How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Garlic
Before you choose a variety of garlic, you need to consider your climate, which determines whether you plant a hardneck or softneck variety. Then you need to consider your cooking because different varieties have different taste profiles, from mild to sweet to bold to spicy!
Hardnecks are the best choice for Northern gardeners. They are extremely cold hardy for harsh winters. These grow one ring of fat cloves around a hard stem, with fewer but larger cloves per bulb than softnecks.
Bonus! Hardnecks produce flower stems, aka “scapes,” which must be cut to encourage the bulbs to reach their full potential. The scapes themselves are an early summer treat, delicious if chopped into salads or added to stir-fries.
Popular hardneck varieties: ‘Music’ (on the mild side yet rich and mellow); ‘Chesnok Red’ (mild and sweet, creamy texture when roasted); ‘Early Italian’ (sweeter flavor that won’t overpower dishes); ‘German Red’ (robust, classic garlic flavor which cooks love); ‘Spanish Roja’ (strong and hot, heirloom with classic garlic flavor)
Softnecks are more common with Southern gardeners, growing well in warm climates with warm winters. They have more intense flavors and tend to grow bigger bulbs with smaller cloves per bulb because energy is not being diverted to top-set bulblets like hardnecks.
They do not have scapes, but they store better than hardnecks. Like their name suggests, they have necks that stay soft after harvest, and therefore are the types that you’ll see braided together.
Popular softneck varieties: ‘California White Early’ (classic moderate garlic flavor, most popular grocery store type, harvest in spring); ‘California White Late’ (harvest in summer); ‘Inchelium Red’ (wonderful but mild garlic flavor, superior storage life); ‘Silver White’ (classic garlic, great storage, excellent for beginner); ‘Lorz Italian’ (hot and zesty heirloom, popular with cooks).
Elephant garlic isn’t a true garlic, but it is grown similarly to hardneck varieties, requiring a long cool growing season in zones 3 through 9. Most types take about 90 days to harvest once growth starts. Despite its size, it has quite a mild flavor, more similar to onion and shallots than traditional garlic. Bulbs and cloves are large (up to one pound each!), with just a few cloves to a bulb.