Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow and, when cultivated properly, can yield returns for year after year. However, there are many different varieties available, and it can sometimes be confusing to figure out which one will suit not only your garden but your palate the best. Learning about the different varieties, including their ideal growing zones and what they taste like, can help you choose the perfect plant for you.
Softneck, Hardneck, and Elephant Subcategories
There are two main subcategories: hardneck and softneck garlics. Hardnecks sports a woody stem that grows from the middle of the bulb. They produce large, mild, but complex-tasting cloves that are easy to peel. However, hardnecks are harder to store and can sometimes be more challenging to find.
Softnecks, on the other hand, are quite common and can be stored for several months. These plants are hardy, but they produce smaller bulbs that contain between about four and eight cloves each.
Some people also consider elephant garlic when choosing varieties. However, it is not a true garlic but is instead a member of the onion family. It has a very mild flavor, closer to that of a leek. This allium plant grows large bulbs, but each bulb only contains between three and four cloves.
Each type of garlic grows best under a particular set of circumstances, and it’s always important to research the variety you’ve chosen to provide an ideal growing experience. However, hardnecks and softnecks do each have a few general planting and growing rules.
When it comes to hardiness zones, hardneck types grow best in zones seven or lower. Zones eight and up are best for softneck varieties. Softnecks can be planted in either the spring or fall. If they are planted in the spring, they can be harvested about three months later. Otherwise, they will grow throughout the winter, resulting in larger, more plentiful cloves and bulbs the following year.
Hardnecks should generally be planted in the fall. The plant will go dormant during winter and can be harvested in the fall of the next year. They will also produce scapes just before harvesting time. These tendrils can either be harvested and eaten or left to produce bulbils containing seeds.
Both hardneck and softneck types should be planted in well-draining soil and should receive about an inch and a half of water per week. Because they’re so small, these plants can be planted outdoors or inside in pots. However, garlic grows best when it’s given between six and ten hours of full sun each day, so place the plants somewhere that’s exposed to the light.
Garlic should also be fertilized every three weeks or so with a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen.
Number of Cloves: Up to 25
Appearance: White or off-white with a flattened bulb
Flavor Profile: Mild and fresh
Varieties: California Early, Red Toch, Italian Purple, Italian Late, Galiano, Applegate
Artichoke garlic is perhaps the most popular softneck variety because it’s relatively easy to grow. It’s very adaptable and will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. It’s also very easy to store and will last for between eight and ten months. They also produce many cloves. However, these cloves can be hard to peel.
These cloves have a thick outer peel that is generally white or off-white but may also have faint purple markings.
Number of Cloves: 12 to 40
Appearance: Papery silver-white bulbs with irregular shapes
Flavor Profile: Rich and ranging from mild to hot
Varieties: Kettle River Giant, Polish White, Idaho Silver, Chet’s Italian Red
Silverskin softnecks also tend to be versatile and adaptable when it comes to growing conditions. They produce many cloves, sometimes up to 40 per bulb. However, somewhere around 20 cloves is more common. The cloves are irregularly shaped, giving the teardrop-shaped bulbs a bumpy outer appearance.
The peels of silverskin are, as the name suggests, a silvery-white color and have a papery texture. The cloves can be hard to peel, but their thick skins mean that they can be stored for up to a year.
Number of Cloves: Eight to 12
Appearance: Off-white skins with purple stripes or spots
Flavor Profile: Earthy, spicy, and rich
Varieties: Russian Red, Phillips, German Mountain
The most common hardneck variety is rocambole. It has an incredibly rich, complex flavor, and the large cloves are easy to peel. Unfortunately, the loose peels also mean that rocambole does not store well and can only be kept for about five months.
Rocambole garlic usually produces between eight and 12 cloves per bulb, and the cloves and bulbs have a red or tan cast to them. The scapes of this variety curl over twice, giving the plant an unusual appearance. This particular plant thrives in colder climates and requires a cold winter freeze in order to grow successfully.
Number of Cloves: Six to 14
Appearance: Round white bulbs with purple tones
Flavor Profile: Vegetal and earthy, ranging from mild to spicy
Varieties: Tzan, Shantung, Chinese Purple
Turban garlic varieties are unique in that they don’t have a strong flavor. Instead, they have a more earthy, vegetable-like taste that works well in a variety of dishes. The cloves themselves are even in size and have a slight tan color. The bulbs have an almost smooth texture and are somewhat flattened.
Unfortunately, this hardneck doesn’t store as well as other types and should be either used quickly or dried and ground into a powder.
Number of Cloves: Two to six
Appearance: Off-white with pale purple markings
Flavor Profile: Spicy, sweet, and floral or vegetal
Varieties: Georgian Crystal, Polish Hardneck, Romanian Red, German White
Porcelain garlic is often popular with gardeners and chefs because, unlike many other hardneck varieties, it can be stored for up to eight months. The flavor can be quite spicy but often has sweet, floral, or vegetal undertones.
They usually produces large, rounded cloves. The bulb has a thick peel that’s generally off-white and may have purple or silvery markings.
Marbled Purple Stripe
Number of Cloves: Four to eight
Appearance: Off-white with bright purple or red markings
Flavor Profile: Rich, complex, and mild
Varieties: Bogatyr, Siberian, Metechi
This beautiful garlic is prized because of its strong flavor and mild spice. The bulbs are large and round and will last for six or seven months when stored properly. The cloves themselves are as colorful as their outer peels and range from cream to red to purple.
These hardnecks are is easy to grow and will generally adapt well to a range of soil and weather conditions.
Number of Cloves: Eight to 16
Appearance: Bright purple bulbs with tan or brown cloves
Flavor Profile: Sweet and mild
Varieties: Shatili, Chesnock Red
Often used in baking or sweeter dishes, this hardneck variety produces thin red or brown cloves. The bulbs, which are a deep purple color, also store well and can be kept for nearly a year. The plants are easy to grow and can adapt well to different fertilizer, water, and soil conditions.
Glazed Purple Stripe
Number of Cloves: Six to 12
Appearance: White with pale purple stripes
Flavor Profile: Mild
Varieties: Red Rezan, Vekak
Glazed purple stripe varieties have a mild flavor, similar to that of the purple stripe garlic. However, these cloves have a truly glazed appearance, which makes them sparkle once they’ve been peeled.
The medium-sized bulbs of this hardneck are even in shape and contain between about six and 12 cloves. They can be stored for around six months.
Number of Cloves: Four to eight
Appearance: Dark purple cloves in white or pale purple skin
Flavor Profile: Sweet to spicy
Varieties: Asian Tempest, Pyongyang
These hardneck varieties come from, as the name suggests, areas mostly in Korea, and they are often used in Korean dishes. Depending on the type, the cloves’ flavor can range from sweet to quite spicy and garlicky.
Asiatic garlic stores relatively well and can be kept for about six months. Some farmers have that store it under perfect conditions can store it for even longer.
Number of Cloves: Eight to 12
Appearance: White bulbs with faint purple stripes
Flavor Profile: Sweet and nutty
Varieties: Creole Red, Burgundy
These tall hardneck plants are often favored by gardeners living in warmer climates, as they do not tolerate the cold well. The bulbs are medium in size and produce about a dozen cloves, which are often dark purple or tan.
Creole garlic has a complex flavor that starts spicy but fades to nutty and sweet. This makes it popular in various dishes, including, as the name suggests, cuisine from the southern part of the United States. The earthy flavor also blends well with other vegetables.
Growing garlic is relatively simple, but selecting which variety to grow can be challenging. However, once you’ve gotten to know the different types, you can choose a few that suit your taste and climate. Filling your garden with sweet, spicy, or earthy varieties can make cooking anything more interesting and more fun.