garlic varieties

What to Grow: Hardneck Garlic or Softneck Garlic?

Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Real Men Sow

There are around 600 varieties of garlic worldwide and they are classified into two main categories: Hardneck garlic and Softneck garlic.

What Is Garlic?

For millennia garlic has been used as a potent seasoning and health food. Experts have not been able to pinpoint exactly what garlic does for your health. However, they do know that there are up to 40 chemical compounds that may improve heart, digestive and respiratory function.

Garlic belongs to the Liliaceae (or lily) family. It is monocot which means it only has one seedling and grows in the same way as grass. Garlic is closely related to onions, shallots, leeks as well as chives. Garlic is a bulb made from multiple individual cloves. You can remove the cloves from the bulb and plant them. They will then form new bulbs in 6-7 months. 

Categories of Garlic

Hardneck and Softneck varieties have a major difference in how the cloves are placed in the bulb. Despite the differences in bulb formation, both varieties of garlic can be used interchangeably in recipes. While some garlic varieties may be stronger than others, the differences in flavor are very minimal.

Hardneck

Hardneck garlic is closest to natural garlic. The scape is a thick stalk that forms on the flower. It leaves behind a tough stalk in the mature bulb. This garlic is more flavorful, has larger cloves, and is more resistant to cold.

Softneck

Softneck garlic doesn’t have a flower stalk and has a longer shelf life. This makes it the preferred choice for commercial growers and was bred for commercial production. This garlic is popular due to its longer shelf life and resistance to mechanical planting. Unlike Hardneck garlic, this garlic is not that resistant to cold. 

The Difference Between Hardneck And Softneck

Softneck vs Hardneck
Softneck vs Hardneck

Although both Hardnecks and Softnecks look similar and share many of the same growth habits and growth requirements, they are two different plants that have their own unique characteristics and needs. To help you decide which type of garlic is best for your needs, I thought it would be helpful to review the differences and similarities between Hardneck and Softneck garlic through their characteristics:

Flavor

Although Hardneck garlic is less common, it has a better flavor. These garlic varieties are well-known for their garlicky flavor. However, they are not as common in grocery stores due to the fact that they don’t keep well.

Many varieties of Hardneck garlic have a complex flavor and large cloves that make them great for roasting or raw eating. Although there are only a few varieties of Softneck garlic available, they are more popular because they are easier to grow. This garlic is less garlic-ky, but easier to ship and store.

Growth Habit

The ancestor of Softneck is Hardneck garlic. Although Hardnecks retain the flowering structure or scape, they have been bred to be more user-friendly with Softneck garlic. The scape is a stalk that produces flowers. It curls around and bears a flower. The flower will eventually form small bulbs. These bulbs contain small, viable seeds which will eventually grow into mature garlic bulbs in 3-4 years.

These types of garlic are called hardneck because their scapes are fibrous and thick. The softneck varieties of garlic descend from the hardneck varieties. Selective breeding resulted in a garlic variety that was devoid of a scape. This led to more cloves and easier braiding. Layers are used to arrange the cloves in a softneck bulb of garlic. There may be many sizes of cloves in a softneck garlic bulb. They are often asymmetrical and can be difficult to peel.

Growing Conditions

Hardneck garlic thrives in cold climates. While most varieties are able to thrive in the majority of the United States’ climates, some varieties require vernalization (cold weather) to make cloves. If you live in a warm climate, this can be repeated by placing the cloves in the refrigerator for a few more weeks before planting.

The growing conditions directly affect the flavor and size of the bulbs. While Hardneck garlic can grow in warmer regions, its flavor and yield will be lower than if it is grown under cooler conditions. The best place to grow Softneck garlic is in the south, in well-drained soils. Some varieties can tolerate freezing temperatures, but most will not. These two types of garlic have identical soil and water requirements.

Groupings

Garlic can be divided into two types: Hardneck or Ophioscorodon and Softneck or Sativum. Each subspecies can be divided into groups with similar characteristics. There are many varieties of Hardneck garlic that predate Softneck garlic. They also have richer flavors and more color variations.

Popular Hardneck Garlic Divisions

There are 3 major divisions of Hardneck garlic: Rocambole, Porcelain, Purple Stripe

Rocambole Garlic

According to specialty growers and chefs, this is the most popular, delicious type of garlic. Rocamboles can tolerate extreme cold but must be exposed to cool temperatures for proper maturation.

  • Hardiness: zones 2-9
  • When To Plant: 2 weeks before the first frost
  • Soil: Slightly acidic soil
  • Clove Production: 8 – 12 
  • Temperature Tolerance: Extremely Cold Tolerant 
  • Shelf Life: 4-6 months

Rocambole garlic is able to tolerate warmer climates, but it thrives in the northern third of the United States.

Popular Rocambole Garlic Varieties

Rocambole garlic is one of the most sought-after and flavorful in the culinary world. Rocambole has a mild heat but a smooth, sweet flavor when cooked or roasted. They are easy to peel, and the cloves are uniform in size, making them an excellent candidate for roasting.

1. French

The Rocambole garlic is a popular variety. It has a buttery flavor and a smooth heat. This variety, like most Rocamboles, has a short shelf-life, but some growers report that cloves can last up to 8 months if grown in ideal conditions.

  • Cloves: 6-11
  • Bulbils: 5-25
  • Maturity: Early to Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 4-5 months
2. German Red

Due to its easy cultivation and rich, spicy flavor, this Rocambole garlic is a popular choice. This variety is known for producing large, juicy cloves with a great raw flavor.

  • Cloves: 8-12
  • Bulbils: 5-25
  • Maturity: Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 5-6 months
3. Spicy Korean Red

This variety is spicy and hot but it becomes milder after cooking, becoming a more earthy, smooth flavor. Although it prefers the same growing conditions as German Red garlic, this variety may mature slightly earlier.

  • Cloves: 9-12
  • Bulbils: 5-25
  • Maturity: Early to Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 5-6 months

Porcelain Garlic

This Hardneck is more tolerant of warmer climates than rocambole garlic. This makes it an attractive choice for those in southern climate zones. Porcelain garlic is large and easy to peel, with a strong, pleasant flavor.

  • Hardiness: zones 2-9
  • When To Plant: 2 weeks before the first frost
  • Soil: Slightly acidic soil
  • Clove Production: 2 – 7 
  • Temperature Tolerance: Cold Tolerant 
  • Shelf Life: 7-9 months

Many varieties of porcelain garlic are slightly shimmery, which is why they have been so popular in both the culinary and horticulture worlds.

Popular Porcelain Garlic Varieties

Porcelain garlic is more tolerant of warmer conditions than Rocambole. This makes it an attractive choice for gardeners in the south. It is consistent with Hardneck garlic in flavor and its cloves are large and easy to peel.

1. Music

The Porcelain garlic is robust, tough, and can withstand a wide variety of growing conditions. This garlic has larger bulbs and cloves than any other variety of garlic, and a pungent, garlicky flavor.

  • Cloves: 4-5
  • Bulbils: 100+
  • Maturity: Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 8-9 months
2. Georgian Crystal

The garlic can produce large bulbs, which can weigh as much as 1/3 pound. It is an excellent general-purpose and mild garlic.

  • Cloves: 4-6
  • Bulbils: 100+
  • Maturity: Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 7-8 months
3. Rosewood

This is a rare variety of garlic that is very spicy. Rosewood garlic is a vigorous variety, but it needs some care to get a seed head.

  • Cloves: 4-6
  • Bulbils: 100+
  • Maturity: Late Season
  • Shelf Life: 7-9 months

Purple Stripe Garlic

This garlic is milder than the Hardnecks. However, it makes up for its lack of heat with its beautiful coloration. Purple Stripe garlic is beautiful and has variegated cloves. They often have iridescent, white skin.

  • Hardiness: zones 2-9
  • When To Plant: 2 weeks before the first frost
  • Soil: Slightly acidic soil
  • Clove Production: 6 – 12 
  • Temperature Tolerance: Cold Tolerant 
  • Shelf Life: 5-7 months

Purple stripe garlic is the parent plant for all modern varieties of garlic. Chefs claim that it has a raw, gamey, uncultured taste. But, this is a good thing.

Popular Purple Stripe Garlic Varieties

Purple Stripe garlic has been considered to be the original source of modern garlic. Although they have an uncultured, raw flavor, their skins are beautiful and colorful.

1. Chesnok Red

This variety is great for baking as it has a sweet onion flavor. This variety is a very attractive specimen because of its papery skin. It has a rich, deep purple color.

  • Cloves: 8-20
  • Bulbils: ~100
  • Maturity: Late Season
  • Shelf Life: 5-6 months
2. Persian Star

This variety is mild and delicate in flavor. It can be used raw or roasted. This variety’s name is derived from the star-shaped cloves that have long pointed ends.

  • Cloves: 9-12
  • Bulbils: ~100
  • Maturity: Late Season
  • Shelf Life: 5-6 months
3. Tibetan

This variety adds a classic garlic flavor to any dish with a smooth heat. Another good variety is Tibetan, which can be used as an all-purpose seasoning for garlic.

  • Cloves: 8-12
  • Bulbils: ~100
  • Maturity: Late Season
  • Shelf Life: 5-6 months

Hardneck Garlic Types

These are the most sought-after Hardneck garlic types, but there are others.

1. Asiatics

This garlic looks similar to Glazed Purple Stripes, but they mature faster and have a shorter shelf-life. Asiatics are considered weakly bolting. This means that they might not produce scapes. Asiatic garlic is hot and garlicky.

2. Creoles

Creoles are a rare species in Hardneck garlic. They thrive in cold climates and grow well in the south. They have a complex, complex, and nutty flavor with a slight bite. The most popular Creole garlic is the French Pink garlic. It is wrapped in bright pink paper.

3. Glazed Purple Stripes

This Garlic category is similar to purple stripes and marbled purple stripes. The wrappers for Glazed Purple Stripes have a metallic, shimmery sheen with undertones of gold and silver. This Garlic Type is gaining popularity among chefs for its smooth, even heat, and rich, complex flavor.

4. Marbled Purple Stripes

This garlic fall somewhere between Porcelains or Purple Stripes. The cloves are wrapped in a purple-colored cloth and have slightly brown meat. These garlic varieties are good for growing in the United States. However, they thrive best in colder climates with lower winter temperatures.

5. Turbans

Turbans mature faster than any other Hardneck variety. This Garlic Variety Has A Squat Flower Head and Short, Flat Bulbs. That’s where the name Turban comes from. The Cloves are wrapped in striped purple paper and the meat is a light pink/brown color. Turbans have a very short shelf life.

Popular Types of Softneck Garlic

There are two common garlic types of this variety: artichoke and silverskin.

Artichoke Garlic

Artichoke garlic is a versatile plant that can be grown under a variety of conditions, making it a popular choice for home gardeners. Some varieties have purple cloves and larger cloves than silverskin. These varieties are considered to be the most productive and easiest to grow.

  • Hardiness: zones 4-10
  • When To Plant: 4-6 weeks before the first frost
  • Soil: Slightly acidic soil
  • Clove Production: 6 – 25 
  • Temperature Tolerance: Heat Tolerant 
  • Shelf Life: 8-10 months

Popular Artichoke Garlic Varieties

Artichoke garlic, which is the lesser-known type of Softneck garlic, is less common. It isn’t as popular in grocery stores because it doesn’t have the same flavor and color as Silverskin garlic.

1. Italian

This variety is very hot. It can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions and is quite cold-tolerant for a softneck. Avoid overwatering in clay soils.

  • Cloves: 10-14
  • Bulbils: N/A
  • Maturity: Early to Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 8-10 months
2. Sicilian

This Italian native is great for making pizza sauces and pasta. Although it has a strong, tangy taste when raw, the heat is reduced to a mild, smooth flavor once cooked. Sometimes, this variety can produce neck bulbils and scapes.

  • Cloves: 8-10
  • Bulbils: Rare
  • Maturity: Early to Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 8-10 months

Silverskin Garlic

Silverskin garlic has a less garlicky flavor than the Hardnecks, it’s still flavorful.

  • Hardiness: zones 4-10
  • When To Plant: 4-6 weeks before the first frost
  • Soil: Slightly acidic soil
  • Clove Production: 8 – 40 
  • Temperature Tolerance: Heat Tolerant 
  • Shelf Life: 9-12 months

Popular Silverskin Garlic Varieties

Silverskin garlic is the most common commercially-available type of garlic. The skin covers are extremely tight which protects the bulbs from any bruising and prolongs shelf life by up to one year. Silverskin garlic can tolerate a variety of soil types and climates, but it doesn’t perform equally well in all. To enjoy larger bulbs with a superior flavor, compost should be used each fall.

1. California Early

This is the most popular commercial garlic variety. California Early can be found in supermarkets across the United States because of its versatility and climate tolerances. California Early is an early-maturing variety. It can be planted in spring in certain climates to produce a fall harvest.

  • Cloves: 6-12
  • Bulbils: N/A
  • Maturity: Early to Mid Season
  • Shelf Life: 10-12 months
2. California Late

This is the second most common commercial garlic variety. The California Late variety, like California Early, can tolerate a wide range in growing conditions. California Late, unlike California Early, is late-maturing.

  • Cloves: 6-12
  • Bulbils: N/A
  • Maturity: Mid to Late Season
  • Shelf Life: 10-12 months

Final Remark

Softneck garlic is more common in grocery stores, as it can be stored well and can handle manual harvesting and planting. These varieties don’t have scapes and their leaves are more flexible than their Hardneck ancestors. This makes them ideal for gardeners who wish to braid the bulbs once they’ve healed. Softneck garlic thrives in warm climates and can’t withstand extremely cold winters.

There is a distinct physical difference between Softneck and Hardneck garlic. However, the main difference lies in flavor and aesthetics. Most garlic varieties can grow well in all parts of the country. The type of garlic that you grow will depend on your intended culinary use.

You should find a reliable local grower for any garlic variety you choose to plant. They will ensure that the bulbs are healthy and well-adapted to your area.

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