by Bethany Hayes
When you buy garlic in the store, you simply grab the white bulb off the shelf and head home. The decision is simple, but when you grow garlic, you realize there are so many different varieties of garlic to grow in your garden.
Not all garlic is the same, did you know that?
Some grow in different climates better than others, and some varieties produce fewer cloves. The flavor and complexity differ as well; some are fiery hot while others are mild. Not all flavors stand up well to cooking, so you want to pick ones that will.
Let’s look at the different types of garlic and what varieties you might want to grow.
Softneck vs. Hardneck Garlic
You need to understand that garlic is divided into two main categories: softneck and hardneck. These types are similar yet have key differences that will help you narrow down the best varieties of garlic to grow.
To make it more complicated, softneck and hardneck are then divided into subcategories – this is why it’s confusing for many gardeners!
Let’s break down these two main types of garlic first.
Softneck garlic grows best in warmer climates, but if you live in zones five or even four, it’s still possible to grow this type of garlic. You simply need to add more mulch to your garden beds.
One of the most significant differences is the storage capabilities. Softneck garlic stores well for up to one year; this is the type of garlic you find in grocery stores. If you want to keep garlic for year-round use, then this is the type for you.
Softneck garlic also produces more cloves per bulb, but the cloves are smaller, and the flavor might not be as complex or robust as hardneck. One downside to softneck garlic is that it won’t produce garlic scapes, a big bonus for many gardeners.
Hardneck garlic grows best in colder climates, thriving well in zones three and up. So, most people can grow this no matter where they live. Each bulb contains several cloves, but the cloves are much larger. As a result, Hardneck garlic bulbs have more complex, diverse flavors that stand out the most in dishes.
The big bonus of growing hardneck garlic is that it produces scapes in the spring. Garlic scapes are greens that grow up in the spring from the bulbs; they taste delicious in recipes. So it’s like a bonus harvest!
The downside is that you won’t be able to store the bulbs as long. An average hardneck garlic bulb stores well for four to six months before you need to preserve it in some other form.
Is Elephant Garlic Really Garlic?
Despite the name, Elephant Garlic isn’t garlic. It’s sometimes called buffalo garlic, but it’s simply a misnomer. These giant bulbs are a type of leek. The bulb forms a few cloves that are mild and not as complex as garlic. You can use this interchangeably with softneck garlic.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
Hardneck garlic is divided into eight subcategories: Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Turban, and Creole.
That’s a lot to remember! In addition, a list of different cultivars that come from each subcategory under each category. This makes it quite challenging to pick the ones you want to grow.
Here are some of the best hardneck garlic varieties.
Bogatyr belongs to the Marbled Purple Stripe variety, originating from Russia, so it’s a cold-hardy variety. In addition, it’s known for being a good storage hardneck garlic. The bulbs have white outer skin and deep purple striped inner wrappers. Each bulb typically has four to six cloves each.
One thing to note is that the flavor is spicier and stronger than you might expect from other garlic bulbs.
2. Chesnok Red
If you’re looking for a red hardneck garlic variety, Chesnok Red belongs to the Purple Stripe category. It harvests later in the year because it takes more time to develop the color, but it has a delicious flavor.
If you love roasted garlic, Chesnok Red is an excellent option because it retains its flavor and texture when roasted, so it’s ideal for cooking. The bulbs are large, with between nine to ten cloves.
3. French Rocambole
French Rocambole is a tasty and pretty garlic cultivar that comes in different shades of purple, from deep dark purple to pink. It has a bold but not super hot flavor that works great in any dish that calls for raw garlic.
4. Georgian Fire
This garlic comes from the Republic of Georgia, and it’s known for being one of the most disease-resistant garlic varieties. Georgian Fire belongs to the Porcelain garlic category with a satiny-white wrapper. The inner wrappers are brown or purple.
This garlic cultivar is known for having large bulbs with five to eight large cloves. Many gardeners say that these gloves are some of the best-tasting out there, with a white-hot flavor that you’ll never forget.
5. German White
German White is a Porcelain variety of garlic known for being disease resistant with a hot and robust flavor. It stores well for up to six months, and each bulb has around four to five cloves.
German White is hugely popular; you’ll find it at many Farmer’s Markets throughout the country.
This is one of the most popular Porcelain varieties because it’s a reliable, hardy, flavorful garlic variety. The cloves are easy to peel and store well compared to other hardneck varieties; these bulbs often store for nine months.
The flavor isn’t too strong; it’s like an average garlic bulb you buy at the store with an extra zing.
7. Northern Quebec
Northern Quebec is a Porcelain garlic variety that originates in Canada, so it’s cold-hardy and grows well in northern regions. In addition, it has a potent, complex flavor that makes it a favorite.
The downside is that this type of garlic is more prone to develop mold than others.
8. Northern White Garlic
Northern White Garlic is a Porcelain hardneck garlic with one of the longest storage lives for hardnecks – around eight to nine months. It’s known for being an easy-to-grow variety with thick wrappers and around eight cloves.
It’s spicy garlic with lots of flavors; it’s ideal for roasting and cooking because the flavor stands up well.
9. Vietnamese Red Garlic
Here is another hardneck garlic that belongs to the Rocambole category. The purple striped cloves have a delicious, smooth, creamy texture that chefs love.
Expect these cloves to have a balance of sweet and savory flavor, so it’s perfect for all sorts of recipes. It grows best in Northern areas of the country, and it has a decent storage life, between six and eight months.
Softneck Garlic Varieties
Softneck garlic is classified into three different categories: Silverskin, Artichoke, and Middle Eastern. You’ll find that there are considerably fewer named types of softneck garlic; some say there are only two to three dozen compared to the hundreds of hardneck garlic.
1. California White
This is the grocery store garlic you’ll find near you. It’s the most common garlic variety grown in the United States because it’s easy to grow for everyone and produces 10-16 cloves per bulb. The flavor is mild to moderate, and it grows well in both warm and cold climates.
2. Inchelium Red
Inchelium Red is an Artichoke-type garlic that is actually a national taste test winner! It’s one of the most common go-to softneck varieties to grow, and it’s cold-hardy, so it grows well in northern climates.
Not only does it have a superior storage life, but Inchelium Red has a delicious mild garlic flavor.
3. Italian Late Garlic
This softneck garlic belongs to the Artichoke category. The cloves are tightly wrapped, and each bulb typically has 12 cloves. The flavors are rich yet pleasing for most recipes; they won’t overpower the dishes you create.
4. Nootka Rose
This is a popular Northwest heirloom garlic from the San Juan Islands, so it won’t grow well in cold climates. Nootka Rose has a strong, zesty flavor with 10 to 20 cloves per bulb! It matures and harvests later than other varieties.
5. Silver Rose
Silver Rose is a type of softneck garlic that grows well in the western and southern states. The plant produces mild-flavor cloves, and it’s one of the longest storing varieties. Each bulb typically holds 10 to 12 cloves; they look beautiful when braided!
6. Silver White
Another softneck garlic variety is Silver White, a classic choice often found in grocery stores. Expect large bulbs with large cloves that store exceptionally well, typically up to 12 months at a time. Silver White garlic grows well in cold climates, warmer regions, and humid coastal areas as well!
Picking the Right Garlic Varieties
If you’ve never grown garlic before, you might want to try growing more than one variety of garlic in your garden this year. Find the ones that suit your needs and tastebuds the best, and remember to save the bulbs to plant later!