Garlic is one of the easiest crops you can grow! In fact, I daresay choosing which type to grow is probably the most work you’ll put into the entire process!
When we think about growing garlic, we mostly think about replicating what we’d normally buy from the grocery store. But when you grow your own, not only can you save money, but you can also choose from a variety of different flavors you’ll never find at the store! In addition, some types grow better in different environments.
Let’s take a look at the different options so you can decide what kind is best for you to try when you plant your garlic this fall!
(If you’re a podcast listener, you can also listen to the full discussion here:)
Hardneck vs. Softneck
The first main differences you’ll see when searching for seed garlic is hardneck and softneck. Most gardeners can grow both! But it’s good to understand the differences between the two.
Hardneck garlic produces a firm, central stalk (most often referred to as a scape). For best bulb development, the scape is cut off after it curls once. Production of a scape is the number one visible difference between hardneck and softneck garlic.
The other difference is that hardneck garlic is often grown in colder zones because of its winter hardiness. Hardneck garlic sometimes requires a period of cold dormancy before it sprouts. This means that if you live in a far southern area that lacks winters, it can be harder to grow hardneck garlic. This doesn’t mean growing it isn’t possible, it just means you need to be more selective about the type of hardneck you grow.
Softneck garlic doesn’t have a flowering stalk (or scape) like hardneck does. It stores longer than hardneck and is the type you will most often buy at the grocery store. Also, because it doesn’t have the hard center, softneck is easily braided.
Softneck garlic also tends to grow better in warmer climates. Just like we have to be choosy about our types of hardneck garlic in the south, if you live in a colder climate, you should choose your softneck variety accordingly. Depending on how cold your winters get, softneck garlic may not end up growing as large of bulbs as they would in a more mild climate.
Overall, most gardeners can find success growing softneck or hardneck garlic, but it’s helpful to understand these general points:
- softneck garlic grows best in warmer climates
- hardneck garlic grows best in colder climates
- softneck garlic stores longer
- hardneck garlic produce scapes
Now that we understand the two main types of garlic, let’s explore garlic families. This is where it gets fun!
Softneck Garlic Families
Artichoke Garlic tends to have 10-14 (but can get up to 22) cloves per bulb in various sizes. The layers overlap a bit and the cloves get smaller toward the middle of the bulb. When growing, these are shorter plants that tend to spread a bit with broad leaves. They can store for between 8 to 12 months.
The flavor of Artichoke garlic is fairly mild and is a good basic garlic to grow and eat.
If you buy a pound of it from seed, this will equate to about 65 plants. My favorite type of garlic to grow is this type: the Inchelium Red. This garlic has produced well for me year after year in my Zone 7b garden, though many gardeners in warmer and colder climates have found this kind to be a reliable staple as well.
Lorz Italian is another artichoke garlic that grows extremely well in the heat and tends to produce garlic that is a little stronger than other varieties. It also tends to have larger bulbs with 12-19 cloves that are a bit larger than other types in this same family.
This is the most common type of garlic grown and if you buy your garlic in the grocery store, this is the type of garlic you will most likely find. It stores for upwards of a year and yields lots of cloves.
One pound of Silverskin seed garlic will get you anywhere from 70 to 120 plants with the most popular variety being Silverwhite. This garlic has a mild flavor and grows well in California and other southern states.
Hardneck Garlic Families
While softneck garlic families are limited to a few, it’s with hardneck garlic that you have the most options. Within each of the hardneck families is a number of varieties you can grow that are subtly different from one another. The best thing you can do is research the different types and varieties and figure out which one has the qualities that you’re looking for that would grow best in your climate.
Porcelain garlic grows well in extremely cold climates like Northern Canada. It produces large bulbs with 4 to 6 very large cloves.
Porcelain garlic has a long storage life for a hardneck at 6 to 10 months, but as it ages, the flavor diminishes. Because of the larger cloves, you can expect one pound of this garlic seed to get you about 40 plants.
When growing, it’s important to cut off the scapes when they start to grow so that your plant puts its energy into growing large cloves. It’s also extremely important that you maintain a good water level during the growing season.
Popular varieties of Porcelain are Music, Romanian Red, Northern White, and Georgian Fire. In my garden, I grow Music. It’s a very strong flavor with large cloves that are perfect to cook with. While I use all of my garlic for medicinal purposes, Romanian Red is favored by most when it comes to those medicinal properties.
Rocambole garlic is the chef’s choice of garlic. The intensity in flavor is different among the varieties, but typically this garlic will produce 8 to 12 cloves that are easy to peel because of its loose skins. They have a pretty short storage life of only 4 to 6 months.
Rocambole is not the easiest garlic to grow in wet climates, as it won’t thrive if it has too much water, but it does tend to yield about 60 to 80 plants per pound of seed. Popular varieties of Rocambole garlic are Amish Rocambole, German Red, and Spanish Roja.
Purple Stripe garlic is one of the oldest types of garlic and is considered one of the best baking garlic by many acclaimed food magazines. You can usually recognize it by the purple stripes that run down the bulb. It produces 8 to 12 cloves per bulb but they are typically a bit smaller than those in the Rocambole family.
Purple Stripe varieties peel very easily and store 4 to 8 months. Unlike other garlics, the flavor of Purple Stripe gets more intense as it ages. You can expect to gain 60-90 plants per pound of seed in this family. Popular varieties of Purple Stripe are Chesnok Red, Russian Red, and Vietnamese Red.
There are numerous other types of Hardneck garlic and we go into those in detail in our podcast that you can find linked above. But hopefully that gives you a great start at looking at your options!
Now, here comes the next question:
Where to Buy Garlic Seed
Seed Companies and Local Farmers
I’ve found that most seed suppliers will have your basic selection of garlic. My friend and student of my online classes, Alicia DeVore of CreateMyGarden.net shared with me that the best garlic she grew came from a local farmer. This is something to consider if you’re in a climate where garlic is harder to grow. More than likely, the local farms offers garlic that thrives in your area.
Another option is to purchase garlic from farms that specialize in seed garlic production. Filaree Farms and Keene Garlic are two reputable sources of garlic seed. For my Canadian friends, consider John Boy Farms.
If you are interested in growing garlic but don’t have the space or budget for an entire pound of seed, I recommend MI Gardener for smaller quantities. One of the things I love about purchasing from here is that I’m able to buy one or two bulbs and try my hand at many varieties at once in my garden. My new favorite — Music — came from here.
Grocery Store Garlic
I do want to add a quick note about buying your garlic in the grocery store. More often than not, this is the Silverskin softneck garlic and may not thrive in your climate. Also, this garlic is typically treated so that it doesn’t sprout. This could be a problem when you’re trying to grow it.
Finally, the garlic you purchase in the grocery store — even if it’s organic — isn’t certified disease free. You really don’t know what you’re introducing into your soil and for me, this just isn’t worth it. The only time I’d consider growing garlic that wasn’t certified disease-free is in a container. But as you can see in this video, my grow bag garlic last year actually performed the worst of my tests.
Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about the types and varieties of garlic and how they can or can’t thrive in your area. As always, feel free to reach out with your questions, and definitely tag us in your garlic harvest photos on social media!
What To Do Next:
- Download my Garlic Planting Cheat Sheet (FREE) to get started on the basics of planting (see below)
- Enroll in my on-demand Garlic Workshop Mini-Course for $15 here for a start-to-finish guide to growing, harvesting, storing, and saving garlic for next season
Garlic Planting Cheat Sheet
Garlic is the easiest and most rewarding plant you can grow! All you have to know is some basics:
- WHEN to plant
- WHAT KIND to plant
- WHERE to purchase
- WHERE NOT to purchase
- The simplest WAY to plant, whether you have a raised bed, a plot of land, or container. This step is SUPER EASY!
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