Hardneck vs softneck garlic. Do you know which is best for your garden?

Hardneck vs softneck garlic: Choosing and planting the best garlic

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Garlic planting is best performed during the month of October in most parts of the country. But, did you know that not all garlic is created equal? There are hundreds of different varieties, but not every one is right for every region of the country. Prior to planting, examine the features of hardneck vs softneck garlic to discover which type is best for you.

Hardneck vs softneck garlic — what’s the difference?

There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Garlic is separated into these two categories based on each variety’s tendency to develop flower stalks, its hardiness, and its clove formation pattern.

Hardneck or softneck garlic: which is best for you?

Before planting garlic, it’s important to decide whether hardneck or softneck garlic is best for you.

Hardneck garlic features:

• Hardneck varieties develop a long flowering stem, called a scape, which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. Under ground, around this central flowering stem, is a single row of cloves wrapped together in a papery sheath to form the “head” or bulb of garlic. Scapes should be cut from hardneck garlic plants in the early summer, as the production of bulbils can rob energy from the plant and result in smaller garlic heads at the end of the growing season.
• Hardneck garlic varieties tend to do best in colder climates as they are more winter hardy.
• Hardneck garlics peel easier.
• Many gardeners find that hardnecks are more flavorful than their softneck counterparts.
• Though they have fewer cloves per head than softneck types, the cloves themselves are larger on hardneck garlic varieties. Each hardneck garlic bulb has a single row of large cloves (see featured photo at the top of this post).
• Hardneck varieties do not store as well as softnecks. They begin to deteriorate and shrivel within four to six months of harvest.
• There are hundreds of named hardneck garlic varieties, including ‘Metechi‘, ‘Purple Glazer‘, ‘Sonoran‘, ‘Music‘, and ‘Spanish Roja’.

The difference between hardneck and softneck garlic and how to plant them both.

Hardneck garlic varieties produce a scape, or flower stalk, that should be removed from the plant when it forms. Softneck garlics do not.

Softneck garlic features:

• Softnecks are best for warmer climates as they’re not generally as hardy.
• Softnect garlic varieties store very well, making them an ideal fit for mass production. The heads will last for nine to twelve months under ideal storage conditions (more on this below).
• Softnecks have many cloves in each head, not just a single row like hardnecks do. Some cloves are large while others are small (again, see featured photo at the top of this post).
• They do not develop a flowering stalk (scape), so their stems stay soft and flexible, making them excellent for creating braids of garlic.
• There are only two or three dozen named softneck garlic varieties, including ‘Inchelium Red‘, ‘Blanco Piacenza‘, ‘California Early‘, ‘Italian Loiacono‘, and ‘Silver White‘.

The difference between hardneck and softneck garlics.

From the outside, it’s tough to tell a hardneck from a softneck garlic. But when cracked open, softneck heads don’t have a hard core at their center like hardnecks do, and they have many cloves of different sizes.

Buying garlic for planting

After making your hardneck vs softneck garlic decision, it’s time to source the bulbs. Be sure to purchase garlic for planting from a specialty garlic farm or a quality online source. Grocery store garlic may not be the best variety for your region, and it’s often treated with an anti-sprouting chemical to inhibit growth. Purchase only top-sized bulbs in good condition.

When growing garlic, it’s also important to plant more than one variety because some may succumb to diseases or they may not perform as well as expected. By having multiple garlic varieties in your garden, you can hedge your bets for a successful harvest.

The best place to buy garlic for planting.

Purchase top-quality bulbs from a specialty garlic farm or a reliable online source.

Planting hardneck vs softneck garlic

No matter which type of garlic you choose, the garlic planting technique is the same. Prior to planting, crack the heads of garlic open and separate the inner cloves. Leave their papery covering intact. Plant only the largest cloves and leave the smaller ones for use in the kitchen. The cloves are planted pointy end up. Put them six inches apart and about three inches deep. A Japanese garden knife is a great garlic-planting tool because it cuts through the soil easily and you can gauge the hole depth using the markings on the blade.

The best way to plant garlic.

Before planting garlic, crack each head into individual cloves. Leave their papery sheath intact.

Mulching garlic plants

After planting, mulch the garlic bed with two to four inches of straw or shredded leaves to suppress weed growth and conserve moisture. You can also topdress with an organic, bulb-specific, granular fertilizer like this one after planting and then again in the spring.

The best mulch for garlic plants.

Mulch your garlic bed with a few inches of straw or shredded leaves to cut down on weed pressure and retain soil moisture.

Harvesting and storing garlic

Harvesting is the same when it comes to hardneck vs softneck garlic. Come July, when the plants have turned 50% yellow, pull out the garlic heads and hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated location to cure for two weeks. Wooden laundry drying racks are very helpful for this task. Then, cut off the stalks and store the heads in a dark, well-ventilated location between 50 and 60 degrees F. Alternatively, you can braid softneck types when the stalks are still flexible and hang them in a well-ventilated, cool area out of direct sunlight for long term storage.

The best way to store homegrown garlic.

While garlic is best stored in a cool, dry location, making a boutonniere out of the occasional head shouldn’t be ruled out. It keeps the vampires away, after all!

Homegrown garlic is much like a homegrown tomato in that there’s no comparison to store-bought. Enjoy the spicy, pungent flavor of your own hearty garlic harvest by experimenting with different hardneck vs softneck garlic varieties. Report back to us with your favorite choices.

For more on growing garlic check out these posts:
Growing great garlic with expert Liz Primeau
Three favorite garlic varieties
More garlic-harvesting tips

Which garlic varieties are your favorite? Tell us about them in the comment section below.

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One Response to Hardneck vs softneck garlic: Choosing and planting the best garlic

  1. Mark Johanson says:

    What a great article. You covered all the bases. Here in Minnesota Hardneck is a no-brainer. I have settled on a German purple variety and have been reserving the biggest bulbs for replanting for a couple of years now. A few years ago a friend went to a garlic festival and got me some bulbs. I planted 17 different varieties of hardneck, but in a raised bed that needed some fertilizing and did not get full sun. Bad experiment. Garlic needs full sun and space. I will plant this year’s crop this weekend- I usually cover with 8-10″ of straw to insulate them over the winter then pull the straw back when the frost breaks in Spring. Replace the straw when the plants are established. One tip about garlic: they store very well but eat them as fresh as you can: they are never as good.

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