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Today we will talk about the differences between hardneck vs softneck garlic so that you can better understand which variety is more suitable to your growing climate.
Garlic is one of my favorite crops to grow because it grows anywhere, and it’s so easy. However, not all garlic is suitable for all climates; you must know the differences between hardneck vs. softneck garlic.
No matter what type you grow, they all taste like garlic. The cloves will still give your dishes the flavor that you want. The main differences are between the climates where they grow and how well they store.
Most gardeners can grow both varieties unless they live in an extreme climate, either extremely hot or cold. If you only want to grow one garlic type, it needs to be suited for your climate.
Here are the main differences between hardneck vs. softneck garlic and some of the best varieties of each to help make your choice.
The Differences Between Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Ideal Climate & Growing Zones for Garlic Types
The first and most crucial difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is knowing where they grow. This is how you will determine if you can grow each type of garlic or not.
Hardneck garlic varieties grow best when planted in Northern regions with cold temperatures and harsh winter. If you live somewhere with snow, ice, and sleet, you live somewhere that hardneck garlic grows.
When planted properly, hardneck garlic grows down to USDA hardiness zone 0 - seriously. That means it survives in temperatures as low as -30℉. The key to survival is that the garlic needs a deep layer of mulch.
This type of garlic actually NEEDS the cold weather. Hardneck garlic requires prolonged exposure to cold weather in a process called vernalization. They need to spend at least 40 days at a temperature of 40℉ or lower to develop a bulb full of cloves.
So, if you live in an area with mild, warm winters, don’t plant hardneck garlic.
Softneck garlic thrives in areas with mild winters, so if you live in USDA zones 8-12, this is the type of garlic for you. It’s possible to grow softneck garlic down to zone 3 if you wanted to, but they’ll require a thick layer of mulch for protection.
It is essential to understand the difference in climates and growing zones. If you try to grow garlic not suited to your area, you will end up with small, underdeveloped bulbs and disappointment.
Garlic Bulb & Clove Features
The next most significant difference is the bulb or cloves themselves. Here are some things to know.
- Softneck garlic produces a larger bulb with more individually wrapped garlic cloves inside of the bulb.
- Hardneck garlic has fewer cloves, but each one is larger.
- Hardneck garlic cloves have a thin layer of skin, so they are easier to peel than softneck garlic cloves.
Shelf Life or Storage Potential for Garlic
Are you trying to grow enough garlic to last all year-round? If so, you need to understand the shelf life or storage abilities of each type of garlic.
Softneck garlic has better storage abilities because of the dense heads and tightly wrapped cloves, even if they are a pain in the butt in the kitchen. These varieties are known to stay fresh and firm for up to 9 months when cured and stored correctly.
Their enhanced storage ability is why most garlic you find in the store is softneck. They last longer on the shelf, and its typically used to make garlic powder with.
Hardneck garlic requires proper curing, but they only last 3 to 5 months in storage after harvesting. Depending on your climate and storage area, they might last a bit longer than this, but don’t expect the hardnecks to last as long as softnecks.
Remember, hardneck garlic has a shorter storage span than softneck garlic. Based on their names, you might assume that hardneck means it stores better, but it’s the opposite.
Harvesting Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes are prized edible flowering stems that are delicious and loved by chefs and home cooks. If you want garlic scapes, they are only produced by hardneck garlic varieties.
Scapes come out of the center of the leafy green tops when the garlic bulbs get close to harvesting time. When they form a loop or curl, it is time to harvest the scapes. All you must do is snip them at the base of the leaves.
Remember, softneck garlic doesn’t produce scapes; only hardneck varieties will.
The Flavor of the Garlic
The flavor of the garlic you grow varies more based on the variety that you select more than softneck vs. hardneck garlic. That is why you should pick the type of garlic you grow carefully; each cultivar has its own flavor profile.
It is said that hardneck garlic has a more robust, richer garlic flower and that softneck garlic is mild with a slight kick. However, no matter what type you grow, you will realize that homegrown garlic tastes a lot better than the stuff at the store!
Popular Hardneck Garlic Varieties
Picking the hardneck garlic varieties you want to grow is hard; some say there are over 200 named hardneck garlic varieties! Consider what type of flavor you want and how long you want to store the garlic.
- Music: Music is my favorite hardneck variety to grow because of the super large cloves that it has that are easy to peel. These are a porcelain variety that are white with a touch of pink, with a medium hot flavor true garlic flavor. These also have a very good storage life for a hardneck variety.
- Carpathian: Carpathian is a flavorful, spicy heirloom garlic type that is Rocambole garlic. The bulbs are medium-sized with eight to nine cloves. It grows best in cold regions, but it’s not suitable for long-term storage. If you like pickled garlic, Carpathian garlic is fantastic.
- German White: This variety of garlic is a type of Porcelain garlic that is sometimes called Northern White. The bulbs produce 4-6 large, easy-to-peel cloves with a mild flavor. German White grows well in freezing climates.
- German Red: German Red is a Rocambole variety of garlic, so it has a robust and spicy flavor. This is a reliable producer of large, purple-red tinted bulbs and easy-to-peel cloves. It grows well in colder regions.
- Spanish Roja: Here is another Rocambole garlic variety that is heirloom garlic known for producing well for Northern gardeners. It has a classic garlic flavor and produces 8-12 cloves per bulb. The bulbs are purple with streaked white skin, but the shelf life is short for these. They aren’t ideal if you want something with more extended storage, and this variety is slow-maturing, taking up to 240 days to mature.
- Georgian Crystal: Georgian Crystal has a mild, buttery flavor when cooked. The bulbs are large, with up to six cloves per bulb. It’s a type of porcelain garlic with translucent skin.
- Red Russian: This variety is similar to Spanish Roja, producing red to purple striped skins. Red Russian handles frigid temperatures well, but it has an extra-strong garlic flavor with an average of seven cloves per bulb.
- Chesnok Red: Chesnok Red grows best in cold weather, but it adapts to many different climates. Each bulb has 8-12 red to pink cloves known for their mild, sweet garlic flavor.
Popular Softneck Garlic Varieties
Picking softneck garlic varieties is a little easier because there are only a few dozen named types of garlic.
- California White: California White is sometimes called the “grocery store garlic” because it’s the most popular variety of garlic grown across the country. It’s easy to grow, great for new gardeners, and produces 10-16 cloves per head. The flavor is mild to moderate, and it grows well in warm climates but adapts to cold regions.
- Lorz Italian: If you want a type of garlic with a hot and spicy flavor, Lorz Italian is the one for you. It’s excellent for roasting, and the plants produce large harvests. Lorz Italian handles summer heat well; this type of best for southern gardeners.
- Nootka Rose: Gardeners who live in the Northwest love Nootka Rose. It’s an heirloom garlic variety that has a robust and zesty flavor. It produces 10-20 cloves in each bulb, adapting well to most areas.
- Silver White: Silver White is an easy-to-grow garlic variety that many grocery stores sell. The bulbs and cloves are large and store up to 12 months. The great thing about Silver White is that it grows well in cold regions, hot regions, and even humid coastal areas.
- Silver Rose: Silver Rose is mild, productive garlic that is most popular in western and southern states, France, and Italy. This variety has a long storage life and produces up to 12 rose-colored cloves in each bulb.
- Inchelium Red: Inchelium Red has a record of one of the best tasting soft neck varieties and is highly productive. This variety has large bulbs and is mild in flavor. It is also great for roasting in the oven and it stores well for up to 6-9 months.
- Red Toch: Also known as “Tochliavri”, in the area in the Republic of Georgia where this variety was first discovered. It's flavor is described as “not too mild, not too hot”, and it is also considered an artichoke variety that produces 12-18 large flattened cloves per bulb. Grows well in both southern and northern climates.
- Early Italian Purple: This variety is ready a week or two ahead of other softneck varities. The skin is beautiful with purple splotches, and it has large bulbs with 7-9 per bulb. This variety is excellent for mild climates and stores well.
Planting Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
Planting hardneck vs. softneck garlic, how you plant is close to the same. While planting garlic in the spring is possible, the best time to plant is in the fall before the frost. Doing this produces larger, more flavorful garlic bulbs.
Here are the steps for planting garlic.
- Open the garlic heads before planting, separating all of the inner cloves, but leave the papery contact intact.
- Plant the largest cloves; leave the small ones to use in the kitchen.
- Put the cloves into the ground with the pointy end going upward. Plant each clove six inches apart and three inches deep.
- Mulch over the garlic bed with two to four inches of stress or shredded leaves. Mulching suppresses weed growth and retains moisture in the soil.
Harvesting Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic
You harvest hardneck and softneck garlic in the same manner. In the middle of the summer, usually around July, the garlic plants should be 50% yellow. That means it’s time to harvest the garlic. See my article How and When to Harvest Garlic for more information on harvesting and curing garlic for storage.
What about Elephant Garlic?
Gardeners always ask about elephant garlic, but elephant garlic isn’t an actual type of garlic despite the name. It’s closely related to onions and shallots, and it won’t have the storage capabilities of garlic.
That being said, most gardeners plant this like garlic, and it needs a long, cool growing season to do well. It’s a hardy biennial in zones 3-9. Elephant garlic produces a few giant cloves; some weigh up to one pound each.
Picking the Right Type of Garlic to Grow
When you debate hardneck vs. softneck garlic, consider your climate and if you want to store the garlic long-term. Remember that hardneck garlic grows best in cold temperatures but doesn’t have a long storage life. Softneck garlic varieties prefer to grow in warm, mild climates and store for up to nine months. Pick the variety that works best for you.
Garlic is so easy to grow, please don't stress too much about which type of garlic is best. If this is your first time growing it, try a few varieties and see how it does for you! I live in a pretty mild growing area, and yet some of my favorite varieties are hardneck, and they store well enough for me!
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