When you’re in the produce section at the grocery store, you’re not presented with endless garlic varieties. You usually get one choice. And the label with the price is simply “garlic.” But there are a number of garlic cultivars, originating anywhere from Asia to Russia to France, classified under groups (which I’ll explain below), each with their own characteristics. It’s fun to grow more than one type of garlic. Then the following year, once you’ve harvested and cured your crop, you can savor the subtle differences in flavor.
Before you place a garlic order, or toss a bag of bulbs in your cart at the nursery, it’s important to understand the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic. If you’re hoping for that bonus harvest of garlic scapes, choose hardneck varieties, which also are better adapted to colder climates. Softneck garlic grows better in warmer climates, but keeps longer in storage. This is generally the type of garlic you’ll find at the grocery store. Jessica has written a helpful article about the differences between hardneck and softneck varieties.
Finding types of garlic to grow
Seed garlic can generally be found in the fall bulb section of your garden center. Your local supermarket may even have a fall bulb display that’s worth checking out. If you want to purchase garlic bulbs online, it’s a good idea to place your order in the summer. I know some of my favorite places to purchase it sell out pretty quickly.
To find a garlic grower, a little online sleuthing may reveal a grower in your area (or at least in the same growing zone). The garlic these companies sell will have been tested and grown in your climate, which will help you raise a successful crop. Online catalogs will feature a brief description of what you’re growing, sharing attributes, like clove size, how they store, and flavor profiles.
There are 11 different horticultural groups of garlic. Three of them are classified under softneck: Silverskin, Artichoke, and Middle Eastern. Hardneck varieties of garlic are divided into eight groups: Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marble Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Turban, and Creole. Under the umbrella of each garlic group, you’ll discover a list of cultivars.
Each cultivar will have varying characteristics and slight differences in taste, just like different varieties of heirloom tomatoes do. However, if this is getting confusing, besides the hardneck and softneck categorization, essentially they’re are all going to taste like garlic. You really can’t go wrong choosing a variety to grow yourself. I have been known to choose simply based on a snazzy name!
Choosing garlic varieties for your garden
I grow hardneck varieties of garlic because I live in a colder growing zone (Southern Ontario) and store my garlic over the winter. I usually have enough garlic to see me through until the following July when I harvest my crop. How long your garlic can be stored may be one characteristic to be mindful of when you’re confronted with choice among the different groups and varieties.
Besides sharing my own favorite garlic varieties that I have grown, I thought I would share some recommendations from some expert gardeners.
I chose Northern Quebec one year to celebrate my husband’s French Canadian heritage (he still has family in Northern Quebec!). My order for this Porcelain group cultivar was placed through Eureka Garlic, a company based on Prince Edward Island. This variety has a pretty potent flavor. Be careful when storing this type as it is more prone to mold than others.
“My favorite variety is the standard Porcelain variety Music because it’s reliable, hardy, flavorful, and productive,” says my Savvy Gardening partner Niki, whose East Coast garden is based near Halifax, N.S. And I agree with that assessment as I have successfully grown Music multiple times. “The cloves are also easy to peel and store well—usually eight to nine months for me,” explains Niki. “I would describe the flavor as typical garlic with a little kick.”
My other Savvy Gardening partner, Jessica, enjoys Bogatyr, a Marbled Purple Stripe garlic from Russia. She grows it in her Pittsburgh-area garden. This cultivar is supposed to store well. Its flavor on various seed garlic websites has been defined as anywhere from spicy to fiery raw heat.
German White is another garlic cultivar that Jessica recommends and sources from her favorite local garlic farm. This porcelain variety has good disease resistance, with a flavor described as hot and robust.
“I’m currently a big fan of the easy-to-grow porcelains and I’ve been really enjoying Susan Delafield,” says North Vancouver-based edible garden consultant and horticulturist Chris from Fluent Garden. “Nice big cloves and really reliable despite my wetter winter conditions.”
“I like the “red” varieties, like Chesnok Red; Hudson Valley Seed Co. carries it,” says Emily Murphy, author of Grow What You Love. This variety falls under the Purple Stripe group and is ready to harvest a little later than other varieties.
“The Red Russian also grows well in my climate, though honestly most garlic varieties grow well here,” says Emily. Before planting garlic in her Northern California garden, Emily will soak it overnight in a small container or bucket with about one to three capfuls of liquid seaweed and water.
“My favorite garlic is French Red Rocambole,” says Bart Nagel of Bulbs of Fire Garlic in Tiny, Ont. (I’ve also ordered from Bart, but you have to place your order early before he sells out!) “It’s the tastiest and prettiest cultivar of the almost 100 different strains we have grown over the years. It comes in so many shades of purple, from deep dark to blush pink. And the flavor is bold, but not crazy hot—I liken it to big bold red wine. My go-to in the kitchen for anything that needs raw garlic like garlic butters, dips and dressings.”
Tips for planting multiple garlic varieties
When you plant more than one variety, try to keep them together somehow in the garden. I usually add a chart to my garden journal. Years where I have grown more than one variety in a raised bed, I will meticulously tie a colorful piece of string around each garlic stalk as I harvest it. Then, when I clean the garlic after drying, I can store each variety together. It’s fun to taste the flavor differences and spice levels of garlic.
- How to grow garlic in pots: The best method for success
- Planting garlic in the spring: How to grow big bulbs from spring-planted garlic
- When to harvest garlic (and garlic scapes!) and how to store it for the winter