with just 6 to 8 cloves, purple colors, striking cloves, mild heat, and a fantastic flavor.
- Chesnok Red: Originally from Georgia, it resembles the Persian Star in flavors and heat. However, the head averages 10 cloves and can store for up to 6 months in the right conditions.
The Turban Garlic is a hardneck garlic variety popular among gardeners and farmers because it matures early.
While the heads are short and squat, the name comes from the shape of the flowers, which are flat and round like turbans.
Although the plant is short, its heads can grow quite large – so it’s lucrative for garlic growers who want to harvest and cash in early.
But the average yield of the Turban is rather low compared to other hardneck varieties.
The head often has between 4 and 6 plump cloves with uniform shapes and purple skins, which are packed with flavors and heat.
It’s not the right cultivar for roasting or making garlic bread, though. It’s best to use it sparingly in your dishes to avoid the overwhelming garlicky taste.
The two most common cultivars are:
- Eureka Clayton: Originally cultivated in Southeast Asia, it averages between 6 and 8 cloves per head. By far, it’s the mildest cultivar of the Turban variety, which you can safely use for cooking.
- Shantung Purple: It has creamy flesh with some purple blushes, a strong flavor, and extreme heat. So even though it matures earlier than other Turbans, it has little commercial value due to the extra heat punch.
The Silverskin Garlic is the second and last softneck on this list. It matures long after all other garlic varieties and cultivars have been harvested.
In return, it has one of the longest shelf lives – up to 10 months in normal conditions, without losing a single clove to rot or damage. While the cloves are small, each head is bountiful – 15 to 20 cloves easily.
The clove’s outer skin is often white with thin tan stripes. But the flavor is too strong for standard dishes, so you have to carefully adjust the garlic amount.
The two most famous Silverskin cultivars are Nootka Rose and Western Rose – heirlooms that come from Washington State. However, they mature in late August, so you’ll need to be patient if you plan to grow either of them.
Learn more useful information about types of garlic:
How many types of garlic are there?
There are two main types of garlic (hardneck and softneck), but each has many varieties, such as black, elephant, and purple garlic.
Which type of garlic is best?
Purple Stripes is a type of garlic preferred by many chefs because it has mild heat and lots of flavor – ideal for making garlic bread.
What is the most common type of garlic?
The most common type of garlic is softneck, which makes up about 80% of the garlic consumed in the United States.
If you’re planning on growing garlic in your garden, it’s essential to take multiple aspects into account when choosing the garlic variety, such as climate. Otherwise, you can end up having various garlic growing issues.
What’s your favorite type of garlic to grow and use in dishes? Let us know in the comments below!